60’s Band of the Week: Al Martino

22 Jun

This is the first time I am including a video prior to writing a 60’s Band post. Al Martino, the guest on today’s weekly section, is best known for this 1966 hit. And since he is a vocalist who performed from the early 1950’s to the 2000’s, prior to his passing in 2009, I thought it was important to place him in the rich 60’s vocalist culture. I present to you Al Martino.

Artist: Al Martino (Born Alfred Cini – Martino was adopted from his maternal grandfather)

Origin: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Genre: Italian Pop Crooner

History:

Al Martino will forever be known as one of the greatest Italian-American pop crooners. His trademark deep voice and voluble Italian helped him hit the charts in the 50s, 60s and 70s, an impressive feat for any artist. Martino, or Johnny Fontane for those who recognize him from his role in The Godfather, had to deal with real-life mob implications that slowed down his career, but this did not prevent him from becoming popular three times. Let me explain.

Martino first hit success with his 1952 debut single “Here in My Heart.” He got the recoding gig with BBS, a Philadelphia-based label, after garnering exposure from a first place finish on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show. The song shot up both the U.S. and U.K. charts. It was number one on the first-ever U.K. singles chart earning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. The song also went number one on the U.S. pop charts for three weeks. The record sold over a million copies and Martino was immediately picked up by Capitol records where he recorded three more hits through 1953, all of which hit the top 40. And then the records stopped dropping.

The mafia took over Martino’s contract and ordered Martino to pay a $75,000 fee upfront which he did to ensure his family’s safety. He then fled to England to avoid the mafia. I guess it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. That was awful, I’m sorry. Luckily, the mafia would not wreck his career any longer, and after a few productive years in England, Martino was able to return to the U.S. in 1958. The next time the mafia came knocking it was fake and he made profit.

It took a few years before Martino was able to establish himself in the U.S. again. He recorded for 20th Century Fox and didn’t do that poorly, but they dropped him. He then got a new deal with Capitol Records in 1962. The music climate had changed significantly in 10 years. Instead of competing with other crooners, Martino was now faced with Booker T., Ray Charles and Chubby Checker. Rock n’ Roll was the rage and Martino was far from this genre. But there was still room for powerful crooners, and Martino was one of them. He started charting again through the early 60s and then in 1966 released “Spanish Eyes,” an adaptation of an instrumental piece by Bert Kaempfert. While the song did only reach 15 on the pop charts it spread like wildfire throughout Europe. The song is no synonymous with Martino.

And when his career began to slow down again, Martino’s friend Phyllis McGuire (one of the McGuire Sisters) alerted him of Paramount’s decision to make a film version of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. She also told him he’d be great for the role of Johnny Fontane, a fading pop idol who needs the mob to land a film role. Martino didn’t need the mob’s help on this one. The real mob taketh, but the movie mob giveth back. The role propelled him to visibility again and he recorded two popular songs in the mid 70s, including a disco version of “Volare,” which is awful, but Europe enjoyed it.

Think about it. Martino was able to transcend music genres. Not many musicians can say they did that. Give the man credit. He overcame obstacles, but still marked himself as a legendary pop crooner.

Here is “Here in My Heart”

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