BEN E. KING
A-side: Spanish Harlem
I'm sure that I've mentioned previously on this blog that I'm not really into soul music. Cue gasps of astonishment and disbelief that anyone couldn't like soul music. Sorry - but that's the way it is. However there are some exceptions, mostly on labels like Atlantic and Stax - maybe it's the cookie-cutter, formulaic soul of Motown that doesn't get to me, but that's a matter to pontificate over when I reach one of my two Motown records. Back to business with Ben E. King - he was with the Drifters for a bit, and then drifted off (that's a little bit of comedy gold for you there), into a solo career. His biggest hit was, as I'm sure you're all aware, Stand By Me - which became an even bigger hit in the 80's when it was re-released as the theme tune to a film (you can guess the title of the film). It was such a smash hit that the record company, in their infinite wisdom decided to release another one of his old hits again, which is where this records comes in.
Spanish Harlem, was that next Ben E. King re-release. Stand By Me is a good catchy tune, that for me has lost any charm it once had due to over familiarly. Spanish Harlem, however, is a record so full of charm, that I can never grow tired of hearing it. Normally a Phil Spector Wall-Of-Sound production gives song an epic feel, a biggness that can a fill a room. On this song the same production techniques are used to make a record that sounds so intimate, you almost feel like you're intruding. King's voice is perfect for this - it is sweet and crystal clear. The whole mood is of romantic wistfulness, that never once slides into the schmaltzy or saccharine.The instrumentation is interesting and unusual, which keeps the sound fresh and new even after all the passing decades. Definitely a case of the right song, by the right singer with the right production. An almost perfect 2 and a half minutes of music.
Obviously the b-side was never going to live up the a-side, but First Taste of Love makes a decent job of it nonetheless. It immediately comes out as different to Spanish Harlem in the upbeat and uptempo mood of the song. It feels much more like a old Drifters number - it's a bit of solid stylish soul, that simply doesn't move me like the a-side. I can't criticize King's voice, and I do really rather like the do-wop backing vocals and the string accompaniment, however First Taste Of Love, cannot rise above being little more than ordinary.
There we go then a record to love and to be loved.
Next time something in leather from the 70's...