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.
The rose is likely a metaphor for a girl - one who is "soft and sweet and dreaming."
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," Leiber said in the book More Songwriters on Songwriting. "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.
This was released as a double A-side with "First Taste Of Love."
Aretha Franklin's version hit #2 US in 1971. Dr. John
played organ on her track.
Christine - Chicago, IL
The Gospelaires, who were a vocal trio including a pre-fame Dionne Warwick, sang backup on this.
Bertrand - Paris, France
In Hound Dog: The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography
, Jerry Leiber gives a rather dark account of how Phil Spector came to work with them. Sent by their mentor Lester Sill as the new whiz-kid on the block, Leiber refers to Phil Spector as if he were a millstone hanging around their neck. Jerry Leiber says, "He wore his ambition like a topcoat; it was all over him." And, "Phil was like a puppy dog, except he wasn't especially lovable. Everywhere I went he would follow."
In 2009 Spector was convicted of murdering the actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.