Another Platinum Anniversary and Al Martino, the UK’s First Official Chart-Topper

Al Martino.

Who?

Al Martino. The person who had the honour of reaching the top spot on the very first UK Singles Chart published back in November 1952, 70 years ago this week.


Those of us who used to be chart-obsessed (and in the early ’70s I think I was), will already know this, as the kind of thing that often pops up in quizzes, but to my shame I don’t think I’d be able to identify Al’s chart-topping song even if I heard it. Time to right that wrong.


Well, what can I say, very much of its time and Al remained at the top spot for a further eight weeks so the only chart-topping artist of 1952. Al was born in Philadelphia to Italian immigrant parents and was inspired by the success of a close family friend, someone who had changed his name to Mario Lanzo!

Al moved to the UK after the success of Here In My Heart, as he’d got himself into a bit of a pickle with some other Italian Americans who shall remain nameless, but who like to offer ‘protection’ and wear sharp suits. He often appeared at the London Palladium and had another six hits over here in the early ’50s. He eventually managed to return to the US in 1958 but found it hard to re-establish himself after so long away, and with the arrival of rock and roll his style of music had suddenly become very dated.

I did say I had never knowingly listened to Here In My Heart before but I definitely knew of Al Martino as during my chart-obsessed years, he had a No. 5 hit on the UK Singles Chart with this song, Spanish Eyes. I remember well writing his name in my chart listings notebook in July 1973, and on the cardboard insert of the cassette tape where I very illegally recorded the Top 20.

Spanish Eyes by Al Martino:


Spanish Eyes had first been recorded in 1965 after lyrics were added to a tune by German orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert, originally titled Moon Over Naples. It first charted in the UK in 1970 before returning as a big hit in 1973. I didn’t really question it at the time as the chart in those days was full of left-field offerings (it wasn’t all glam rock, we also had Benny Hill, Lieutenant Pigeon and Peters & Lee hitting the top spot!).

But what could it have been that prompted Al Martino’s return to form? Well, it didn’t take me long to find out it was Al who played the character Johnny Fontane in the 1972 film The Godfather, as a ‘mob-associated’ singer (not in any way inspired by Frank Sinatra of course) looking for help from his ‘godfather’ in securing a movie role. After a few false starts we end up with the very memorable bed scene, where the studio-boss woke up next to the severed head of his prize stallion. Needless to say, Johnny did then get the role.

Al with Marlon Brando in The Godfather

I think most of us of a certain age will recognise the Godfather theme music, but I hadn’t realised until now that Al also recorded a version with lyrics called Speak Softly, Love. It was the version by Andy Williams that became the most popular but fitting to have Al, the Italian American who was actually in the film, record it too.


So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – There is so much I could have written about when celebrating 70 years of the UK Singles Chart, but best I think on this occasion to stick with the artist who kick-started the whole thing. It was Percy Dickins of the New Musical Express who first gathered a pool of 52 stores willing to report sales figures – 52 stores in 1952, for 52 weekly charts published annually. How fitting.

It has of course got an awful lot more complicated since those early days. During my chart-obsessed years it was always the British Market Research Bureau who compiled the weekly chart, the one I listened to religiously (no pun intended) on a Sunday evening from 5pm until the big reveal at 7pm. I have to admit I no longer peruse the charts and if I ever do I have absolutely no idea who 90% of the artists on them are. It’s all got a lot more complicated what with streaming and the downloading of music. The songs are somehow not as precious as they used to be, and a lot more disposable.

Unusually for me I do recognise most of the artists on this week’s Official UK Singles Chart – Yeah me!

I still have some of my mum’s old shellac 78s from 70 years ago. I doubt if many of today’s youngsters will have a physical copy of anything they listened to in 2022 in 70 years’ time. Then again, the way things are going they will probably have bigger things to worry about, but I would wager our descendants will still listen to music, and have songs that become favourites above all others, songs that eventually top their 2092 charts.

Until next time…

Here In My Heart Lyrics
(Song by Bill Borrelli/Lou Levinson/Pat Genaro)

Here in my heart I’m alone, I’m so lonely
Here in my heart I just yearn for you only
Here in my arms I long to hold you
Hold you so near, ever close to my heart
So, darling

Say that you care, take these arms I give gladly
Surely you know I need your love so badly
Here is my heart, my life, and my all, dear
Please be mine and stay here in my heart

Say that you care, take these arms I give gladly
Surely you know I need your love so badly
Here is my heart, my life, and my all, dear
Please be mine and stay here in my heart

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days - I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 50 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team Bacharach and David - The opening line to that song was "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping that by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

22 thoughts on “Another Platinum Anniversary and Al Martino, the UK’s First Official Chart-Topper”

  1. Fascinating post Alyson. I never knew Al Martino played Johnny Fontane in The Godfather. I once interviewed the American band leader Harry James ( who drank almost a pint of gin during our conversation!) and he told me a story that an American gangster had held a gun to the head of another band leader, Tommy Dorsey, to get him to release Frank Sinatra from his contract.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I somehow thought it was another Italian American that played Johnny Fontane (no not Frank!) but Al does seem to have been the best man for the job.

      And yet again, this is why you should write your own blog – you have so many great stories to tell. I totally believe that story about Tommy Dorsey and the rumours were rife, but you got it (almost) from the horse’s mouth (but not the horse in the Godfather film!).

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    1. It’s a song that is always handy to have up your sleeve for a pop quiz but not very memorable. Yes, Spanish Eyes a hit from our era but not really representative of the time – The Sweet or Slade it was most definitely not.

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      1. I never know when you are being serious George, but I think I’ll just have to assume you are a big fan of Spanish Eyes. I liked it back in 1973 and I still like it. Bert did a good job with the music and Al’s voice is terrific.

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  2. It is suggested by many that the ‘Johnny Fontaine’ character in Mario Puzo’s original book “The Godfather” is based on Frank Sinatra. It also appears that ‘Old Blue Eyes” wasn’t thrilled by the association. As Martino was twelve years younger than Sinatra, he was a much better age for role of ‘Fontaine’ in the 1972 movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I spotted that, and I don’t think anyone watching the film could imagine it was based on anyone else – why he got so upset with Mario Puzo about it I suppose. Lynchie who left the first comment at the top of the page has a great story which is no doubt true and shows just how linked to the mob he was.

      Al was just the right age for the role in 1972 and was lucky to be part of one of the greatest films ever made. Don’t think he ever did much other acting apart from another Godfather film but where could you go from there?

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    1. I only knew of Al because of the fun fact he was the first person to top our UK Singles Chart. I too would never have connected him to the Godfather role. Also there seemed to be an awful lot of other Italian American singers from the 50s/60s who popped up in film roles around that time and of course Frankie Avalon was in Grease, and Frankie Valli sang the title song (a very different kind of film but you know what I mean). I used to mix up those two Frankie’s at the time but no more. It’s Frankie Valli for me every time.

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  3. Do you remember when Radio 1 did the best selling singles of the year? Somehow Spanish Eyes was one of them (it was 17th according to a list I’ve just seen). I suppose it was released due to his Godfather role. And it IS a great song,

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    1. Yep, I always recorded that list too on cassette. Although it only got to No. 5 it probably stayed in the charts for quite a while thus the high placement come the year end. As you say, after his singing role in the Godfather, he was back in the ascendance again.

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    1. Wow, well done him. As you say, I suddenly don’t feel so bad about my little obsessions now.

      I feel a bit sorry for him though as he must have really bust a gut tracking down some records when he started, only to discover that an auction site would appear down the line, making it all so easy. I did the same with a collection of books, I spent years picking them up at charity shops, jumble sales etc only to find them all easily found now on eBay. Oh well, it was an enjoyable obsession at the time.

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      1. I noticed that article that Rol mentions too. There will be some corkers in his collection I know, but also some horrors! Mr Blobby, anyone?
        Your post brings back fond memories of my sister and I tuning into the chart rundown on the radio every week and, later on, the slightly more tedious job of reorganising the top 20 singles rack behind the counter when I worked at the record shop. As for obsessions – it’s just about what you enjoy, isn’t it? – and all the more rewarding if you have to put in a little legwork for the things you love, all part of the experience.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, there have been so many horrors to have reached the No. 1 spot but usually novelty songs popular with people who would never normally buy records and bought for a Christmas present or something. Often stop much more worthy contenders from that top spot.

          The tedious job of reorganising the Top 20 singles in the record shop!! (Just teasing.)

          Although I spend more time writing now I think, the side of my brain that deals with numbers, lists and databases was made for things like the Singles Chart and the Guinness Book of Hit Singles (I attempted to memorise the 1984 version and made a pretty good stab at it). Why I probably also like Eurovision, The Olympics and, dare I say it, The World Cup. So many charts and statistics to enjoy and absorb. As you say, it’s all about what you enjoy!

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  4. The name Al Martino didn’t register with me at all, but I do remember my dad having the sheet music to ‘Spanish Eyes’ and playing it on the piano when I was a bairn. Coincidentally, it would’ve been Dad’s 96th birthday today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Spanish Eyes seems to have been recorded by lots of people and from the mid 60s so yes, I can believe your dad would have had the sheet music for it when you were young. That’s a nice memory for you on what would have been your dad’s birthday. Still raw I imagine as he passed not that long ago. He had a long life.

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