“The World We Knew Over And Over)” (Bert Kaempfert/Herbert Rehbein/Carl Sigman)

Considering Frank Sinatra’s disdain for “Strangers in the Night,” it’s remarkable that the singer was willing to give Bert Kaempfert another shot the following year with “The World We Knew.” Still, “Strangers” gave Sinatra a number one hit in 1966 and he likely felt the gamble could pay off again. He was right.

But the irony runs even deeper. Whereas “Strangers in the Night” was a Kaempfert composition that failed to note composer Herbert Rehbein’s contribution, “The World We Knew” is a Rehbein composition that credits Kaempfert as a co-writer…even though Kaempfert evidently had no hand in writing this piece.

(After the earlier slight, Kaempfert and Rehbein agreed to share credit on all of their work together, regardless of who did what. There is reason to believe, however, that Rehbein came to regret this handshake deal – maybe as early as this.)

Rehbein had written this melody for broadcast on Basel radio as “Van det en drom” (It Used to Be a Dream), a song known in German as “Verlorener traum” (Lost Dream). The transfixing melody had a moody appeal that made it perfect for a talented lyricist. The great wordsmith Carl Sigman (1909-2000) was brought in and the song became “The World We Knew.”

Sigman, who wrote the imaginative lyrics for such well-known numbers as “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” “Ebb Tide” and, later, “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” brought a high level of lyrical quality to the tune, a song which nearly begged for Frank Sinatra’s telling.

Lines that reach into the ether like “That inconceivable, that unbelievable world we knew” and the gorgeous couplet “And every bright neon sign turned into stars / And the sun and the moon seemed to be ours” are delivered magically by Sinatra.

Sinatra recorded the song at the end of June 1967, nearly two months after Kaempfert recorded his instrumental version. Sinatra’s “The World We Knew” was issued several weeks later as the follow-up to his number one hit “Somethin’ Stupid,” a duet with the singer’s daughter, Nancy.

It’s a mesmerizing performance. Sinatra handles “The World We Knew” like a Torch song parading as a James Bond theme. Coincidentally, Nancy Sinatra sang the theme to that year’s Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. Like the singer’s cover of “Strangers,” this too was arranged by Ernie Freeman, but there is a lot more going on here, from the surprising fuzz guitar to the angelic choir behind the singer. It makes for a curious but engrossing entertainment.

Frank Sinatra took “The World We Knew” to number 30 on the Hot 100, while the song spent several weeks at number one on the Easy Listening chart. Surprisingly, the song never garnered any awards, but it remains popular to this day.

“Powerful Bert Kaempfert ballad material,” wrote Billboard of the Sinatra recording, “performed to perfection with Ernie Freeman’s arrangement in strong support. Disk grows on you with each listening. Superb lyric.” Indeed.

“Without resorting to psychedelics,” wrote Cash Box, “Frank Sinatra takes listeners on another trip through the inner mind with this introspective ballad packing the solid vocal expressiveness and styling that have kept the chanter on top despite changes in pop music. Beautiful melody and a vibrant arrangement leave nothing to be desired on this smash outing.”

Veteran bandleader Stan Kenton covered “The World We Knew” in 1968, something that surely pleased Kaempfert. Versions of the song were also recorded in French (Marielle Mathieu), Italian (amazingly helmed by Mike Patton in recent years) and Spanish.

Josh Groban has covered the song in this century as well. And singer Ivo Robić, accompanied by the Kaempfert orchestra, sang a German-language version of the song, “Die Welt War Schön,” with lyrics by Karl-Heinz Reichel.