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80 years of Herb Alpert: The Tijuana Brass, 'Whipped Cream' and...The Notorious B.I.G.?

by Ryan Book   May 31, 2015 14:24 PM EDT

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Today marks the 80th birthday of Herb Alpert, one of the most accomplished individuals in American music, who doesn't get nearly enough appreciation from the younger generations of both fans and performers. Music Times wants to pay tribute to the legendary trumpet player by summing up his huge career in seven songs (for the most part).

"Tell It To The Birds" (1961)

Long before Alpert managed to make it as performer, he had been signed to RCA as a vocalist (which was certainly not his strong point as a musician). Eventually he decided to form a new record label along with Jerry Moss, an up-and-coming music executive who had recently moved to Los Angeles from New York. Alpert was responsible for the first single released on the fledgling Carnival label, dropping "Tell It To The Birds" during 1961. The pair would find out later that year, after a mere two releases, that Carnival was already a registered label name. The duo didn't take too much time to come up with something snazzy, opting to simply take their respective initials and found A&M Records. Yeah, that A&M Records. One of the more successful labels of the last 50 years. The effects of this founding would pay off several decades later.

"The Lonely Bull" (1962)

Alpert, despite owning his own label, was still struggling to own his own sound. During one fateful visit to Tijuana, Mexico however, Alpert had the good fortune to watch a mariachi band at a bullfight. He was inspired by the fanfare of the style and wanted to replicate the vibe for his own American recordings. Wanting to save money on a studio band, Alpert overdubbed himself playing trumpet and created "The Lonely Bull," a song that would crack the Top 10 on the charts and inspire calls for a tour. The label head finally broke and hired a band, which he appropriately titled Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass (although no one in the band was Latino).

Whipped Cream & Other Delights (1965)

This year doesn't only mark the 80th birthday of Alpert, but also the 50th anniversary of his most famous album, Whipped Cream & Other Delights. Nearly all of the tracks featured names of saccharine treats, including "A Taste of Honey" (which went to no. 1 for five weeks on the Easy Listening chart before winning the Record of The Year Grammy for 1966). As great as this album is among Alpert's catalogue, it's almost more relevant in the history of album art. You'll note that the number of iconic covers pre-1965 are limited, and Whipped Cream has to be considered groundbreaking in its sex appeal and design. It famously features model Dolores Erickson covered in shaving cream, drawing plenty of male fans to buy one of the 6 million copies sold.

"This Guy's In Love With You" (1969)

As we mentioned, Alpert was better as a horn player than as a vocalist. However, when on television during 1968, he sang the Burt Bacharach single "This Guy's In Love With You" to his wife on the set of CBS' television special Beat of The Brass. It was never intended to be released as a single but Alpert realized that he onto something (or maybe it was the thousands of viewers who called into CBS for information). He and the Tijuana Brass would release the song as a single on its album (which shared a name with the television special). It would become his first no. 1 song on the pop charts, and would also become the first no. 1 single for A&M Records.

"Rise" (1979)

Alpert will be most noted as a musician for his work with the Tijuana Brass however he reached a point where he wanted to try doing things differently. Hence he went solo during the '70s. His highest moment as a lone performer came during 1979 when his instrumental single "Rise" went to no. 1 on the Hot 100, making Alpert the only performer in history to top the singles chart with both an instrumental and a vocal track. If any song from his catalogue is recognizable to younger generations of music listeners, it's "Rise." The song was sampled by the Notorious B.I.G. on his no. 1 Rap song "Hypnotize" during 1997. It helped that Alpert's nephew, Randy "Badazz" Alpert, worked as a songwriter on the track.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" (1988)

Your correspondent, and many a music fan/writer, has complained about the overwrought performances of our national anthem at sporting events. For some reason, no one has suggested merely going back to a strictly-instrumental version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Super Bowl, the most prominent example of the national anthem during any given year, last featured an instrumental version during 1988. Alpert was the performer behind that rendition, as it took place near his hometown of Los Angeles in San Diego.

The UCLA School of Music (2007)

As you can imagine, the ownership of A&M Records has brought far more money to Alpert's bank account than his actual career as a performer. That outlet paid off most during 1987 when he and Moss sold the company to PolyGram Records for more than $500 million. Alpert has been more than gracious with his fortune, investing in the arts all over the nation and Los Angeles area. That peaked during 2007 when he and his wife, Lani Hall, donated $30 million to the University of California of Los Angeles to create the School of the Arts' Herb Alpert School of Music. That money has been well spent, making UCLA the no. 4 music school in the world, according to The Hollywood Reporter's rankings.

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