too much typing—since 2003


all disappear from view...

Lots of songs with the last today, I'm putting up only one. But it's one of my all-time favorite songs: The Flamingos' version of "I Only Have Eyes for You." The song itself has a long, interesting history. It was first a hit way back in the 1930s, and rather unusually, it's retained its popularity, in various versions, pretty steadily since then. My collection features contemporary covers of the track by Mark Eitzel, Cole Marquis, Seth Knappen, and Mercury Rev (at least: I haven't finished entering my collection into my database. Sorry, folks alphabetically after "S" and not on compilations or on box sets...).

But the Flamingos' version remains my favorite. On the one hand, it's a fairly classic doo-wop arrangement, and the eighth-note piano rhythm in 6/8 time is a staple of '50s rock balladry. But the song's also unconventional in some respects, which makes it sound as if it might be more recent than it is. For instance, it's a little bit longer than most late-fifties pop singles at 3:15; more importantly, it's positively lazy in getting to its point. After the first vocal lines ("my love must be a kind of blind love / I can't see anyone but you"), the verse doesn't get underway until nearly forty seconds into the track. Your stereotypical top-forty programmer wants the damned chorus to hit by the thirty-second mark; it's not until nearly a minute into the track that we get to the chorus. The arrangement is pretty spare and clean for a fifties ballad; aside from the rich vocal texture, there's just guitar, piano, bass (barely audible), and a nearly unvarying drum part. And check the fake-out opening, which modulates dramatically from a B-flat seventh chord that initially sounds like it might be the dominant of E-flat (nope), down to a G major chord, then to D major, and finally downward into the song's key of C major. But that's not just trickiness for trickiness's sake: first, that sequence outlines the bass vocal line that shows up later. And you could argue that the sense of (harmonic) bewilderment is resonant with the song's lyrics, which work the metaphor of blindness and distraction to a positively narcotic degree - especially in the bridge, where the singer can't tell if he's "in a garden / or on a crowded avenue." In fact, the whole song's mood is nearly proto-psychedelic: I'm not sure if any psychedelic bands actually covered the song (not according to the All-Music Guide) - perhaps it felt too square for them - but lyrically it would have been an inspired choice. The only thing that disrupts the languourous mood is the sudden irruption of the rapid "doo-wop sh-bop" interjections - a rather bizarre touch, actually, that's almost jarring.

Okay, before I get all swoony I'll have to play the Spike Jones version to cure me.

The Flamingos "I Only Have Eyes for You"


Anonymous said...

Have you heard Martina Topley-Bird's version? It appears on one of those Starbucks compilations. It's a great cover that emphasizes the spacey mood of the song that you describe. Like you, Martina is a big fan of the Flamingos' version (according to the liner notes). -- jonhope

2fs said...

Re MTB's version: I hadn't - but I d/l'd it earlier today. Sounds pretty good - I get the feeling she thinks of the song similarly to the way I do. Thanks for the tip!