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"
ReleasedDecember 1960 (1960-12)
Format7-inch record
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]

Aretha Franklin's version[edit]

  • In 1971, Aretha Franklin released a cover version of the song that outperformed the original on the charts, in which Franklin 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. Her version went to #1 on the US soul charts for three weeks and #2 Pop for two weeks.[6] "Spanish Harlem" was kept from the #1 spot by Go Away Little Girl by Donny Osmond.[7] This version also hit #6 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart.[8] 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.[9]

Other cover versions[edit]

In media[edit]

  • Lenny Bruce discusses the song in the Carnegie Hall midnight concert on February 4, 1961.
  • 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.
  • In the 1974 novel The Dogs of War (novel) anti hero "Cat" Shannon favorite tune is "Spanish Harlem"
  • 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. ^
  8. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 97.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Kramer: The Brill Building > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  11. ^ "Paolo Nutini - Last Request @ Webster Hall June 12, 2014". YouTube. Retrieved 2016-09-26.
  12. ^ Billy Joe Royal, "Spanish Harlem" Retrieved September 23, 2012.

External links[edit]