Wednesday, March 31, 2021

"Hey Mambo" by Barry Manilow with Kid Creole & the Coconuts

Song#:  3449
Date:  03/19/1988
Debut:  90
Peak:  90
Weeks:  2
Genre:  Pop, Latin Pop

Pop Bits:  After recording an album of standards, 1984's gold-selling 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe, Manilow left his long-time label Arista and moved over to RCA. His first LP for them, Manilow, was a return to pop music, but it ended up being the lowest peaking studio effort of his career to-date stopping at #42. It would also be his first album to not at least reach gold level sales. The experience had Manilow heading back to Arista. Perhaps sensing that his pop charting days may be over, Manilow decided to do another standards-style album for his return to the label. He would record Swing Street, which featured a mix of standards along with a few originals co-written by Manilow. To help promote it, a CBS TV special titled Big Fun on Swing Street was filmed. The LP featured several guest stars and many of them would appear in the TV special with Manilow including Kid Creole & the Coconuts, who helped out on this single. It was released right around the same time the TV special aired. While the special did well and would go on to win a technical Emmy, the single barely got anywhere spending a very minor two weeks on the Pop chart. The album failed to sell and it stalled at a lackluster #70. Another track on the album, the somewhat autobiographical tune "Brooklyn Blues," would do a bit better getting to #13 on the AC chart. "Hey Mambo" would end up being Manilow's last single to reach the Pop chart. Over his 14-year span on the Pop chart that began with the 1974 #1 "Mandy," Manilow had 28 singles reach the chart; 3 of them would hit #1, 8 more would hit the Top 10, and another 13 would make the Top 40. However, the superstar wasn't finished yet and his career would feature several more high points.

ReduxReview:  Awww. The last charting Manilow single. Yes, I freely admit that I am a Fanilow. Always was, still am. I ain't ashamed! In fact, I just recently listened to all of his albums from '73-'83. What a great ride. After his pop charting days ended, I still bought his albums, but they were hit-n-miss affairs for me. His Greatest Songs series (see below) weirdly didn't do much for me, but his 15 Minutes rock opera and his Night Songs series were winners. Swing Street wasn't one of my favorites, but it had a couple of good tracks like "Brooklyn Blues." This single, which shouldn't be confused with the old standard "Mambo Italiano" where the chorus starts "hey mambo," was a fun workout that kind of reminded me of "Copacabana." Having Kid Creole & the Coconuts on board was a good call and they helped to liven things up. Also lending an authentic hand was Emilio Estefan (from Miami Sound Machine) as producer for the track. While I do think it was probably the best bet for a single from the LP, this retro Latin sound just wasn't what was happening on the chart at the time. It was going to be a hard sell and indeed it pretty much went nowhere. It would have been nice if Manilow had been able to end his pop chart career with a bigger hit, but this was still a fun song to wrap up his superstar run.

ReduxRating:  6/10

Trivia:  Double Shot!  1) This song featured the disco/Latin/big band influenced Kid Creole & the Coconuts. The band, formed and fronted in 1980 by August Darnell, aka Kid Creole (adopted from the 1958 Elvis Presley movie of the same name), became a popular live act with their 30s/40s referenced sound and choreographed staged shows. Their first two albums were reviewed well, but didn't sell. They had a breakthrough with their 1982 third album Tropical Gangsters (Wise Guys in the US), which became a #3 platinum seller in the UK (#145 US). Follow-up albums didn't perform as well, but they continued recording and performing for many years. This track with Manilow would be the only time they would reach the Pop chart in the US. They came close in 1984 when they appeared in the film Against All Odds performing "My Male Curiosity." The song appeared on the soundtrack album and was issued as a single, but it failed to make the Pop 100 chart bubbling under at #110. However, it did get to #23 at Dance, which was one of nine entries they would have on that chart.  2) After Swing Street, Manilow attempted a return to pop again with a 1989 self-titled effort. What was unusual about the LP was that Manilow only wrote one of the tracks. Manilow always considered himself above all to be a composer and arranger so his albums mainly featured his own songs (save for a couple that Clive Davis picked for him to record). The contemporary pop that was featured on the LP was fine for AC, where "Keep Each Other Warm" got to #7, but it didn't excite anyone else and the album peaked at #64. After that, it seems that Manilow decided to give up on writing pop music and just do thematic albums that revived old tunes. The following years saw Manilow tackle Broadway, big band, Sinatra, and 70s pop classics. He also did two Christmas albums that went gold and platinum. But it would be a 2002 hits collection that really put him back on the map. Arista released Ultimate Manilow and it unexpectedly got to #3 and went double-platinum. Then in 2006, he would record The Greatest Songs of the Fifties. His versions of classics from the era struck a chord and the LP would become only the second in his career to hit #1. His next two LPs covered the same concept for the 60s and 70s. Both would got Top 10. An 80s version came out later and it got to #14. One more in the series, The Greatest Love Songs of All Time would get to #5. Manilow then finally returned to composing with the concept/rock opera album 15 Minutes in 2011. It got to #7 and earned a Grammy nomination. His next two albums would also reach the Top 10.


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