Strangers in the Night – A song that won’t leave me alone

Strangers in the Night – A song that won’t leave me alone

Strangers in the Night Sinatra CoverSome songs just don’t go away. Even when it seems like they should. Even when every fibre of my being screams that a song is no good, I am sometimes drawn, against my will, into an intimate humming relationship with a particular song.

It came to me again this morning, as I did the dishes. I sing it mockingly, as the lyrics are laughable and unworthy of serious consideration. I hate the song. And yet it has been lodged in my gray matter since 1966, and hardly a week goes by that I don’t find it wafting through my semi-consciousness.
Oh, there are tons of other bad songs that are hummable and memorable and get stuck in my brain, but usually they have more sinew, more of a self-knowing sense of their own silliness: “The Addams Family”, “Sugar Shack”, “Yummy Yummy Yummy”. Not so “Strangers in the Night.” It masquerades as a classic. I hate it for that. And yet, my god, it is so HUMMABLE! I must admit that, somehow, it is a classic. I love the melody, even though it is so lamely predictable. Perhaps this afternoon I’ll sit down at the piano and analyze it, try to determine where its magic lies…

But as of right now, this morning, at the kitchen sink, I just put aside the soapy dishes, took off my gloves, and went to the computer. I had to know more about this damnable cursed song. Wikipedia Ho!

Both my fascination with and my revulsion against the song seem vindicated. It was a number one song in 1966, and the title song from Sinatra’s most commercially successful album. Apparently, I’m not alone in finding it hummable. According to Wikipedia, ‘Sinatra despised the song, and called it “a piece of s**t”, and “the worst song I ever f***ing heard”.  Hmm, I’m with Sinatra there.

Who the heck wrote it? Well, Bert Kaempfert is credited with the music, but he probably did not write it. According to Wikipedia: The music was originally recorded by Ivo Robic´ for the music festival in Split, Croatia. Robic´ later sang the song in German (“Fremde in der Nacht”, lyrics by Kurt Felitz) and in Croatian language (“Stranci u Noc´i”, lyrics by Marija Renota.

Aha! So it’s some Eastern European hybrid/approximation of American Popular music. That explains it! That’s why it feels and is so ‘four-square’, lacking in the jazzier syncopations and surprising phrasings that an American composer would have naturally put in. And yet the composer hit it spot on, making the stolid repetition of phrases balance near-perfectly. So that, when I’m doing a mindless task, I don’t sing “I Got Rhythm” or “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. Nope. When I go mindless, I go for the gold. “Strangers in the Night”.

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