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

Al Martino.


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 Lanza.

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