"Wonderland by Night"
(Music: "Wonderland by Night" by Bert Kaempfert)
January 9, 1961 - January 29, 1961
Bert Kaempfert is the only number one artist who was involved with the careers of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra. Presley and Sinatra both recorded songs written by Kaempfert: Presley sang "Wooden Heart" in G.I. Blues and Sinatra recorded an English translation of "Strangers in the Night".
Kaempfert played a more crucial role in the Beatles' history. He produced the first session they ever recorded, which resulted in "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" for singer/guitarist Tony Sheridan as well as the Beatles' own "Ain't She Sweet" and "Cry for a Shadow."
Kaempfert was born in Hamburg, Germany, on October 16, 1923. He studied at the Hamburg School of Music and became proficient on the piano, accordion, clarinet, and saxophone. After World War II, he formed his own band, which became a popular attraction in West Germany. He was hired by Polydor Records as a producer and had two big hits in 1959, "Morgen" by No Robic and "Die Gitarre und Das Meer" by Freddy Quinn.
"Wunderland bei Nacht" was the instrumental title theme for a film that told of the dark side of Germany's "economic miracle."
Kaempfert arrived in New York in October, 1959, to place the song with an American publisher. After several rejections, Hal Fein at Roosevelt Music bought the tune. The song was a hit in Germany as well as Japan before it met with success in the United States. By the end of September, 1960, Fein telephoned Kaempfert in Hamburg to predict the song would be a million-seller.
Under its English title, the song entered the Hot 100 on November 14, 1960 --- the same month that a club called the Top Ten opened in Hamburg, featuring British vocalist Tony Sheridan. On January 9, 1961, "Wonderland by Night" was the number one song in America. Three months later, the Beatles were booked to play at the Top Ten, alternating sets with Sheridan's band. One night, Kaempfert came to the club to check out Sheridan's act, and signed him to Polydor. The British singer suggested his friends the Beatles be hired as his backing band and Kaempfert agreed.
At the recording session, John Lennon and Paul McCartney asked Bert to listen to some songs they had written, but he didn't think they were ready to record their own material yet. As a favor, he consented to let them record two songs after Sheridan completed his tracks. John sang lead on a song they performed at the Top Ten, "Ain't She Sweet." George had an instrumental that was meant to be a parody of Britain's most popular instrumental group, the Shadows. It was recorded under the title "Cry for a Shadow."
Kaempfert didn't think the name Beatles would mean much in Germany, so he renamed them the Beat Brothers and paid them a flat fee for their work --- 300 marks each, worth about $125 in 1961.
Kaempfert had 10 more chart entries after "Wonderland by Night," all instrumentals. Among them were two of his own compositions, "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" and "Spanish Eyes," released under the title "Moon Over Naples."
Kaempfert was 56 when he died on June 21, 1980, in Zug, Switzerland.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.