SONG: I Only Have Eyes For You
ARTIST: The Flamingos
Listen to it here:
I Only Have Eyes For You was written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin for the movie Dames in 1934, but the song saw real success when it was recorded and released by doo-wop group the Flamingos in 1959. Their version of the song saw a decent amount of commercial success, hitting number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was seen as ‘genre defining’. There were plenty of notable covers through the years, but the Flamingos have the definitive version.
The Flamingos were originally a group of 5 singers who joined singing forces in Chicago. After several name changes the group settled on the Flamingos and released their first single If I Can’t Have You to moderate success and followed that up with Golden Teardrops, which brought them great acclaim as a premier singing group. Through the mid 1950s they saw a few record label changes and few personnel changes, coupled with more moderate, somewhat regional success. It wasn’t until the group moved from Illinois to New York that their success ramped up to more of a national stage, especially with the release of I Only Have Eyes for You, their biggest hit. They also apparently put on a great show, working choreography into their songs. Come 1960 the group started to split apart, with members leaving for solo careers or other doo-wop groups. They continued to perform through the next few decades with different lineups until they split for good in 2005 due to a money dispute.
The Temptations credit the Flamingos as being hugely influential to their singing and dancing style.
The descendents of some of the original members sued Pepsi for having used I Only Have Eyes for You in a commercial without their consent.
Yesssss gooooood we’re sinking more into the peat bog that is doo wop, and I love doo wop! I love the hazy, slightly drunken night stroll sound of this song. The back up singers have a TON of room around them, but the lead singer sounds fantastic, laid back and cool. His voice is beautiful and nuanced. Nothing sounds forced, like he knows that he’s going to seduce you, you just need to give in to his velvet voice. Can we also talk about that choice of back up singer lines? Such a bizarre but ultimately brilliant choice of ‘da-ba-cha-bop’ (?) as the main vocal back up in the verses, and I feel this is ultimately what makes this song so memorable and sets it apart from other good doo-wop songs and groups of the day. There’s not really much to say about instrumentation – typical simple doo-wop piano plodding along, brushes on the snare drum, maybe almost imperceivable bass, tremolo guitar. What gives this song it’s character are the voices and what strong voices they are.
I can’t put my finger on why, but I really like this song. It has all the makings of a boring tune with 1950s tropes I don’t totally subscribe to: overly present backup singers, triplets in the piano, and the bass being only hinted at. However, there’s something that just makes this song work for me. I really like the lead singer’s voice. He’s very relaxed, and his vibrato is super pleasing, and the chorus somehow swells from the very little going on to just one tiny level stronger. It feels like all the musicians in the room really were going for the same thing, and the result is something that sounds polished without being overproduced. Nicely done, Flamingos!
Average mark out of 10:
Other notable versions of this song:
Art Garfunkel underwhelms as usual:
90s vocal legend Boyz II Men with their version:
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