Whatever Happened to Benny Santini?

Album: Whatever Happened to Benny Santini? (1978)
Charted: 71

Songfacts®:

  • As Chris Rea tells it, when he got a record deal, his label, Magnet, suggested he change his name. He mockingly proposed "Benjamin Santini," a name that would appeal to Jewish and Italian listeners - a big slice of the American market. At least one executive at Magnet took it seriously, telling him it was a good idea.

    Rea kept his real name but came up with a backstory for Benny Santini, a promising young pop star packaged for stardom. In this song, he tells that story, with Santini falling out of favor, leaving many to ask, "Whatever happened to Benny Santini?"
  • Rea won the battle to keep his name, but his label paired him with producer Gus Dudgeon in an effort to make him sound like Elton John, whom Dudgeon had worked with. Dudgeon turned Rea song "Fool (If You Think It's Over)," written as a soulful number, into a lush, orchestrated piece, much to Rea's dismay. The song struck gold in America, going to #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and reaching the audience Magnet was aiming for. Rea was promoted as a cross between Elton John and Billy Joel, when he was really a bluesy slide guitar player with a massive, resonant voice.

    "Whatever happened to Benny Santini?" was the next single. It was just a minor a hit in America, where Rea never again cracked the Top 40. He spent the next seven years acquiescing to Magnet, landing a few modest UK hits along the way. Once he was secure in his finances, he started doing things his way. To his surprise, he became one of the top artists in the UK, landing #1 albums in 1989 (The Road to Hell) and 1991 (Auberge). In America, where he's known as a one-hit-wonder for "Fool," some ask, "Whatever happened to Chris Rea?"

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