Spanish Harlem (song)

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"Spanish Harlem"
Spanish Harlem - Ben E King.jpg
Single by Ben E. King
from the album Spanish Harlem
B-side "First Taste of Love"
Released December 1960 (1960-12)
Format 7-inch record
Genre Soul
Length 2:53
Label Atco
Producer(s) Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Ben E. King singles chronology
"How Often"
"Spanish Harlem"
"Stand By Me"

"Spanish Harlem" is a song recorded by Ben E. King in 1960 for Atco Records. It was written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector, and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. During a 1968 interview, Leiber credited Stoller with the arrangement;[1] similarly, in a 2009 radio interview with Leiber and Stoller on the Bob Edwards Weekend talk show, Jerry Leiber said that Stoller, while uncredited, had written the key instrumental introduction to the record.[citation needed] In the team's autobiography from the same year, Hound Dog, Stoller himself remarks that he had created this "fill" while doing a piano accompaniment when the song was presented to Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, with Spector playing guitar and Leiber doing the vocal. "Since then, I've never heard the song played without that musical figure.[1] I presumed my contribution was seminal to the composition, but I also knew that Phil didn't want to share credit with anyone but Jerry, so I kept quiet."

It was originally released as the B-side to "First Taste of Love".[2] The song was King's first hit away from The Drifters, a group he had led for several years. With an arrangement by Stan Applebaum featuring Spanish guitar, marimba, drum-beats, soprano saxophone, strings, and a male chorus, it climbed the Billboard charts, eventually peaking at #15 R&B and #10 Pop.[3] It was ranked #358 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[4] King's version was not a hit in the UK: instead, the original A-side, "First Taste of Love", that was played on Radio Luxembourg, charting at #27.[5] In 1987, after Stand By Me made #1, the song was re-released and charted at #92.[5]

Cover versions[edit]

  • Jay and the Americans released a cover version of the song on their 1962 album, She Cried.
  • Mike Stoller, alongside with Andre Salvet, wrote French lyrics in 1960. With help of Lucien Morisse, song was presented to Dalida. She recorded it as Nuits d'Espagne and released it in 1961.
  • Jimmy Justice (UK number 20, 1962)
  • Cliff Richard released a version on the 1962 album 32 Minutes and 17 Seconds. He also recorded a German version, titled "Das ist die Frage aller Fragen", with lyrics by Carl Ulrich Blecher, that was a #1 hit in Germany and Austria in 1963, and a #1 hit in Switzerland in 1965.
  • Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass on the album Volume 2 in 1963
  • Percy Faith in 1965
  • The Mamas & The Papas released a cover version on their 1966 album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears.
  • Trini Lopez recorded a version in Spanish as "Aquella Rosa" on his 1966 LP, The Second Latin Album, issued by Reprise Records (6215).
  • Slim Smith released a cover version in 1968.
  • Chet Atkins in 1969
  • Long John Baldry released a cover version on his 1969 cover album, Wait for Me. It was later included on the 2006 posthumous release Let The Heartaches Begin: The Pye Anthology.
  • Checkmates, Ltd. released a version of the song as the B-side to their 1969 single, "Proud Mary". It was featured on their 1969 album, Love Is All We Have to Give.
  • Andy Williams released a version in 1970 on his album, The Andy Williams Show.
  • Laura Nyro covered "Spanish Harlem" in her live concert, at the Fillmore East, released in 2004 on the CD Spread Your Wings and Fly: Live at the Fillmore East May 30, 1971. On November 17, 1971, Nyro released a studio version on the album Gonna Take a Miracle. Her covers gender-shift some of the lyrics of "Spanish Harlem". Thus, she sang "I'm goin' to pick that rose and watch him as he grows in my garden" (originally "watch her as she grows"). She also added an original gender reference, i.e. "With eyes as black as coal he looks down in my soul." (The original lyric is "with eyes as black as coal that look down in my soul.") The live version also substitutes "rare rose up" for "red rose up" in the second refrain.
  • Aretha Franklin released a cover version of the song in the middle of 1971 that outperformed the original on the charts, charting #1 R&B for three weeks and #2 Pop for two weeks.[6] Aretha Franklin's version earned a gold single for sales of over one million. Dr. John played keyboards on Franklin's version with Bernard "Pretty" Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass.[7] This version hit #6 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart. Franklin also changed the lyrics slightly, from "A red rose up in Spanish Harlem" to "There's a rose in Black 'n Spanish Harlem. A rose in Black 'n Spanish Harlem."
  • Leon Russell in 1974
  • The song was performed live by Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band in 1974, featuring Suki Lahav on the violin. Only 3 recordings are known to exist.
  • Led Zeppelin covered the song, at least in part, in a live recording of "Dazed and Confused". An example of this appears on the Led Zeppelin bootleg Get Back to L.A., a recording of their Los Angeles concert of March 25, 1975.
  • A Macedonian version, "Spanski Noki", with lyrics by Gjoko Georgiev and re-edition by Milan Kotlic, was recorded by Nina Spirova in the 1970s. There are also versions in French, Swedish, and Finnish.
  • Neil Diamond in 1993
  • Rebecca Pidgeon's 1994 version was used over the closing credits of the film Phil Spector (2013).
  • Janet Seidel in 1999
  • Kenny Rankin in 2002
  • Willy DeVille in 2003
  • Bowling for Soup in 2005
  • Phil Spector recorded a version of the song, which can be found on the compilation album The Phil Spector Collection, released in 2006.
  • American composer and producer Kramer covered the song and included it on his sixth album The Brill Building, released in 2012 through Tzadik Records.[8]
  • The song has also been covered by The Cats, Geoff Love, Paolo Nutini.[9] and Billy Joe Royal[10]

In media[edit]

  • The song is referred to in the 1972 Elton John song, "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" on the Honky Château album. The lyrics, written by Bernie Taupin, begin with "And now I know, Spanish Harlem are not just pretty words to say ... now I know that rose trees never grow in New York City." The speaker is saying that the song "Spanish Harlem" had given him a romanticized image of the city, but now that he has seen it for himself, he refers to it as a "trash-can dream come true."[citation needed] In turn, Rob Thomas stated in interviews that Elton's song inspired the line, "my Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa", in the 1999 Santana song Smooth, which Thomas wrote and sang.
  • The song was included in the musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe".


  1. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 14 - Big Rock Candy Mountain: Rock 'n' roll in the late fifties. [Part 4] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Retrieved 2011-04-30. 
  2. ^ Billboard. 1960-11-21. p. 53. Retrieved 2016-09-26. 
  3. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 325. 
  4. ^ "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 7, 2011. Retrieved October 1, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "The Official Charts Company - Spanish Harlem (song)". The Official Charts Company. 3 May 2013. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 215. 
  7. ^ Warner, Jennifer (September 24, 2014). Respect: The Life and Times of Aretha Franklin. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 31. ISBN 978-1502500007. Retrieved 18 May 2015. 
  8. ^ "Kramer: The Brill Building > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved July 17, 2015. 
  9. ^ "Paolo Nutini - Last Request @ Webster Hall June 12, 2014". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-09-26. 
  10. ^ Billy Joe Royal, "Spanish Harlem" Retrieved September 23, 2012.

External links[edit]