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