The Infinite Jukebox: Al Martino’s ‘Spanish Eyes’


Al Martino holds the record for the first no. 1 in Britain.
Up to November 1952, such charts as there were focussed mainly on the sales of sheet music, until the New Musical Express decided to publish a chart of selling singles. The first chart was only a Top 12 and Martino topped it with his debut single, ‘Here is my Heart’. All told, the track was at no. 1 for nine weeks, the whole of the rest of the year.
Martino stayed popular in Britain until 1955, with five more top 10 hits and one top 20. That was it until 1973 when, right at the peak of glam-rock, his 1966 single, ‘Spanish Eyes’ was re-released for the second time and, for no reason that I can remember or discover, went big. Big as in a no. 5 highest position, 21 weeks on the chart but, if the site I discovered is reliable, only appeared once on Top of the Pops, when it was poised at no. 31, and it was danced to by Pan’s People (the site in question is devoted to Pan’s People’s dances).
It was a most unlikely hit, and very much one for my parent’s generation. The sound is dated beyond belief, but then that was the same when it was recorded in 1966. It’s a big, smooth, highly-orchestrated pop ballad, whose only concession to the contemporary day was a strong and regular beat.
Oh, and it also had a magnificent melody.
That’s the one thing I have to admit to. This was so not my kind of music, not on any level. It was what I ended up listening to more often than not throughout the Sixties, when other kids got to hear The Beatles and the Stones, The Who, Kinks and Small Faces and I got Frank Sinatra, Nat ‘King’ Cole and Sing Something Simple (and not the version they sang on the terraces either). By every measure, ‘Spanish Eyes’ was set up for me to hate it as much as (by then) I did T.Rex and Marc Bolan. But I liked it.
At least I didn’t have to admit to anything like that at school, where my musical reputation had never been bolstered by my love for, first, Lindisfarne, and then 10cc. Martino’s was a summer hit, and it felt appropriate to the time with its rich orchestration and his deep, expressive voice. It pole-vaulted into the Top 30 at 16 (on the back of that TOTP performance by Pan’s People?), which was the first I heard of it, and I’d completed my A-Levels by then and School was already a memory of ‘the happiest days of my life’.
Why I liked it is as inexplicable now as it was then. After near fifty years of music, an experience far broader than anything I’d had in 1973, such a thing is no longer unusual, and I have long since got over any sense of shame about what I like, however out of my personal mainstream it may be.
‘Spanish Eyes’ is another of those songs that doubles as a Time Machine, taking me back (in memory, sadly, rather than in body) to when it was ubiquitous and I was rather more innocent than I am now. Nothing like this will ever happen again. Someone, somewhere, will be the poorer for that.

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