The Flamingos – I Only have Eyes For You

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The Flamingos

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Listen – The Flamingos – I Only Have Eyes For You – MP3″

Greetings all.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m good and ready for the weekend.
I know that many past Fridays have seen this space filled with party starters guaranteed to keep your knees loose while you scoot around in the sawdust shaking what you brought with you.
However….
Inspirado – my old and dear friend – has taken me by the hand (or the ears) and I bring you not a fast moving soul groover, but what I believe to be one of the four or five greatest records ever recorded in any genre of music.
Hyperbole this is not.
I can’t be one hundred percent certain of the first time I ever heard ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ by the Flamingos, but I’m guessing it was when I saw ‘American Graffiti’ in 1973. I was only eleven years old, but as soon as this song came on the soundtrack it was instantly drilled deep into the pleasure centers of my brain. As I got older, and started to understand something of how records were made, my deep respect for the astounding level of craft involved in the making of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ has grown every time I hear it.
There’s something special about the spare instrumentation – pretty much just piano, drums and guitar – contrasted with a rich, velvety blanket of human voices, all of it arranged to perfection (whoever came up with the “shoo-bop-sh-bops” ought to be awarded some variety of the Nobel Prize) that simply blows my mind.
I’ve always had a love for what might be (if only in my own mind) considered “night time” records that sound as if they were recorded in the wee small hours specifically for use in that same time period, whether for lovers or those engaged in solitary meditation, and ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ is the ne plus ultra of that very specific subgenre.
The song itself originated in a 1934 film called ‘Dames’, sung by Dick Powell and was recorded many time before the Flamingos got their hands on it, but there’s no mistaking that fact that every single version since then is rooted in their arrangement.
There are any number of arguments as to where soul music began, and there are just as many roads leading to that particular vanishing point, beginning with gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, vocal harmony and rock’n’roll. You don’t have to be some kind of expert to understand that a record as powerful as ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ started ripples that extended years beyond its own life on the charts, reaching deep into the years of sweet soul.
More importantly, I’d go as far as to say that this is a signal record that verily transcends the construct (constriction) of genre, elevating itself to an entirely different level. It’s almost the musical equivalent of a meditative exercise, where you just close your eyes, allow yourself to be enveloped by the music (which you all probably do every now and then anyway) and just kind of feel it. Whether the Flamingos intended it or not, this record is possessed of a kind of otherworldly magic. As I sit here writing this piece I’ve probably listened to this song 20 times in a row and it never even comes close to getting old. Beginning with the sound of gently strummed guitar chords it suddenly opens like a flower blooming in time lapse with the lead voice of Nate Nelson and the harmonies of the rest of the group soaring in the background. The surface of the record is undeniably romantic (has there ever been a greater ‘make-out’ record) yet there’s something haunting going on as well. The contrast between the obsessive, almost dark part of the introduction:

My love must be a kind of blind love
I can’t see anyone but you

followed by the punctuation of the shoo-bop-sh-bops is soon mitigated/softened by the deeply romantic chorus, yet there’s no mistaking the obsessive message of the lyrics. There’s something there that is quite literally spooky which is amplified by the ethereal sound of the record. If someone were writing and performing the same set of lyrics today, it would probably be a Goth epic with a video about a stalker.
It’s simply a remarkable and unique piece of work, the very definition of the word ‘sublime’.
Like so many other groups the Flamingos tried to duplicate (almost literally) the success – artistic and financial – of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ a year later (in 1960) with the carbon copyisms of ‘Mio Amore’. The group, which got its start in the early 50’s went on to record a number of excellent records during the soul and funk era including ‘Boogaloo Party’ (on Philips,a number one hit in the UK in 1966) and ‘Heavy Hips’ (on Ronze, 1970?), the constant through many line ups being brothers Jake and Zeke Carey. As is often the case with the vocal groups of that era, there’s still a version of the group touring today.
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing for Monday (though I will be back).
Either way, have a great weekend.

Peace
Larry

PSS Don’t forget to head over to Iron Leg for a new 80’s garage podcast

PSS Stop by Paperback Rider too…

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21 Responses to “The Flamingos – I Only have Eyes For You”

  1. j epstein Says:

    I couldn’t agree more – this is one of those overplayed tunes that actually deserves to be played MORE if that makes any sense . . . .

    It’s SOOOOOO SLLOOOOOOOOOWWW SOOOOOOOO GOOOODD!!!!

  2. Magik Fingahs Says:

    Well said: You eloquently crystalized thoughts I’ve had for years about this song. One of the most important watershed records in the history of rock, soul, a cappella, doo-wop, pop, , etc.

    Great work: I’ve enjoyed your blog for a long time as a lurker, and felt compelled to respond today.

  3. Westex Says:

    I too first heard this on the American Graffiti soundtrack… but in ’93. Such an absolutely gorgeous song. The sound of sweaty dance in the dark with the gal of my dreams… for that month anyway.

  4. OT Says:

    I’ve always considered this one of the most ethereal, “spookiest” records ever, in the same class as Elvis’s 1956 “Blue Moon” — thanks for bringing attention to a track that should rightfully be considered an all-time classic.

  5. .. Says:

    [...] What he said. [...]

  6. SoulBoogieAlex Says:

    It’s not quite sampling what Whitfield did on “I Ain’t Got Nothing” but those shoo-bop-sh-bops sounded familiar to me. I checked, Norman copied them right down to the punctuation.

    Great find!

  7. Planet Mondo Says:

    Never heard this before – what a find, fab stuff

  8. Brian Phillips Says:

    One of the few things that I asked for when I got married was to have the first dance with my wife (July 9, 1988) be this song. Sadly, the composer HATED this version. Me, I prefer it to other versions because it plays so fast and lose with the melody.

    There are any number of records that you could say, this would be great if this or that didn’t happen, but this is genius from stem to stern; not over or under-produced, sung immaculately, arranged exquisitely.

    For you musical types out there, I got into an argument, which I lost, over what key this is in. It sounds like it’s in C, but it’s in F! Starts (after the guitar intro) and ends on the fifth, tonic chord shows up later.

    These are also noteworthy arrangements:

    “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?” – Jimmy Ruffin (also spends a lot of time on the fifth)

    “Get Ready” – The Temptations. The “A” pedal point throughout the verse kicks this version over Rare Earth’s.

    Brian Phillips

  9. Parabellum Says:

    Thanks Larry, I haven’t heard that tune in years! Lovely.

  10. euclidcreek Says:

    Don’t forget Lester Bowie/AAC version. One night I caught the the movie from the thirties that introduced “I Only Have Eyes For You” in a spectacular dance sequence. The song has a touch of melancholy, I feel. Same for “What Becomes of the Broken Heated?”

  11. Jasper Says:

    I would like to add that this tune also was featured in Philip Kauffman’s movie “The Right Stuff” when two young girls try to get all the members of the Original Seven to sleep with them and they try to make a move upon Glenn and Carpenter.
    Indeed this song has an eerie airy quality and thanks for sharing, Larry!

  12. funky16corners Says:

    Jasper
    Great movie.
    Someone should put together a canonical list of all the times the Flamingo’s record has been used as mood music in TV and movies, and the context in which it was used, It would make for interesting reading especially in what it would reveal about how the vibe of the song is perceived by others.
    Larry

  13. TYRONE ISMAEL Says:

    i would like to thank all for the wonderful feedback on the FLAMINGOS, my father frank mingo ayers was one of the lead singers with the flamingos for 11 years. i have wonderful rememberances of going to shows with the flamingos, with zeak ,jake and my father, and watching them perform. i will always feel that the song I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU is one of the greatest love ballads ever recorded. thank you all again, ……my father passed in 1999 and i truly do miss him, its just so wonderful to come across sites and places that loved the music of.THE FLAMINGOS. TYRONE ISMAEL/ CEO/PRESIDENT/ ISMAEL RECORDS

  14. themusicologist Says:

    Larry,
    one of the best tunes of all time

    thanks

    Tyrone,

    quality…what memories you must have.

  15. TYRONE ISMAEL Says:

    really great memories.from the crazy theam song they would sing that only a few heard. to the way the room would get quite whenever they sang.I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU.

  16. Joseph Mirrione Says:

    Larry:
    I’ll be sure to pass your kind words on to Terry Johnson (who arranged the song, sang that ethereal tenor, came up with the background harmonies that you love so much and strummed those famous chords on his guitar on the original recording). You can keep up with his career at http://www.terryjohnsonsflamingos.com

  17. themusicologist Says:

    Larry,

    threw down the Swallows 1953 version this week on themusicologist. (#200)

  18. tyrone ismael Says:

    please pass my words on to mr johnson. my father frank mingo ayers, also had the distinct honor of performing on what is now concidered the final ALBUM of the flamingos with original founder zeak cary. the name of the album is FLAMINGOS/ IN TOUCH WITH YOU.

  19. Virginia Says:

    Thanks for this wonderful trip down memory lane. This was absolutely one of my huband’s (who passed away recently) and my favorite songs. We’ll be playing it at his celebration of life service, from the original 45 rpm and have the album, now on CD, too…. we still have an old “record player.”

  20. Martha Says:

    I am a child of the ’60s and a incurable romantic…I Only Have Eyes for You was made for us. I loved it from day one and I feel it is the definitive love song! Lovers Never Say Goodbye is also a song for romantics…so smooth. Simplicity in the music cannot be beat, the backup is amazing…both have it and there is nothing you could do to improve them…they’re perfection! As my generation would say…great belly-rubbing music!

  21. wendy Says:

    My mother passed away on tuesday 30th june 2009.The song by the flamingos was my parents song when they met it was played at my dads funeral and it will be played at mums on monday.I absolutely love the song.And I know there wont be a dry eye in the church.

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