Over at WNEW.com earlier this year, I started writing about the albums to reach #1 in Billboard, beginning with Meet the Beatles in 1964 and continuing in chronological order. The following post was supposed to appear this week, but since the site’s been discontinued, I’m expanding it and putting it here.
Herb Alpert was a recording artist, songwriter, and producer in the 1950s, and formed his own label, A&M, in 1962. His first big hit came that year, a homemade recording called “The Lonely Bull.” Another of his early recordings, “The Mexican Shuffle,” was used in an iconic chewing gum commercial in 1964. Then, in 1965, came the album Whipped Cream and Other Delights, which turned Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass into one of the biggest stars of the moment.
The Tijuana Brass did not exist as a discrete unit in 1965. On his records, Alpert was backed by several members of the Wrecking Crew, the Los Angeles session musicians who played on so many records in the 60s and 70s. Drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, and pianist Leon Russell played on TJB records. But with the success of Whipped Cream and Other Delights, Alpert had to put a band together for touring purposes.
Whipped Cream and Other Delights included the hit single “A Taste of Honey,” and spent eight weeks at #1 in late 1965 and early 1966. While it was heading for #1 that fall, the TJB’s next album, Going Places, was released. It, too, would hit #1, in the spring of 1966. Going Places included the two most identifiable pieces of music released under the TJB brand, “Tijuana Taxi” and “Spanish Flea.” The latter was used on the TV show The Dating Game, as were “Whipped Cream” and “Lollipops and Roses” from the earlier album.
“Spanish Flea” was written by sometime-TJB player Julius Wechter, who had his own band, the Baja Marimba Band, signed to the A&M label. Their early albums featured some of the same Wrecking Crew members who played on TJB records, although the group eventually had a permanent lineup of its own. The Baja Marimba Band wore stereotypically Mexican stage costumes featuring sombreros and fake mustaches, which some people found insulting to Mexicans, and played a greater quantity of Latin music than the TJB did. After “Spanish Flea” became a hit, the Baja Marimba Band did, too—their 1967 album Watch Out! was their most successful album.
Throw in Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 and the three acts go a long way toward typifying what adult-contemporary music sounded like in the late 60s. (Brasil ’66 was also an A&M Records act, and its lead singer, Lani Hall, would marry Alpert in 1974; they’re still married today.) They are, to a certain degree, what the late 60s sounded like around my house. Like many thirtysomethings of the 60s, whose teen years predated the rise of rock ‘n’ roll, my parents owned copies of Watch Out! and Going Places. (If we’d had a copy of Whipped Cream and Other Delights, given its cover, I’m sure I would remember that.)
Here’s a Scopitone video for “Tijuana Taxi,” which features several attractive people doing a frantic dance in what are supposed to be Mexican costumes on what’s supposed to be a Mexican street. Clearly, the Baja Marimba Band hadn’t cornered the stereotype market.
To read about the other #1 albums covered previously at WNEW.com, click here while you still can.