Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Kaempfert zone

Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight" spent six weeks atop the Billboard pop chart before being replaced on this day in 1961 by Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland by Night," an unlikely chart-topper if ever there was one.

It's not that the song wasn't deserving -- it's a beautiful instrumental by the German songwriter and orchestra leader whose credits include "Strangers in the Night" and "Spanish Eyes."  It's just that, well, Elvis had taken the country by storm -- "Are You Lonesome Tonight" was his 14th No. 1 hit -- and his arrival had helped usher in a new era of voices and music that dominated radio play. 

Who cared about trumpets? "Wonderland by Night" might help you win the Goldene Stimmbabel in Germany (which it did), but there was so much going on with American music. The Everly Brothers had just scored a No. 1 with "Cathy's Clown," Chubby Checker was creating a new dance sensation with "The Twist" and Ray Charles was putting jazz, soul, country and blues into the blender and coming up with "Georgia on My Mind." 

It would get stranger yet in a few weeks.  Here was the Billboard Top 5 on January 30:

1. Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Shirelles
2. Calcutta, Lawrence Welk
3. Exodus, Ferrante & Teicher
4. Wonderland by Night, Bert Kaempfert
5. Shop Around, Miracles

Lawrence Welk?  Ferrante & Teicher?  And Kaempfert was still hanging tough with "Wunderland bei Nacht" as it was known before he found an American publisher for his song. 

It would be three years before the Beatles changed everything, and guess who deserves credit for helping make it happen? Kaempfert, who produced their first recorded songs in Frankfurt: "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."  The sound wasn't nearly as good as "Wonderland by Night," but it was a start...


  1. This was before we took over our parents' turntables and started playing all that loud shit.

  2. The Miracles kicked ass. Watch the TAMI Show and tell me Mick Jagger wasn't backstage taking notes on Smokey's moves.

  3. "Wonderland by Night" was a Junior Prom theme that year in the town where I was raised. Years later, my wife and I were flipping through vinyl her parents owned and found, "That Happy Feeling," by Bert and it included "Wonderland by Night." We purchased the LP and have since purchased the CD. It's all great music and defies categorization. Part belonging to the last generation and a big part solidly in our generation. Buy the'll love it.