A Brief History
On June 13, 2010, country music singer and actor, as well as sausage impresario, Jimmy Dean, died at the age of 81 while watching television in his Virginia home. Dean sang some notable hit songs, including “Big Bad John,” but he also recorded a not-so-great hit song in 1972, “Who Put the Leaving in Your Eyes.” Over the many decades since people have been recording songs, many of those songs have been about eyes, or had the word “eyes” in the title or prominently featured that particular body part(s) in the lyrics. Today we take a look at some of the greatest of those “eye” songs.
(Note: There are SO MANY notable songs featuring “eyes” that we have to limit our list to these few that we find most interesting, best, most memorable, or whatever. Feel free to mention those “eye” songs you think deserve mention. Oh, and keep an eye out for new ones…)
“These Eyes,” The Guess Who, 1969
The guys from Canada are one of the greatest rock groups of all time (IMHO), but rarely get the credit they deserve. This hit is representative of the great music they made from 1965 to 1975. (The group was recreated in 1977, but never the same.) This particular tune peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and featured a driving beat.
“Spanish Eyes,” Al Martino, 1966
Originally conceived as an instrumental tune called “Moon Over Naples,” which is not even in Spain, “Spanish Eyes” was recorded by singer Sergio Franchi in 1965, but it is the Al Martino version that is the iconic recording, reaching #15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Of course, many other top singers (including Elvis Presley!) have recorded their version, and other songs with the same name have been fielded by top performers.
“Brown Eyed Girl,” Van Morrison, 1967
Reaching an impressive #10 on The Billboard Hot 100, this “eye” song spent 16 weeks on the charts, no doubt partly due to the tremendous number of folks with brown eyes, either the girls that saw themselves in the song or the guys that loved a lovely brown eyed girl. Morrison wrote the song himself, and originally was going to call it “Brown Skinned Girl,” but apparently the producers thought “brown eyed” was less controversial than “brown skinned.” Another bit of controversy was the lyric “making love in the green grass” which was edited out of some versions for release. Oh those prudes back then!
“Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills & Nash, 1969
Released on their debut album, this song helped put this super-group on the music map by reaching #21 on The Billboard Hot 100. The song is a reference to singer Judy Collins, who was the then girlfriend of band member Stephen Stills, composed as that pair was about to break up. The great singer-songwriter Collins is reputed to have assisted in producing the hit.
“Eyes Without a Face,” Billy Idol, 1984
A #4 hit on The Billboard Hot 100, “Eyes Without a Face” is a slower and more mellow tune than many of the rockin’ and driving songs Billy Idol made famous. Idol, a fan of horror movies, said he got the idea for the title from a 1960 French horror film, Les Yeux Sans Visage, which of course all you Francophiles know means “Eyes Without a Face.”
“I Only Have Eyes for You,” The Flamingos, 1959
Although the song goes back to 1934, it was the Flamingos that made it the hit we know and love today, a ‘50’s classic doo-wop type ballad, sweet and soulful. As with so many other great tunes, many notable artists covered this song. The Flamingos hit #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 with it, while Art Garfunkel, the second fiddle of Simon and Garfunkel, made it to #1 in Britain in 1975, though only to #18 in the USA. Garfunkel performed the song on the second ever episode of Saturday Night Live.
“Bette Davis Eyes,” Kim Carnes, 1981
Jackie DeShannon originally recorded this tune, not surprisingly since it was composed by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon back in 1974. Carnes had the big hit, with her signature raspy, haunting voice taking the song to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 9 weeks! (Oddly enough, those weeks at #1 were not consecutive, being interrupted by “Stars on 45.”) In fact, the Carnes mega-hit reached #1 in 21 individual countries. Oh, it also won the Grammy for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year (1981).
“Hungry Eyes,” Eric Carmen, 1987
Featured in the hit movie Dirty Dancing in 1987, in 1988 this tune by the former lead singer of the Cleveland rock group, The Raspberries, made it to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 (#3 on the Cash Box Top 100). To me the song is just OK, but it is included because I once heard an hysterical parody of this song called “Thunder Thighs.” (Oddly enough, this author is a huge fan of parody songs and Weird Al is my hero…)
“Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” Frankie Valli, 1967
Recorded as a solo artist instead of with the Four Seasons, Valli made gold when he soared to #2 on The Billboard Hot 100. For a solid 8 years, this was Valli’s biggest hit. Of course, being a classic, this tune has been covered by an incredibly eclectic variety of artists, including groups and individuals. In 2008, this song was one of the songs used as a gentle wake up song (instead of an alarm clock) on the STS-126 Space Shuttle mission!
“Lyin’ Eyes,” The Eagles, 1975
Not only did the Eagles soar to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, they also took this great song to #8 on the country charts as well. Unlike many of the hits mentioned here, this one is an original, having been written by Eagles members Don Henley and Glen Frey. “Lyin’ Eyes” is a rare example of an “eye” song where the eyes in the song are not being celebrated for something good.
“Green-Eyed Lady,” Sugarloaf, 1970
Another song composed by the band members, the fact that this author’s wife has green eyes makes its inclusion mandatory! Despite having a release date of 1970, the song has an unmistakable 1960’s feel to it. Featured in Home Alone 3, we think you will continue to hear this song for many years yet to come.
“For Your Eyes Only,” Sheena Easton, 1981
There have been numerous GREAT theme songs to James Bond movies, and this is one of them! Featured in the film by the same name, this tune warbled by enchanting Scottish lass Sheena Easton got up to 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US, but oddly only to #8 in Britain. One of the writers of the song, Bill Conti, actually had a couple other female singers in mind for the song, but fate got this one right on the money with Sheena, who looked and sounded wonderful performing the great song.
“Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” Crystal Gayle, 1977
Known as the little sister of country music legend Loretta Lynn, Crystal Gayle (and her long, long hair) was quite hot herself back in 1977 when she was handed this wonderful tune by her manager who had rescued it from the composer who wanted to have Shirley Bassey (the great songstress that sang the Goldfinger theme song for James Bond). Richard Leigh, the composer, found his inspiration in his beloved dog that sported one blue eye and one brown eye. The song was a sensation in the US, of course topping the country charts, but reaching #1 on Cash Box and #2 on Billboard, and also scoring well in other countries. Gayle earned a Grammy for her recording. Oh, and a hilarious parody, “Donuts make my Brown Eyes Blue” made the rounds back in ’77.
“Dark Eyes” (“Ochi Chernye” or “Ochi Chyornye”), Ukrainian/Russian Song, 1870’s
Yes, we saved the greatest for last! The song started out as a poem written in 1843 by Ukrainian poet, Yevgeny Grebyonka, and sometime in the 1870’s the words were put to music and the resulting song became a de facto theme song representing Russia and the Ukraine, kind of an unofficial national song (like “Waltzing Matilda” in Australia). While the lyrics may vary in versions by different artists, here is the original poem translation (from Wikipedia):
- Black eyes, passionate eyes,
Burning and beautiful eyes!
How I love you, how I fear you,
It seems I met you in an unlucky hour!
- Oh, not for nothing are you darker than the deep!
I see mourning for my soul in you,
I see a triumphant flame in you:
A poor heart immolated in it.
- But I am not sad, I am not sorrowful,
My fate is soothing to me:
All that is best in life that God gave us,
In sacrifice I returned to the fiery eyes!
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite song featuring eyes? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bronson, Fred. Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits. Watson-Guptill Pubns, 1995.
Whitburn, Joel. Joel Whitburn Presents The Billboard Hot 100 Annual: 7th Edition – 1955-2005. Record Research, 2007.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Judy Collins performing with Tom (left) and Dick Smothers on their television program The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1927 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright notice. For further explanation, see Commons:Hirtle chart as well as a detailed definition of “publication” for public art.