Stick with Spanish

It is up there with the shower scene in Psycho.

It is dawn. The sun is rising over an ornate mansion in Hollywood, the home of a famous film director. We see him sleeping in gold satin sheets. He wakes, and notices something … wet? He reaches under the covers, and withdraws his hand. It is covered in blood. He panics, pulling the sheets aside. More and more blood … what is this? Then he finds, at the foot of the bed, the head of a horse. Not just any horse, this is his prize race horse, the thing that this rich and vulgar man cares most about in the whole world. He screams, and screams. We see outside the mansion again. The sun is higher now. It is a beautiful, still morning, a cloudless blue sky unfolds over the swimming pool. And, fainter, echoing, the scream of pure horror goes on and on.

It is “the horse head in the bed” scene, early in Martin Scorsese’s epic film The Godfather. The event is so horrible that it is easy to forget what it was about. It was an argument over casting. The director has spurned a formerly-favoured Italian American actor and singer, Johnny Fontane for the lead role in a movie. Fontane asks his Mafia connections to persuade the director that he, Fontane, is perfect for the role. The horse head does the trick.

7057 Martino coverThe actor who played Fontane was Al Martino. An easy piece of casting, this one. Martino, too, was an Italian American actor and singer of humble origins, who knew a thing or two about dealing with the Mob. A one-time brick layer, he was encouraged to try a singing career by Mario Lanza, a childhood friend. His first big success was “Here in My Heart”, which topped the charts in both America and the UK in 1952, and sold more than a million copies. It was while flush with this success that Martino found himself owing large amounts of money to the Mafia, and found it sensible to spend a decade or so living in England.

Martino was pop crooner. He sang mostly uncomplicated songs of romance, with tremolo violins and the works, but his voice was a powerful operatic tenor. Even the triter lyrics are carried by the strong delivery.7028 Martino label

The track I have chosen from this EP, which came out in Australia in 1964, is a bit different. “Granada” is sung in Spanish, so the lyrics may woeful – I wouldn’t know. There is a version in English, which goes:

Granada, I’m falling under your spell,
And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you would tell

So, let’s stick with the Spanish.

The arrangement is a tad overdone. Okay, a lot overdone: all castanets and bull-fighting brassiness. But go with it, enjoy it for what it is, just listen, and it is an exciting ride.

  • Artist: Al Martino
  • LP Title: Hits: Old and New
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Grenada”
  • Format: 7” EP 45 rpm
  • Label: Capitol EAP-1-20582
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1964

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