Music to Soothe That Tiger, But Not Frank Sinatra

September 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Music to Soothe That Tiger, Herbert Rehbein (Decca Records 1964)

“Music to Soothe That Tiger” (Decca Records 1964)

This classic ’60s cover for an easy-listening album by the German composer/arranger Herbert Rehbein is another in the “big cat” series, and also another illustration of the fact that, as I have mentioned before, there is virtually nothing in music (or even popular culture in general) from this era that does not in some way, at least tangentially, lead back to Frank Sinatra. In this case, the connection consists of the fact that Rehbein apparently contributed to the writing of Sinatra’s biggest hit, “Strangers in the Night.”

I say “apparently,” as the history of that particular song has always been somewhat murky, and Rehbein is not officially credited. There was an earlier song called “Broken Guitar” (by the Armenian-American jazz pianist Avo Uvezian) that is supposed to have served as a “prototype,” but the song is considered to have originated with Bert Kaempfert as an instrumental called “Beddy Bye” written for the 1966 James Garner film A Man Could Get Killed (although there remains some disagreement as to whether Kaempfert bought the rights to the tune from a collaborator, a Croatian composer named Ivo Robic). A short time later, the decision was made to turn the piece into an actual song, and Charles Singleton came up with the lyrics, with additional lyrics and arrangement by Eddie Snyder. (For his part, Snyder, as reported in his 2011 obituary in The Daily Telegraph, claimed that he, Kaempfert and Singleton “spent two weeks at the piano perfecting Robic’s song.” As Snyder put it, “We had the scene, a man is sitting across from a girl in a bar. That was it.”) Rehbein’s part in all that was that he was a close collaborator of Kaempfert’s who would have helped him with the original arrangement.

However it was written, Sinatra reportedly hated the song (his widow Barbara says that he always thought the words were “not subtle enough”). A couple of sample quotes, uttered onstage:

“Yeah here’s a song that I can not stand. I just can not stand this song, but what the hell.”

“Here’s a song, the first time I heard Don Costa played it for me some years ago, I hated it! I hated this goddamn song the first I’ve heard it. And I still hate it! So sue me, shoot bullets through me. Shoot.”

And finally:

In any case, whatever Rehbein’s contribution was to one of the classic songs of the era, it is likely he did not spend a lot of time talking about it. It seems that he was a particularly modest person, and while I did not come across many accounts of his life from those involved in music, Rehbein was also a very well-regarded equestrian trainer, and people who knew him in that arena describe him both as having a remarkable ability to communicate with horses (one Olympian described him as “the most remarkable horseman she ever met”) and as “a very kind and honest person,” who was was “extremely humble, modest and unimpressed with others’ money or fame….When people were awed by his numerous talents, he would just turn and say, ‘That’s my job.'”

Herbert Rehbein passed away in 1997, at only 57 years of age. Longtime friend Kaempfert was reportedly devastated by the loss.

I wonder what either of them, or Frank Sinatra, thought of Petula Clark’s version of “Strangers in the Night,” which came out the same year as the original. I kind of like it.


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