In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
The slick sophisticate Burt Bacharach was a presence on the American pop charts from the late ’50s well into the ’80s. His sound drew on jazz in its chords and orchestrations, but it aimed for a comforting middle, a place that wouldn’t alienate anyone. Bacharach’s sound turned out to be strikingly malleable, pulling in bits and pieces from rock ‘n’ roll and soul and psychedelia and eventually yacht-rock and ’80s MOR without ever becoming any of those things. (Indeed, it’s hard to imagine yacht-rock existing without Bacharach.) Bacharach was always there, a key influence on down-the-middle ’60s pop. But he didn’t score his first #1 until more than a decade in. And when he did land that hit, it was for his label boss.
Herb Alpert was the “A” of A&M records. Alpert was born in Los Angeles, the son of two Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. After graduating from high school in 1952, he spent time in the Army and in the pop-songwriter trenches. He co-wrote “Wonderful World” for Sam Cooke, which means that, even if you can’t stand any of the stuff he made afterward, he’s done more for pop music than you or I ever could. In 1962, Alpert co-founded A&M with Jerry Moss; they eventually sold it to PolyDor in 1989.
If you know Alpert’s name, it’s probably because of the Tijuana Brass, the group he founded in 1962, the same year he helped start A&M. Alpert had gone to a bullfight in Tijuana, and he’d fallen in love with the mariachi music he’d heard there. He wanted to musically capture the excitement of that feeling. And there’s some of that in 1962’s “The Lonely Bull,” Alpert’s breakout instrumental hit. (It would’ve been a 6.) But if you’ve ever heard the Tijuana Brass music that he made, you already know excitement wasn’t really part of the equation. Instead, Alpert and the Tijuana Brass specialized in chintzy, fake-exotic instrumental lounge music, including a whole lot of elevator-ready covers of popular songs. This stuff was almost bafflingly popular. The Tijuana Brass sold millions upon millions of records. In 1966, thanks at least in part to the horny cover art for Whipped Cream And Other Delights, they sold more albums than the Beatles.
Alpert was a trumpet player, not a singer. But in 1968, Alpert gave singing a shot. He and the Tijuana Brass made a prime-time TV special called The Beat Of The Brass, and he ended the special with a taped vignette where he sang “This Guy’s In Love With You” to Sharon Mae Lubin, his wife at the time. (They broke up four years later.)
Alpert, looking for a song, had gone to see Bacharach, who was signed to A&M as a solo artist. Alpert had a habit of going to talk to songwriters and asking them if they had any leftover songs that had never been recorded. Bacharach and his regular collaborator Hal David had written “This Guy’s In Love With You,” and they didn’t have any plans for it, so Bacharach gave it to Alpert. Alpert hadn’t intended to release it as a single, but enough people called in to CBS asking him to release it that Alpert saw a business opportunity. A few weeks later, the song was #1.
“This Guy’s In Love With You” is an amiable and aimless love song without a whole lot to say about the way that people interact with each other. Alpert delivers it with a shambolic sort of lounge-singer panache. It’s clearly a Bacharach/David song, and it’s just as clearly being sung by someone who doesn’t really know what he’s doing. It’s got an easygoing dynamic to it, building up to a big orchestral finale, which is nice enough. But it’s also a big, soft nothing of a song, and I have a hard time imagining anyone ever being excited to hear it. Maybe I just don’t get Burt Bacharach.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s Faith No More playing their disconcertingly faithful 1997 cover of “This Guy’s In Love With You” for a crowd that can’t decide whether to mosh or to do the half-ironic power-ballad arm-waving thing: