More Bert Kaempfert on Decca, Pt. 2: Free And Easy (1970)

Hal Fein – president of Bert Kaempfert’s American music publisher, Roosevelt Music – had been the one responsible for placing Kaempfert songs with popular singers, such as “Danke Schoen” with Wayne Newton, “Spanish Eyes” with Al Martino and, most famously of all, “Strangers In The Night” with Frank Sinatra. By 1969, Fein had sold his interest in Roosevelt Music to the motion-picture giant Columbia Pictures-Screen Gems, Inc.

That left Kaempfert without a “pitcher,” so to speak. But the market for Kaempfert material had pretty much dried up by 1970 – although Sinatra would cover one last Kaempfert song, “You Turned My World Around,” in 1974.

Perhaps this lessened the burden on Kaempfert to produce hits and likely led to the title of this album. Free And Easy is the first Kaempfert record in at least five years that didn’t bother itself with lyrics or lyricists. The result is a somewhat jazzier effort, clearly well within Kaempfert’s comfort zone.

There are also more originals here than usual and only one nod to contemporary radio, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” (just try not singing it: “So good! So good!”). There are a surprising number of classic film themes (“Over the Rainbow,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Laura”) and the two main themes from the Bert Kaempfert-Herbert Rehbein soundtrack to the Charles Bronson-Tony Curtis action picture You Can’t Win ‘Em All (1970).

All this film music likely had something to do with Hal Fein, now an executive at a film company. Certainly, You Can’t Win ‘Em All was a Columbia Pictures-Screen Gems production. Those two themes – really the only pieces of music heard in the film – never appeared on a soundtrack album. But both themes are included in The Bert Kaempfert Decca Collection as bonus tracks.

The highlights on this one include “Sweet Caroline” as well as Kaempfert’s always welcome travels through exotica, “Flight to Mecca” (from You Can’t Win ‘Em All) and “Magic Moments.” While this listener hears only Kaempfert’s hand on, say, “Free and Easy” or Rehbein’s on “Love Theme,” “Flight” and “Magic” are much harder to figure out how much belongs to either one. Both stand out in the Kaempfert-Rehbein songbook and both are real beauties.

Kaempfert goes back to Basie for “Hit the Open Road” and “Free and Easy,” which is always enjoyable, but while “I’m In Love” and “Susan” are pleasant enough, they’re hardly the stuff of memories. The evocative and cinematic “Wait for Me” sounds a little like John Barry of the period – which makes one wonder what Kaempfert might have made of a James Bond soundtrack.

The 1997 European CD release

Surprisingly, Free and Easy came and went without much notice. The album never even charted. Two singles were released: “Love Theme From ‘You Can’t Win ‘Em All’,” which did not chart (likely because of its over-the-top epic sweep), and “Sweet Caroline,” which became Kaempfert’s final American chart hit, reaching number 24 on the Easy Listening chart in December 1970.

Free and Easy was also issued on CD by Polydor in 1997 (with different cover art) and 2011 by Taragon in 2001.

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