“Spanish Eyes (Moon Over Naples)” (Bert Kaempfert/Charles Singleton/Edward Snyder/Carl-Ulrich Blecher)

The lyrical “Moon Over Naples” was conceived as a romantic, peaceful journey through the calm of a Neapolitan evening but was amazingly written during an unusual gale-force storm threatening Hamburg at the time. Somehow, though, when American lyricists Charlie Singleton and Eddie Snyder got their hands on it, the gentle Italian-esque melody became the lovely “Spanish Eyes.”

Kaempfert had wanted his old friend Freddy Quinn to record “Spanish Eyes” as the singer’s English-language debut. But Polydor didn’t think an English-language song by Quinn would resonate in Germany (and, likely, such success threatened the label’s hold on the singer). So, Kaempfert and Quinn jetted off to Miami to record the song together. The singer even beautifully premiered it on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in December 1964.

Quinn’s version of the song was released as a single on a small American label (4 Corners, a subsidiary of the American Kapp Records label, devoted to European musicians), but a dispute among record companies resulted in the record getting pulled from the market almost immediately – well before much of anything could come of it. Apparently, no one wanted to figure out how this could work.

“Spanish Eyes” eventually found its way to singer Al Martino, whose version of the song came out in November 1965 – months after Kaempfert’s instrumental version was released. Considered “a change of pace” for the Italian-American singer, Martino’s Latin-flavored “Spanish Eyes” became a hit, reaching number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100, while topping the Easy Listening charts for weeks on end.

Hundreds of covers of “Spanish Eyes” ensued – including those by Elvis Presley (recorded in Memphis in 1973) and Bing Crosby (1977) – and the song was recorded in many different languages. Nana Mouskouri released a French version of the song as “Vivre au soleil,” with lyrics by Eddy Marnay. Ivo Robić – with Kaempfert’s orchestra – had a German hit of the song as “Rot ist der Wein,” with lyrics by Carl-Ulrich Blecher. Robić also later recorded the song in his native Croatian language.

Curiously, singer Sergio Franchi released a version of the song in the U.S. in May 1966, this time as “Moon Over Naples,” with a completely different set of lyrics – also credited to “Spanish Eyes” lyricists Charlie Singelton and Eddie Snyder. But these lyrics are most certainly the work of Milt Gabler, who wrote his own words to the song before publisher Hal Fein brought in Singleton and Snyder.

Freddy Quinn would reunite with Kaempfert in the mid-seventies and “Spanish Eyes” became a highlight of their shared performances together. The vocalist continued performing the song well into the new millennium. If he was denied the song as a hit, he has deservedly come to own it late in life.

The awe-inspiring Bear Family Records label later issued the brilliantly-conceived set Moon Over Naples – Spanish Eyes (2003), a disc that featured no less than 24 versions of this pivotal song by such artists as Freddy Quinn, Ivo Robić, Al Martino as well as Charlie Rich, Andy Williams, Ray Conniff, Billy Vaughn, Johnny Mathis and many others, including Kaempfert himself. It amounts to a well-documented encyclopedia of a particularly lovely song.