“Strangers In The Night” (Bert Kaempfert/Charles Singleton/Edward Snyder)

One of the last pieces of music written for the 1966 film A Man Could Get Killed was a piece called “Beddy Bye,” the comedy caper’s love theme. Kaempfert’s American publisher, Hal Fein, admired the theme and believed it had true hit potential.

He recruited Charlie Singleton and Eddie Snyder to write lyrics and the song became “Strangers in the Night.” Fein first offered “Strangers” to the film’s female lead, Melina Mercouri, who turned it down, claiming it should be sung by a man.

That’s when Fein took the song to the man, Francis Albert Sinatra.

The legendary Frank Sinatra (1915-98) recorded the song on April 11, 1966, and the single was rushed out within two weeks. By July 2, “Strangers in the Night” was the country’s number one song – dislodging The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” – and the first time Sinatra had hit that hot spot in 11 full years.

“Strangers” also turned out to be Sinatra’s first million-selling single and the album it appeared on, also titled Strangers in the Night, became his most commercially successful record to that point. 

“Strangers in the Night” won Sinatra Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Best Male Vocal Performance while the song’s arranger, Ernie Freeman, won a Grammy Award for Best Arrangement for his interesting handling of the tune.

(An interesting aside: Sinatra’s improvised “doo-be-doo-be-doo” outro inspired the cartoon character Scooby Doo’s name and the animated TV series he was featured in, “Scooby Doo, Where Are You!”)

Despite the song’s success and all the accolades, Sinatra privately loathed “Strangers in the Night,” even refusing for many years to perform it on camera. He likely picked up on the lyric’s homosexual undertones and while he was always supportive of homosexuals, he probably didn’t want to be regarded as one.

Regardless, the famed crooner would go on to have further hits with such Kaempfert-Rehbein originals as “The World We Knew (Over and Over)” (1967) and “(You Are) My Way of Life” (1968).

Hundreds of singers – including Jack Jones, Mel Tormé, Al Martino, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, Johnny Mathis, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Bette Midler and James Brown (!) – have covered “Strangers in the Night.” The song has also seen substantial jazz coverage, notably in versions by Stan Kenton, Count Basie, Charles Earland, Don Patterson, George Shearing, Matt Wilson and Joe Beck. Numerous instrumental versions of the song were also issued, including Kaempfert’s own, which reached number eight on the Easy Listening chart and number 124 on the Hot 100.

In his only Grammy Award nomination, Kaempfert was nominated for Song of the Year with “Strangers in the Night,” but lost to The Beatles’ “Michelle.” BMI called “Strangers in the Night” the most performed song of 1966 and it has since exceeded a remarkable one million performances. It is still recorded and performed to this day.

But the authorship of Kaempfert’s melody was in question – almost from the start. It has been documented – in Marc Boettcher’s Kaempfert biography (2003) and subsequent documentary film (2004), both titled Strangers In The Night: The Bert Kaempfert Story – that longtime associate and friend Herbert Rehbein was the actual author of the melody.

While Rehbein never discussed the matter publicly, he was reportedly deeply hurt by the slight – both professionally and financially. No reason was ever given for Rehbein’s lack of credit at the time, but the situation was oddly never resolved to Rehbein’s benefit.

To make amends, Kaempfert proposed to Rehbein that, like the Lennon-McCartney partnership in The Beatles, both share credit for their compositions, regardless of how much of any one song came from any one of the two.

This “composition credit” arrangement began in 1966 and continued on every Kaempfert record issued through Smile, the German bandleader’s final 1979 studio album – although the partnership was likely dissolved a few years earlier. The partnership, however, was fraught from the beginning. Indeed, the next two “Kaempfert-Rehbein” compositions recorded by Sinatra were almost surely from the pen of Rehbein…only.

Oddly, though, others came forward to claim credit for “Strangers in the Night” as well. These include French composer (Michel) Philippe-Gérard, alleged Sinatra compatriot Avo Uvezian and, surprisingly, Kaempfert ally Ivo Robić, too.

The case eventually went to trail. All the while, the song’s residuals were locked up, pending resolution of the composition question. Finally, in 1972, the courts ruled in Kaempfert’s favor. And that is exactly how it stands today.

Bert Kaempfert was always very proud that the great Frank Sinatra covered his song – and it may well have been Hal Fein’s greatest achievement as well. But everyone in this saga was ultimately forced to move on. Regardless of whoever did what, “Strangers In The Night” remains as the greatest of Bert Kaempfert’s greatest hits.