A Touch of Foolishness

Bert Kaempfert was a little known orchestra leader, a songwriter and arranger during the “big band” era of the 1950’s. His recordings enjoyed only moderate success until he recorded “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” a song that had been around for two decades without hitting the charts. German born Kaempfert’s rendition of this tune, previously recorded by Guy Lombardo, immediately placed in the top 10 pop recordings of 1965, selling over a million records. Its success attracted singers from all over the pop landscape, who scanned Kaempfert’s earlier recordings looking for the next great hit song, one that would keep their own names in the limelight or jump-start their careers. As the popularity of “Red Roses” faded from favor, so did interest in recording with his orchestra, until a mega-star discovered “Strangers in the Night.” Frank Sinatra recorded this Kaempfert composition in the waning weeks of 1965 and it became the number one best selling recording before the end of the year.

Surprisingly, it was not the musical score by Kaempfert that made “Strangers in the Night” unforgettable. Neither was it the warm romantic lyrics of Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder, nor even Sinatra’s mellifluous voice. It was what Sinatra added to the end of the lyrics—an impromptu coda that sent many folks in the music business into shock, pleading with “Old Blue Eyes” to re-record the number excluding that foolish phrase, “scoobie doobie doo.” The popular crooner stood fast, doing it “his way” and “Strangers in the Night” became the biggest seller of the star’s long and illustrious career.

It’s not clear whether that added phrase was the product of an overindulgence of scotch or a true insight into what the public wanted from a song. The history of discovery is fraught with acts of foolishness-turned-wisdom. Who could have imagined that Sir Alexander Fleming’s foolhardy obsession with moldy bread would lead to the discovery of lifesaving penicillin?

Although the Bert Kaempfert Orchestra became well-established in the 1960’s, its popularity has not survived the test of time, with the exception of that one recording. Who among us, of any surviving generation, does not remember Sinatra’s phrase, “scoobie, doobie doo?” Flash of genius or touch of foolishness?