Warning: reading this post may cause your brain to be infected with an annoying ear worm.
If we are going to talk about one hit wonders from the 90s the only place to start is with the “Macarena.” The infectious pop song was released in 1993 and since then it has been at the center of thousands of weddings, parties, and school dances.
So, it might be a surprise to learn that the Spanish lyrics translated into English are not exactly family friendly. It turns out the song is about a girl named Macarena who cheats on her boyfriend with two of his friends while he’s being drafted into the army. Huh?
The pop song was originally released in 1993 and remained an international hit for four consecutive years.
According to the Irish website TheJournal.ie it all started at a private party at a hotel in Caracas, Venezuela. Dance duo Los Del Rio were performing at the event and when a flamenco dancer joined them on stage, performer Antonio Romero Monge was inspired to start singing about her.
Romero Monge came up with the chorus on the spot as a tribute to the dancer – calling her Magdalena, the Spanish name for Mary Magdalene, which he later changed to Macarena.
Los Del Río’s label wasn’t initially crazy about releasing the pop song because of lyrics like “Dale tu cuerpo alegria, Macarena” which translates to “Give your body some joy, Macarena. They were worried it might be too racy for Spanish radio.
Eventually the record company gave in and the song was released in April 1993 with little or no publicity and it was a minor summer hit in Spain. It would be two years before it re-entered the charts again, making it the slowest rising pop single in history.
Flash forward to 1995, when Miami radio personality Jammin Johnny Caride heard the song and after playing it for his bosses they asked him to create an English-language version of the song.
Caride then teamed up with his partners at Bayside Records, Mike Triay and Carlos de Yarza to remix the original song and to add new lyrics in English. They added a new dance beat they hoped would appeal to British and American audience.
By the time the pop song made it to the top of the charts on the summer of 1996, there were not one but three versions of the tune in the charts at the time – the original Los Del Río version, the Bayside Boys’ remix and a cover by Los Del Mar.
A video of the remix featured Los Del Río performing on a white background surrounded by ten female dancers. One of the dancers was New York-born Mia Frye, who choreographed what would become one of the most recognizable dances of all time.
“I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred
Released in 1991, “I’m Too Sexy” went number one in 32 countries, including the United States, and brothers Richard and Fred Fairbrass went from being gym managers and sporadic musicians to the kitschy pop act of the moment.
The tongue and cheek pop song with its upbeat vibe and simple, percussive lyrics has become a cultural touchstone, the declaration of being “too sexy” for something now part of everyday speak. It even received a lyrical shout-out from Jay-Z on his 2001 LP The Blueprint, and memories of the song can be heard in Taylor Swift’s hit “Look What You Made Me Do.”
“Rico Suave” by Gerardo
Gerardo’s debut song “Rico Suave”, was released in 1991 and was the first pop hit sung in “Spanglish, a combination of Spanish and English. It spent 18 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and was nominated for two MTV Video Awards.
Roughly translated, “Rico Suave” means “Tasty and Smooth” but since it also sounds like the name of a Latin heartthrob, many people thought Rico Suave was the singers name.
The singer was actually Gerardo Mejia, an Ecuadorian-American who went on to have a successful career as an actor and record executive. His movie credits include Colors and Can’t Buy me Love. As a record executive with EMI, he helped sign Enrique Iglesias in 1998
Mambo No. 5 By Lou Bega
The number one single of 1999, with eight weeks at the top of the charts, was a little track by German musician Lou Bega called Mambo No. 5.
This pop song was basically a nonsensical laundry list of women’s names — Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, Jessica — all clamouring for a night of love with Bega.
The pop song’s mambo beat, was based on a sampling of a famous mambo track by the same name composed in 1949 by the Cuban artist Dámaso Pérez Prado. Bega took just 30 seconds of that original song, composing a set of brand new, catchy lyrics for his track.
That didn’t sit well with the Prado estate which launched a lengthy legal battle against Bega. Eventually a court declared it a new song co-written by Prado and Bega.
For more stories from the 1990s make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.