“Are You Lonesome Tonight” by Elvis Presley was the number one single in the United States for six weeks. It dominated the pop chart from Thanksgiving of 1960 through the first week of 1961 but was finally replaced by Bert Kaempfert’s instrumental hit “Wonderland By Night,” which had a three-week run at the top beginning January 9, 1961. It propelled the album of the same same to the number one position for five weeks.
I haven’t researched the topic but I’m willing to wager Bert Kaempfert was the only musician to play in the German Navy Band during World War II and later top the American Pop chart.
Kaempfert did not write lyrics, but he composed the music for some of the more memorable pop/easy listening songs of the era. He was responsible for such hits as “Strangers In The Night,” “Spanish Eyes,” “Wooden Heart,” and “Danke Schoen.” His greatest rock ‘n’ roll claim to fame was as the producer of “My Bonnie” by Tony Sheridan. He was responsible for hiring The Beatles as the backup band.
Kaempfert released over 50 albums of easy listening and light jazz during his career, which sold tens of millions of copies. He only had one more Top 20 single however, when “Red Roses For A Blue Lady” reached number 11 during 1965.
“Wonderland By Night” was one of those memorable instrumentals that comes along every once in awhile that catch the American record buyers’ fancy and becomes a huge commercial success. Other examples are “Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith, “Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat, and “Music Box Dancer” by Frank Mills. The memorable trumpet solo was played by Charly Tabor.
Bert Kaempfert may not have been a rock star and was an odd person to ascend to the top of the pop charts but nevertheless, Just over 50 years ago this week “Wonderland By Night” ruled the music world in the United States.