First recorded (as “Flamingo”) by Gene Pitney (1966).
Hit versions by Tommy Vann & the Echoes (US #125 1966), Manfred Mann (US #29/UK #1/CAN #2/AUS #3/NZ #1/IRE #1 1966).
Also performed by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band (1975).
“‘Pretty Flamingo’ was written by American songwriter and producer Mark Barkan. His first major success as a writer was with “The Writing on the Wall”, a 1961 US Top-5 hit for Adam Wade which he co-wrote with Sandy Baron and George Paxton (credited as George Eddy). Barkan had further success with Lesley Gore’s Top-5 hit ‘She’s a Fool’ (co-written with Ben Raleigh). He would later go on to write material for The Monkees, The Archies, and, perhaps most notoriously, The Banana Splits whose theme song – ‘The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)’ – he co-wrote with Ritchie Adams (‘Tossin’ and Turnin”, ‘After the Lovin”) and with whom he was the music director for the two seasons The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was televised.
“The song describes a woman—whom ‘all of the guys call […] ‘Flamingo’, ’cause her hair glows like the sun and her eyes can light the sky’ – for whom the singer has fallen, and his plans to win her affection. Barkan’s daughter said that it was based on a girl who lived above a parking lot in his neighborhood: Barkan and his friends used to call out to her.
“The original demo of the song was recorded by noted New York City vocalist Jimmy Radcliffe ((‘This Diamond Ring‘), stylized for The Drifters. But songwriter Barkan was dissatisfied with the overly-produced results and had Radcliffe recut the song with a pared-down arrangement.
“Gene Pitney recorded the first version of ‘Pretty Flamingo’ in February 1966, for his album Backstage (I’m Lonely). But, Pitney’s recording was not released as a single when the album shipped to stores in June 1966, two months after Manfred Mann’s recording was released as a single and a month after the song topped the UK Singles Chart in May 1966. Also released as a single in the US, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August 1966.
“Simultaneous with Manfred Mann’s single release in the United States, a single recorded by American band Tommy Vann & the Echoes was also released. Although favorably reviewed by Billboard (‘Exciting performance of the No. 1 British tune will give the original disk a strong battle for top position …’), and receiving strong regional radio airplay, Vann’s effort managed only to ‘bubble under’ the Hot 100, peaking at #125.
“Manfred Mann’s recording included future Cream bassist Jack Bruce, who briefly joined the group when he was ‘between bands’ having left The Graham Bond Organisation and not having yet co-founded Cream.
“After Barkan’s death in 2020, Paul Jones of Manfred Mann said: ‘I’m a little bit ashamed to admit that not only did I never meet him, but I never even got in touch to say thank you for the song. But I would like to thank him posthumously.'”
Tommy Vann & the Echoes, “Pretty Flamingo” (1966):
Manfred Mann, “Pretty Flamingo” (1966):
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, “Pretty Flamingo” live @ Hammersmith Odeon, London (1975):