"Spanish Harlem" is a song recorded by Ben E. King in 1960 for Atco Records. It was written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. "Spanish Harlem" was King's first hit away from The Drifters, peaking at number 15 on Billboard's rhythm and blues and number 10 in pop music chart.[1]

"Spanish Harlem"
Single by Ben E. King
from the album Spanish Harlem
A-side"First Taste of Love" (original 1960 release)
B-side"First Taste of Love" (later releases)
ReleasedDecember 1960 (1960-12)
Producer(s)Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Ben E. King singles chronology
"How Often"
"Spanish Harlem"
"Stand By Me"

The song has been covered by a number of artists including Aretha Franklin, whose version reached number two on Billboard's pop chart. The song was ranked number 358 on Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[2]



Leiber credited Stoller with the arrangement in a 1968 interview;[3] similarly, Leiber said in a 2009 radio interview with Leiber and Stoller on the Bob Edwards Weekend talk show that Stoller had written the key instrumental introduction to the record, although he was not credited. Stoller remarks in the team's autobiography Hound Dog that he had created this "fill" while doing a piano accompaniment when the song was presented to Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, with Spector playing guitar and Leiber doing the vocal. "Since then, I've never heard the song played without that musical figure."[3] The song was arranged by Stan Applebaum, featuring Spanish guitar, marimba, drum-beats, soprano saxophone, strings, and a male chorus.[citation needed]

The riff to the song was originally conceived by Spector and his then-girlfriend Beverly Ross. She was apparently shocked to discover the same riff a few months later in the version sung by King.[4] [5]

Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem" was originally released as the B-side to "First Taste of Love".[6] "Spanish Harlem" was King's first hit away from The Drifters, a group that he had led for several years. It climbed the Billboard charts, and peaked at number 15 for rhythm and blues and number 10 in pop music.[7] King's version was not a hit in the United Kingdom.[8] The song was re-released in 1987, after "Stand By Me" made number 1.[8]

Aretha Franklin version

"Spanish Harlem"
Single by Aretha Franklin
from the album Aretha's Greatest Hits
B-side"Lean on Me"
ReleasedJuly 9, 1971
Producer(s)Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin, Tom Dowd
Aretha Franklin singles chronology
"A Brand New Me"
"Spanish Harlem"
"Rock Steady"

In July 1971, Aretha Franklin released a cover version of the song that outperformed the original on the charts and in which Franklin changed the lyrics slightly: from "A red rose up in Spanish Harlem" to "There's a rose in Black 'n Spanish Harlem. A rose in Black 'n Spanish Harlem.” Her version went to number one on the US Soul charts for three weeks and number two on the Pop charts for two weeks,[9] barred from the top spot by "Go Away Little Girl" by Donny Osmond.[10] This version also hit number six on Billboard's Easy Listening chart.[11] Aretha Franklin's version earned a gold single for sales of over one million. Dr. John played keyboards on Franklin's version with Bernard "Pretty" Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass.[12]


Chart (1971) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[13] 4
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[14] 25
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[15] 5
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[16] 1
UK Singles (OCC)[17] 14
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[18] 6
US Best Selling Soul Singles (Billboard)[19] 1
US Billboard Hot 100[20] 2
West Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 6

Cliff Richard versions


Cliff Richard released his rendition on his 1962 album 32 Minutes and 17 Seconds. He also recorded a German version, titled "Das ist die Frage aller Fragen", with lyrics by Carl Ulrich Blecher, that was a number one hit in Germany and Austria in 1964,[22][23] as well as a number one hit in Switzerland in 1965.[citation needed]


Chart (1962–64) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[24] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[25] 28
West Germany (Official German Charts)[26] 1

Laura Nyro version


On her 1971 covers album Gonna Take a Miracle, singer-songwriter Laura Nyro performed a version with backing vocals by the group Labelle.[27]

Other recordings



  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 325.
  2. ^ "Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. April 7, 2011. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 14 – Big Rock Candy Mountain: Rock 'n' roll in the late fifties. [Part 4] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu. Retrieved April 30, 2011.
  4. ^ "Beverly Ross obituary". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2022-03-14.
  5. ^ Ross, Beverly (2013). I Was the First Woman Phil Spector Killed. ISBN 9780988945913.
  6. ^ Billboard. November 21, 1960. p. 53. Retrieved September 26, 2016.
  7. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 325.
  8. ^ a b "The Official Charts Company - Spanish Harlem (song)". The Official Charts Company. May 3, 2013.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Whitburn (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942–2004. Record Research. p. 215.
  10. ^ "Top 100 Songs | Billboard Hot 100 Chart". Billboard.
  11. ^ Whitburn (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961–2001. Record Research. p. 97.
  12. ^ Warner, Jennifer (September 24, 2014). Respect: The Life and Times of Aretha Franklin. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 31. ISBN 978-1502500007. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  13. ^ "Aretha Franklin – Spanish Harlem" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  14. ^ "Aretha Franklin – Spanish Harlem" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  15. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 7787." RPM. Library and Archives Canada.
  16. ^ "Aretha Franklin – Spanish Harlem" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  17. ^ "Aretha Franklin: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  18. ^ "Aretha Franklin Chart History (Adult Contemporary)". Billboard.
  19. ^ "Aretha Franklin Chart History (Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs)". Billboard.
  20. ^ "Aretha Franklin Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  21. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Aretha Franklin – Spanish Harlem" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  22. ^ "Cliff Richard & The Shadows: Spanish Harlem". Offizielle Deutsche Charts.
  23. ^ "Cliff Richard - Das ist die Frage aller Fragen".
  24. ^ "Cliff Richard – Das ist die Frage aller Fragen" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  25. ^ "Cliff Richard & The Shadows – Spanish Harlem" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  26. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Cliff Richard & The Shadows – Spanish Harlem" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  27. ^ "www.allmusic.com". allmusic.com. Retrieved July 5, 2023.
  28. ^ "www.allmusic.com". allmusic.com. Retrieved July 5, 2023.