Herb Alpert’s 9th vs. Beethoven’s 9th

Our popular “Smackdown” series has been long overdue for a revival, but candidates for a worthy battle are few and far between. In fact, the reason there hasn’t been a good smackdown in a while is that this past one was hard to put together after I found these two albums next to each other when I was moving records after one of our 50¢ sales (It’s amazing what people will pass up, even for a buck).  It’s a fun idea but entirely lopsided, given my well-documented admiration for one of the two.  Still, I took the records from the 50¢ bin home, listened to them and thus began the legendary smackdown to be known as…


Herb Alpert vs. Beethoven

Let’s get to know our contestants:

About Beethoven’s 9th –  Composed in 1825.  The composer was fifty-five years old.  He passed away only two years later, making the 9th Symphony the penultimate piece in his storied career.

Length:  An hour. Ugh.

Instrumentation:  Thirty some people. Plus a whole choir. Ugh

beethovens 9th 1

(Allegro me non troppo, un poco maestoso)

About Herb Alpert’s 9th – Composed in 1967.  Age of composer thirty-two.  In fact, by the age of fifty-seven Herb Alpert had recorded thirty-two albums.   At seventy-seven years old, Alpert has outlived the so-called “great maestro” by twenty years.

Length:  A lean twenty-eight minutes.

Instrumentation:  The Tijuana Brass.  How awesome are these guys?  Just the year before they had five albums in the Billboard Pop Chart’s top twenty.  A quarter of the top twenty was Tijuana Brass.  Nobody, not even Beethoven, has accomplished that before or since!  Dude’s so old they didn’t even have a top twenty.

my heart belongs to daddy

(“My Heart Belongs to Daddy”)

(Point for this first round goes to Herb Alpert.)

Whose music was more memorable?:

Beethoven’s 9th symphony is widely considered not only the composer’s greatest work but one of the greatest achievements in all of western art.  The “Ode to Joy” passage from the fourth movement is one of the most instantly recognizable and universal melodies in all the world, and has adopted as an anthem by various nations over the years since the composer’s death.

beethovens 9th 3

(Finale – Allegro ma non froppo – allegro assai)

Herb Alpert’s Ninth was the last Tijuana Brass LP to be issued in mono and stereo.  It featured a bust of Beethoven wearing a Herb Alpert t-shirt on the cover.

(The point for this round goes to Ludwig van Beethoven.)

Which album has more unwanted copies sitting around the record store?

Today’s recordings of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony come from the 1958 Charles Munch/Boston Symphony recording.  We have a couple copies around the shop.  We have more than a dozen various other recordings of Beethoven’s 9th, including Bruno Walter’s subdued recording from the following year (one of my favorites).

There are about ten copies of Herb Alpert’s 9th kicking around the shop, excluding the inevitable few in the junk record shelves in the bathroom and the 50¢ bin in the entryway.

(The point for this round goes to Ludwig van Beethoven)

Lasting influence:

Beethoven’s 9th symphony has been recorded hundreds of times, dating back to the introduction of recorded sound (the first was conducted by Bruno Seidler-Winkler, and issued by Grammaphone in 1923).  Neither of the two original songs introduced on Herb Alpert’s 9th – “A Banda” and “Bud” – were recorded again.

beethovens 9th 2 exc

(Adagio molto a cantible, excerpt)

“Bud” was a tribute to Ervan “Bud” Coleman, who had written “Tijuana Taxi” for the group and also played guitar and mandolin on some of their records.  Herb Alpert’s tribute is touching, but a more moving recording was made by the Baja Marimba Band (“For Bud” on Do You Know the Way to San Jose?).



(The point for this round goes to Ludwig van Beethoven)

It’s clear this is going to turn into a rout.  I was on a baseball team as a kid that had to invoke the “10 run” rule pretty often (ten runs meant the inning must end, regardless of the number of players who were out).  We’ll let Herb Alpert enjoy the same mercy, and next time we put him into a fairer fight. Maybe with, oh I dunno, Hugh Masekela…


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