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 one recorded by The Lettermen, (photo at right) 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.