♫ Spanish Harlem ♫

For no reason at all, while I was folding laundry yesterday, this one popped into my head.  I haven’t heard it in years, but once it found its way into my head, it refused to leave!  So …

Spanish Harlem is a section of New York City with a large Latino population and a rich cultural heritage. This song is about a rose that grows through the concrete in the city, always shaded from the sun. The singer is enchanted by this beautiful flower and dreams of taking it to his garden.

This was one of the first songs written by the legendary producer Phil Spector. He wrote it with Jerry Leiber, the lyricist of the famous songwriting team Leiber and Stoller. Spector learned his craft working with Leiber and Stoller, and quickly made a name for himself as a top producer.

Spector was an apprentice of sorts to Leiber and Stoller, who took him on as a favor to their music publisher, Lester Still. After a few months, the duo agreed to write a song with him. According to Leiber, they decided to meet at his house at 6:30, and Spector showed up at 5:00. Stoller was having dinner with his family and running late; by the time he was ready to come over, Leiber and Spector had finished the song.

According to Jerry Leiber, who was the lyricist, he had the idea for this song long before Phil Spector came to his house to write it. Since the song was about a rose in Spanish Harlem, he wanted the music to have a Spanish flavor, so he played Spector some music from his collection, including works by Andrés Segovia and Maurice Ravel.

“He started to play a melody that was like Jeff Barry rock and roll. Sort of jazzy and wrong.  I played him two or three of those pieces. He has a good ear, and he picked up something in there. I think he even picked up a three or four-bar lick in one of the pieces that were in the strings. And we wrote it together.”

This was the first single Ben E. King released as a solo artist – he left The Drifters after complaining of low wages. The song became the title track of his first solo album, which had a Spanish theme, with songs like Besame Mucho and Perfidia.  King recorded this in the same sessions as Stand By Me, which would be his next release and biggest hit.

The Ben E. King version did not chart in the UK, but two years later, in 1962, British musician Cliff Richard released his rendition on his 1962 album 32 Minutes and 17 Seconds, that went to #3 in the UK.  

Spanish Harlem
Ben E. King

There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
It is a special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming

There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
With eyes as black as coal
Then look down in my soul
And starts a fire there
And then I lose control
I have to beg your pardon

I’m going to pick that rose
And watch her as she grows in my garden

I’m going to pick that rose
And watch her as she grows in my garden

(There is a rose in Spanish Harlem)
La la la, la la la, la la la la
(There is a rose in Spanish Harlem)
La la la, la la la, la la la la
(There is a rose in Spanish Harlem)

Writer/s: Jerry Leiber, Phil Spector
Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Royalty Network
Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

24 thoughts on “♫ Spanish Harlem ♫

  1. I am remembering a lot of songs by Ben E. King, but not this one. Why? Its a wonderful one, so heart touching, and with very good lyrics. Thank you for sharing, Jill! Have a nice afternoon, Michael.
    By the way: You are really folding – and ironing ?? – laundry, these days of AI? Lol
    Most times i am with jeans and T-shirts on the best side of life. :-))

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked it! Yes, Ben E. King had many hits, “Stand By Me” probably being the one he is best known for. I do NOT iron! I refuse to iron ever again! In fact, “iron” is a dirty word to me! I do, however, do all the laundry in this house of 3 women, about 12-13 loads a week! The only ironing is when my daughter occasionally irons her kilt or shirt for a band competition. Like you, I live in either jeans or sweatpants and a t-shirt, but even those must be washed, dried, and folded! I did stop pairing socks a year or so ago, though. One of the girls complained because I mismatched a pair, so I said, “Fine, pair your own up from now on!” What a rebel I am!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I too know the fantastic Ben E King version and have long loved it, but can’t recall ever having heard a Cliff Richard version. I always thought the Spanish Rose referred to a young lady with black eyes that could start a fire in his soul.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. One that my Mum liked. It did eventually chart here – one week at #92 in 1987, after Stand By Me got to #1 on being re-released on the back of a tv advertising campaign in which it featured. I included this one in a Tuesday Tunes post last month and, as I said then, I’ve made no effort to find the Cliff Richard version 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A beautiful song, and yet possibly the inspiration for one of the first poems I ever wrote. I would need to search to find the poem, but it is in opposition to the flower in Spanish Harlem, as I refused to pick it. Where it sat it brought joy to everyone who saw it, and to pick it would be an act of greed and selfishness.
    By not picking it the flower could belong to all observers, even non-humans.
    Can we say a presage to my feelings about sharing, and even socialist ideas? All because the Rose in Spanish Harlem got moved to a private garden. Amazing what affects us, that we don’t even know.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m rather surprised you like this one, for I didn’t think it would be quite your cuppa tea, but I’m glad you did! Oddly, a couple of years ago we had a flower growing in one of the cracks on our patio, and I didn’t pick it, but some of the neighbor kids did.


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