As mentioned in my blog for Mambo Italiano, the US and UK were going through something of a mambo craze in 1955. Rosemary Clooney’s number 1 was a very successful attempt to cash in on this phenomenon, but it was a novelty song. Bandleader Perez Prado was the real deal, though, and the craze was largely due to his success with songs such as Mambo No 5 at the start of the decade. Yes, that’s the song that Lou Bega remade in 1999, and then reworked by none other than Bob the Builder in 2001.
Born in Matanzas, Cuba on 11 December 1916, Dámaso Pérez Prado was a musically gifted child (often the case with these early number 1 artists). He studied classical piano as a child and went on to play in local clubs. For most of the 40s he was performing with the casino orchestras of Havana, where he earned the nickname ‘El Cara de Foca’ (‘Seal Face’).
Prado moved to Mexico in 1949 and began his recording career there. He quickly ascended to the top of the mambo scene, developing trademark grunts as he powered his way through fiery, sometimes raunchy tunes.
His first hit, Mambo Jambo, appeared a year later. Also in 1950, Spanish-born French composer Louiguy, the man behind the melody of Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose, wrote Cerisier Rose et Pommier Blanc. This Latin jazz composition translated as Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White. Lyrics were written in French by Jacques Larue, and English by Mack David, but Prado decided to record it as an instrumental, and it is this version that first went to number 1 in the UK, on 29 April, after its appearance in the movie Underwater!. starring Jane Russell, who dances to it in a famous scene.
Prado’s version has a great, memorable opening, with a powerful brass blast before trumpeter Billy Regis performs a lazy drawl on his instrument (this is probably a strange way to describe it but it’s the best I can think of) and then the sultry rhythm takes hold. It’s easy to see why mambo was popular in the UK. Compared to number 1s by Vera Lynn and David Whitfield, this is exciting and exotic. The low horn sound that crops up from time to time is probably the weirdest noise to appear in the charts so far. It’s so deep it almost sounds alien and electronic. The most enjoyable number 1 so far, and the only one to get a reaction from my two-year-old.
Other acts wanted in on the mambo craze, and ‘Man with the Golden Trumpet’ Eddie Calvert’s inferior cover of this track also went to number 1 a few weeks later.
This was Prado’s only number 1, but although the mambo craze was short-lived, he continued to enjoy success around the world for years to come. He died of a stroke on 14 September 1989, aged 72, but his music has lived on, and aged very well. In addition to the remakes of Mambo No.5, his track Guaglione was used in a famous advert for Guinness in 1995, which is where I first came across his work. And despite never seeing Underwater!, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White sounds very familiar to me, and I’m certain it’s been used on TV, so if anyone can tell me where, please do!
Written by: Louiguy
Producer: Herman Diaz
Weeks at number 1: 2 (29 April-12 May)
Singer Hazel O’Connor – 16 May
Cricketer Gilbert Jessop – 11 May