Saturday, July 2, 2011

Masterpieces of Pop: "I Only Have Eyes For You"

Although “I Only Have Eyes For You” was written by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin in 1934 and has been covered by a slew of artists (including the original recording by Dick Powell for the film “Dames” in the same year the song was written), the definitive version was recorded by The Flamingos in 1959.

Founded as a quartet in 1952, this doo-wop group was a sextet by the time they recorded this immortal classic, and it naturally became their biggest hit. The song is really the ultimate expression of a specific 1950s sound and in fact, the chord progression of doo-wop songs—slow songs in swing time—is now often referred to as “the 50s progression.” When one imagines a couple (he in a white dinner jacket and tie, and she in a “New Look” pink dress with a voluminous skirt) slow dancing under the sparkles from a mirrorball, this is the song that is playing. It is that iconic, and perfect.

It starts with a few hesitant strums of a guitar, until it finds the key of the song and settles in. The soft ostinato piano that keeps leisurely time is accompanied by the vocal stylings of The Flamingos: the smooth quality of tenor Nate Nelson’s lead vocals is punctuated by sudden and unexpected “doo-bop-sh-bop”s from the rest of the group, and the harmony we hear from them throughout the recording is lovely, artful, and sincere. The musical arrangement is spare, with lots of room around each instrument, and the reverb creates an almost eerie sound, as though the song, just for this moment, just for this slow dance, exists somewhere outside of time...

“I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos is number 157 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “500 Greatest [Pop] Songs Of All Time.”

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

Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you, dear

The moon may be high
but I can't see a thing in the sky,
I only have eyes for you

I don't know if we're in a garden,
or on a crowded avenue
You are here and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by,
but they all disappear from view
And I only have eyes for you"

This is the third installment of my ongoing "Masterpieces of Pop" series. You can read the first two essays here:

Masterpieces of Pop: "Ode To Billie Joe"
Masterpieces of Pop: "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"

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