Reading the news this morning, I see the following from the Los Angeles Times: “Al Martino, actor in ‘The Godfather,’ dies at 82.”
Which is accurate. That’s how a couple of generations have come to know Al Martino.
But over at Ray’s Corner, the apartment with the loud music, and the place where the martinis are made of gin with the vermouth bottle held about a foot away, memories of the singer Al Martino bring back a more vibrant, more sophisticated time.
Ray is my dad. He’s 84, and he enjoyed listening to Martino on the TV variety shows of the ’50s and ’60s. Those shows were fading from popularity when Martino appeared as the singer Johnny Fontane in “The Godfather” in 1972, introducing him to a new audience in a new way. I doubt Dad has ever seen “The Godfather.”
Martino, born Alfred Cini in Philadelphia, once was one of America’s most popular singers. His hometown paper mentioned that more prominently than “The Godfather.” In a 16-year run from 1952 to 1967, Martino had more than 30 songs in Billboard’s Hot 100 and reached No. 1 on the easy listening charts four times.
Here are two, borrowed from Dad’s collection:
“Spanish Eyes” and “Mary In The Morning,” Al Martino, from “The Essential Al Martino,” 2004, a greatest-hits CD that’s out of print. Both tunes are available on “Al Martino: The Capitol Collectors Series,” a digitally remastered greatest-hits CD released in 1992.
“Spanish Eyes,” which hit No. 1 in 1966, is widely regarded as Martino’s signature song. Written in 1965, by German songwriter and orchestra leader Bert Kaempfert, it started out as an instrumental called “Moon Over Naples.” They added lyrics, changed the name and the rest is easy listening history.
“Mary in the Morning,” which hit No. 1 in 1967, was written by Johnny Cymbal, the guy who had a big hit with “Mr. Bass Man” in 1963. Though this made the easy listening charts, it has a bit of a folk vibe.
Here’s Al, doing “Mary in the Morning” during the ’70s.
That’s oh, so smoooooooooooth. Peace, Al.