More Bert Kaempfert on Decca, Pt. 5: 6 Plus 6 (1972)

It’s not unfair to say that America’s love affair with Bert Kaempfert was pretty much over by 1972. But, more to the point, “easy listening” and its musical purveyors were all passé in this country by the early seventies. Record buyers had either moved on to rock or M.O.R. (“middle of the road,” the easy-listening music of the day) or stopped buying easy-listening records altogether.

(Joesph Lanza’s superb Elevator Music beautifully covers all of this history – with much more depth and detail than I can possibly deliver here.)

Kaempfert’s 6 Plus 6 seems to address the problem…but rather unsuccessfully. There is an unusual sense of desperation here that hadn’t appeared nearly anywhere else in the bandleader’s twenty-some-year discography.

“6 plus 6” is a strategy that Kaempfert records began adopting in the mid-sixties. It’s a programming tactic combining six oldies, or “evergreens” (usually big-band numbers or decades-old popular favorites), with six “new” originals.

Here, the “oldies” aren’t so old and the originals are namechecked tributes to other artists. This one takes the temperature of the times more notably (but not necessarily better) than most Bert Kaempfert records to this point. Even the cover art on 6 Plus 6 (duplicated on the European version as well) gets a pretty mod treatment. But, somehow, it all misses the mark.

Kaempfert covers such fairly-recent Top 40 names as The Fifth Dimension (“Never My Love” – 1971), Frank Sinatra (“My Way” – 1969), Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End” – 1970), Issac Hayes (“Theme from ‘Shaft’” – 1971), Sonny & Cher (“All I Ever Need is You” – 1971) and Jackie Gleason (“Melancholy Serenade,” the theme to The Jackie Gleason Show).

The outlier here is the Gleason theme. Probably the one song even remotely familiar to Kaempfert’s audience, it is also the best of the covers. Here, Kaempfert is in his element. While Kaempfert typically avails himself well on the other covers, the material itself is not terribly memorable. Sure, some of the themes have stood the test of time better than others. But it’s a plea for relevance – like so many of the like-minded easy records coming out of this period.

The Bert Kaempfert-Herbert Rehbein partnership also namechecks six other artists with original tributes: Dean Martin (who recorded “I Can’t Help Remembering You” in 1967), Petula Clark (who covered “Strangers in the Night” in 1966 and was the subject of a previous Kaempfert tribute, “Petula,” from 1969), Tom Jones (who covered “Spanish Eyes”), Tony Bennett, Judy Garland and Louis Armstrong.

The last three artists never recorded a Kaempfert song – and Garland and Armstrong had passed away shortly before this album’s release.

Each of these tributes is beautifully conceived and elegantly arranged, but have seemingly little connection to the songs’ namesakes. The disconnect makes them slightly difficult to appreciate. Kaempfert and Rehbein apparently put these tunes out there with an invitation for lyricists to flesh them out for the singers. To my knowledge, no one ever did.

Oddly, though, these tributes sound less like songs for singers and more like orchestral background music from a movie or TV soundtrack. A suspiciously brassy Vegas-styled flourish runs throughout the tunes, too, which tends to overdo the sweetening: more glitz than glamour.  

That said, “Tom’s Tune” hints at real hit potential – particularly for that period – while the Kaempfert touch of “A Song for Satch” seems entirely sincere. (“A Song for Satch” was part of Kaempfert’s 1974 London concert program but that performance was not issued until 2003.)

Trumpeter Ack van Rooyen is resplendent throughout and so dominant that he probably deserved a more prominent billing. His playing gives 6 Plus 6 a nice consistency, its greatest strength. American reed man Herb Geller also makes the occasional appearance here and there as well.

The 1995 European CD release

6 Plus 6 was released in April 1972 to positively no fanfare. The album never charted and, oddly, no singles were ever issued. It’s likely that the by-then ailing and out-of-touch Decca label did little to nothing to promote the album. 6 Plus 6 turned out to be the final Kaempfert album issued on the Decca Records label.

In December 1972, Decca-owner MCA eliminated the Decca, Kapp and Uni labels, rolling all their artist rosters into the MCA label (then notable for the stewardships of Neil Diamond and Elton John). MCA continued issuing Kaempfert records in the United States through 1975’s Moon Over Miami. After that album, known as Forever My Love in Europe, MCA and Bert Kaempfert parted ways.

A compilation, The Best of Bert Kaempfert, Vol. 2, appeared the following year – pretty much the only Kaempfert album record stores stocked for years afterward. But even though Kaempfert recorded actively until his death in 1980, no further Kaempfert records were ever released in the U.S.

6 Plus 6 was also released on CD by Polydor in 1995 (with different cover art) and 2011.

2 Replies to “More Bert Kaempfert on Decca, Pt. 5: 6 Plus 6 (1972)”

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