The success of Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5" begs for an explanation, but for the life of me, I can't figure it out. The single is an international sensation--No. 1 in 15 countries and headed that way here, RCA hopes--and comparisons are being made to 1993's megahit "Macarena," which spawned a wonderfully silly dance craze that touched young and old alike.
That's not going to happen here with "Mambo No. 5." The song is partially built on the riff from Perez Prado's similarly titled 1948 hit, with new lyrics by Bega, a German-born musician who discovered mambo and other Latin dance rhythms when he briefly lived in Miami.
Bega, the son of a Ugandan father and a Sicilian mother, refers to both Prado and himself as mambo kings, but the truth is that Prado's brand of mambo was always oversimplified and commercialized compared with genuine mambo kings like Tito Puente and Machito.
Instead, call Bega the mambo court jester and "Mambo No. 5" a genial summer novelty that will likely move a lot of copies of his debut album, "A Little Bit of Mambo" (RCA).
Sure, the single has a little bit of dance instruction--though it has nothing to do with the mambo--and a laundry list of women's names to suggest Bega's Lotharian legend. On "I Got a Girl," the Kid Creole dress-alike opts for another easy route, listing the many locations around the world where he has, you know, got a girl. Apparently, Bega is not particularly choosy.
Despite the album's title, mambo--lite or other--informs only the opening and closing tracks, the hit single and "Mambo Mambo," which simply name-checks assorted Afro-Cuban rhythms in a salsa frame.
Instead, there are odes to women, "Beauty on the TV-Screen" and the incredibly stupid "The Most Expensive Girl in the World," cheesy anthems (the Mungo Jerry-ish "Baby Keep Smiling") and assorted synth and brass-driven dance tunes that owe more to "Stars on 45" than to any stars spawned in the mambo craze of the '50s.
These include the dreadful "Can I Tico Tico You" and "Icecream," which features this mind-bending verse: "We gonna do a thing that's mega/ I am havin' more sex than kiddies playing Sega/ and like Noriega I am dictatin' the game/ and I don't stop until you scream out my name."
Actually, screaming just plain "STOP!" would be more appropriate.
(To hear a Sound Bite from "Mambo No. 5," call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8174.)
CAPTION: Mambo hambone Lou Bega trots out his alleged sexual history in his debut album.