“L.O.V.E.” (Bert Kaempfert/Kurt Schwabach/Milt Gabler)

Among Bert Kaempfert’s best-known hits, few are as perky and, well, as fun as “L-O-V-E.” While it swings with a real jazz sensibility, it has a catchy melody that is as instantly familiar as any other pop or jazz standard out there.

Producer Milt Gabler even provides a lively lyric that catches fire immediately. It’s as good as a chant: “L is for the way you look at me / O is for the only one I see / V is very, very extraordinary / E is even more than anyone that you adore can…” It can be belted out with sassy verve or crooned with charming finesse.

The latter is just how Nat “King” Cole (1919-65) delivers “L.-O-V-E.” It is, as one source says, “nonchalantly elegant.” Often billed as Cole’s “final hit,” “L-O-V-E” was indeed the final single released during the crooner’s lifetime (he died in February 1965 at age 45). Released on September 7, 1964, as the flip-side to “I Don’t Want to See Tomorrow,” the ever-delightful “L-O-V-E” proved potent enough for DJs – and listeners – to turn the record over.

The great jazz trumpeter and studio musician Bobby Bryant (1934-98) delivers a superb New Orleans-styled solo that roots this song and its performance clearly in jazz. But “L-O-V-E” has real “pop” and a fervid pop appeal, something Cash Box called “a very catchy finger-snapping romancer.”

Cole’s hit recording became the title track to his last full-length studio album and eventually reached number 81 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 17 on the Easy Listening chart. Surprisingly, the record didn’t do nearly as well as the far less memorable A-side, “I Don’t Want to See Tomorrow,” which earlier hit number 34 on the Hot 100 and number 5 on the Easy Listening chart.

(It’s worth noting that Nat King Cole hit the American charts again in the 21st century with Top 40 showings of “The Christmas Song” and “Deck the Halls” between 2014 and 2022. And, of course, daughter Natalie returned Nat King Cole to the charts with their 1991 “duet,” “Unforgettable.”)

Remarkably, during the August 1964 recording sessions for “L-O-V-E,” Cole recorded a number of variations of the song in such languages as French (as “Je ne repartirai pas,” with French lyrics by Jean Dellème – a different version than the French-language version recorded at the time by Sacha Distel), German (as “Liebe” with German lyrics by Kurt Schwabach), Spanish (as ”Amor,” with lyrics by Doris Band), Italian (lyricist unknown) and in a mix of Japanese and English (with lyrics by Kenji Sazanami).

Even more surprising is that most of these Cole variations of “L-O-V-E” were all issued as singles…in the United States: In English (Capitol 5261), Japanese (Capitol 5330), Italian (Capitol 5331), German (Capitol 5332) and Spanish (Capitol 5333). Evidently, the French variation was not released in this series but it may well have been scheduled as Capitol 5334, which was never issued. Each one of these variations, however, were eventually collected on the superbly well-curated Cole collection by the German Bear Family label, L*O*V*E: The Complete Capitol Recordings 1960-1964 (2006).

The song was also covered by Peggy Lee (1965), Wayne Newton (1966), Dionne Warwick (1967) and later by Cole’s brother Freddy (1990 and 2003) and daughter Natalie (1991) as well as Andy Williams (1994), Julio Iglesias (1994), Joss Stone (2007 – also issued as a single) and Diana Krall (2017).

Jazz versions of the song were also recorded by the George Shearing Quintet (1965), Howard Roberts Quartet (1965), Ray Brown and Jimmy Rowles (1978), the Hank Jones-Satoru Odu Great Jazz Quintet (1993) and Clark Terry with Monty Alexander (2000).

Singer Ivo Robić, a frequent Kaempfert collaborator, recorded “L-O-V-E” in his native Croation language as “Volim te” (1967, with lyrics by Ivica Krajač) and in German – with the Kaempfert orchestra – as “Liebe” (1968, with Schwabach’s lyrics).

But while Bert Kaempfert has always been well covered by the easy-listening orchestras, one of the best-ever easy Kaempfert covers is the Stu Phillips-arranged version of “L-O-V-E” on the 1965 Hollyridge Strings album The Nat King Cole Song Book (first issued on CD in 2010).

Interesting to note that this cover, as well as those by the aforementioned Peggy Lee, Wayne Newton, George Shearing and Howard Roberts – like the Nat King Cole original – all appeared on the Capitol Records label. Talk about Capitol-izing on a good thing.