Love Is A Many Splendored Thing

Love Is A Many Splendored Thing was a monster hit for the Four Aces in October, 1955. Their recording enjoyed three weeks at the top of the pop charts, and six straight weeks with most airplay. The jukebox industry caught up in November, and for three weeks the dramatic Aces harmony ruled the nickel machines at diners, dives, and drive-ins across the country.

The Aces battled with the likes of Pat Boone’s Ain’t That a Shame, Roger Williams’ Autumn Leaves, and Mitch Miller’s massive hit Yellow Rose of Texas for supremacy on the various charts for two months. These smooth sounds dominated the airwaves until December, when Tennessee Ernie Ford’s Sixteen Tons and the usual holiday fare moved to the forefront.

The song was written by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, two stalwarts of American popular song. Fain’s first “standard” was That Old Feeling, written in the late 1930s. He enjoyed success throughout the 1930s and 40s, composing scores for more than 30 motion pictures. Fast forward to 1954, and a Fain/Webster composition recorded by Doris Day called Secret Love ruled the charts for over a month. Featured in the hit film Calamity Jane, it won an Oscar for best song in 1954.

The magic continued into 1955. Splendored Thing was the theme song for a movie with the same name, and again hit #1…and again scored an Oscar for Fain/Webster. Fast forward to today, and Secret Love remains a highly-regarded tune, while Splendored Thing is much less so. It’s probably because Secret Love is so musically compelling — shifting, changing, moody — the song would’ve been a hit no matter who sang it. That’s not to minimize the job Doris Day did with it; her version is unlikely to ever be surpassed for pure heartfelt drama.

Splendored Thing is a bit different. Like many hits of the time, competing versions were rushed to the shelves by various record labels. Recordings by Nat King Cole and Don Cornell were lovely, but simply lack the power that a vocal group could bring to the song. Frank Sinatra, who recorded the song amidst his 1960s resurgence — and his time of greatest chart success — couldn’t quite equal the sound of the Four Aces. Even Andy Williams, the man who sang some of the most beautiful movie themes in history, didn’t do it. The version that arguably comes closest to matching the power of the original is probably the Lettermen’s, which was put to vinyl in 1963. It’s included on some of their greatest hits type collections, although popularsong.org has been unable to find any record of this version charting. It’s likely it enjoyed some adult contemporary airplay in the mid 1960s.

Original members of the Four Aces were Al Albertini, Dave Mahoney, Lou Silvestri, and Rosario “Sod” Vaccaro — all “South Philly” boys from Chester, Pennsylvania. Albertini sang lead, and billed himself as Al Alberts. The group’s first #1 came in 1954, the classic Three Coins in the Fountain. Alberts left to pursue a solo career in 1956, and was replaced by Fred Diodati, another South Philly native. Alberts’ solo career fizzled, but he became a household name in the Philadelphia region as host of “The Al Alberts Showcase,” a TV talent/dance show that ran until 1994. Diodati remains with the current line-up of Aces, who are still in great demand at casinos and festivals and continue to tour extensively.

Recommended Listening

The top selling CD from the few Four Aces albums available is The Four Aces’ Greatest Hits, and there’s a pretty good reason why. The recordings are original, but the sound is remastered and, well, unbelievably good. Sounds like it was recorded today, but with the vocal stylings of yesteryear. There are 18 songs on the disc, so it’s clearly an excellent value. Top hits include “Tell Me Why”, “Perfidia”, “Three Coins In The Fountain”, “Stranger In Paradise”, “Mr. Sandman”, and of course, “Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing.” Interesting thing to note, the 1985 Michael J. Fox hit movie Back to The Future featured a version of “Mr. Sandman” that returned the Chordettes’ smash hit to its rightful place as one of the all-time classic songs of American pop. Only thing nobody noticed, however, is that the version used in the film was The Four Aces’. If anything, it’s more silky smooth than the Chordettes.

Just a note about these recommendations…the links go to Amazon.com, where each recommended CD (or MP# file) is available at discount. And your purchase helps fund this website — at no additional cost to you!  Amazon.com passes along a modest “commission” that is the sole source of funding for the Popular Song Society. Another thing to note is that Amazon frequently has used copies available that will save you quite a bit, all with the same 100% satisfaction guarantee as the new copies. If you haven’t purchased from Amazon.com, their customers care and return policies are excellent. For a closer look at this CD, please click here.

Further Listening

The Lettermen: Absolutely The Best includes standards like “When I Fall in Love,” “Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Hurt So Bad,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Theme from A Summer Place,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and of course, “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.” The Lettermen were an unlikely trio, formed when Brigham Young University students Jim Pike and Bob Engemann joined up with lounge singer Tony Butala. Throughout the 1960s the Lettermen put song after song into the pop top 40, and many more hit the adult contempory top 10. This link is also to Amazon.com: please click here.

At right, the original Lettermen.