You don’t hear the phrase “mood music” much anymore. It was often used to refer to the instrumental pop music that rose in favor along with with the popularity of high-end “hi-fi” sets starting in the late 50s. Lush orchestral music was frequently the source of choice for showing off the power and clarity of a big system. Instead of inviting a date up to your apartment to see your collection of etchings, you might bring her up to listen to Enoch Light and the Light Brigade, Henry Mancini, the exotic island sounds of Martin Denny, or the soundtrack from a big Hollywood musical.
As the 1960s went on, traditional orchestra music started to go out of favor, but pop instrumentals were still big business. Groups large and small, often covering hits of the day by the Beatles, the Mamas and the Papas, and the like, moved albums pretty well among an audience that was seeking a familiar, non-challenging half-hour of music. And in this period, nobody was more successful with instrumentals than Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
Alpert and the TJB have been spotlighted among The #1 Albums before, having bagged four (and four other top-10 albums) between 1965 and 1967. Now we’re up to 1968, and their final big success, The Beat of the Brass, which spent two weeks at #1 beginning in late July. It fits the template Alpert had established on previous releases—some pop covers, some overtly Latin music, and a few instrumentals, impeccably arranged and performed and featuring Alpert on trumpet.
The big single from the album was unlike anything Alpert had done before and it, more than anything else on The Beat of the Brass, marks the end of an era. For the first time, a smash Alpert single features a vocal—Herb’s own. “This Guy’s in Love With You,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic from the musical Promises Promises, spent a month at #1 in the summer of 1968. On the clip below, the video is hazy and the audio’s out of sync, but it presents the song as seen and heard on Alpert’s second network TV special in April 1968.
Alpert’s chart-topping take as a singer marks the end of the line for the sort of instrumental pop that he had made famous over the last three years. After a decade-and-a-half in which throwbacks to an earlier musical tradition such as Mancini, Mantovani, and Lawrence Welk had scored #1 albums with ease, the top of the Billboard 200 would hereafter be ruled almost exclusively by acts whose roots were firmly in the rock ‘n’ roll era.
The lineup of acts to come is impressive—Cream, the Doors, the Rascals, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix—all in a row, all from the final five months of 1968, beginning in our next installment.