"I want to make music for everyone. It must be enjoyed by all. Otherwise it is pointless."
Anita Kerr: Soprano & Solos
B.J. Baker: Alto
Gene Merlino: Tenor
Bill Cole: Tenor
Bill Lee: Baritone
Bob Tebow: Bass
Produced by Dick Glasser
Arranged and Conducted by Anita Kerr
Recording Engineers: Ray Prickett / Eddie Brackett / Wally Heider
Art Direction: Ed Thrasher
Reissue Executive Producer: Gordon Anderson
Liner Notes: Collin Escott
Mastered by: Bob Fisher
Thanks to: Mark Pinkus and Dave Kapp
Collector's Choice Music CCM-813
Lp liner notes
“Bert Kaempfert turns us on!” says Anita Kerr.
We know what she means. He's been “turning on” literally millions of people these past few years. But we'd like to temporarily go back to the old meaning of the phrase. Like a light. You turn it on. It glows.
When Anita Kerr gets turned on the glow is incandescent. Beautiful. Illuminating. And lovely to listen to.
And when the compound sound is made up of The Anita Kerr Singers and the compositions of Bert Kaempfert, well, then you're talking about the stuff of which albums should be made.
Bert Kaempfert has been making history in popular music by composing an unprecedented number of songs that became big hits. Some of these songs are included in this album, songs that will echo through your memory via the voices you first heard sing them – Frank Sinatra (Strangers in the Night), Nat Cole (L-O-V-E), Wayne Newton (Danke Schoen), Jack Jones (Lady), Al Martino (Spanish Eyes), songs that you heard first as Kaempfert instrumentals – Wonderland by Night, A Swingin’ Safari, Two Can Live on Love Alone.
What Anita Kerr has done is take the original Kaempfert melodies and recreated them as group singing. The result is a Kaempfert-Kerr blend, familiar yet fresh, Kaempfert yet Kerr.
There are those who believe that the test of a good singer is to first pick a good song and then sing it. Not use it as a vehicle for personal therapy of lung exercises, just sing it. Being the arranger-conductor of both the orchestral and vocal charts, Anita has all the control necessary to see that these songs are well sung. And she has the taste, talent, emotional security and singing inspiration to see that the songs are not only well sung but beautifully sung.
There are few surprises in the album. One, the only non-Kaempfert composition, was written by Anita and Rod McKuen as a tribute to Kaempfert and is called simply “For Bert.”
Which brings us to a very serious potential problem. If everyone who listens to this album gets turned on like Anita Kerr, we’re going to wind up with a musical version of the Aurora Borealis. And who’s going to record that?
CD liner notes
Tributes to composers had been popular from the dawn of the long-playing record in 1948, and artists like Ella Fitzgerald had raised the tribute to an artform. But by the mid-1960s, there was a dearth of great composers who could stand alongside Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, and their contemporaries. When Anita Kerr thought of profiling a composer, her first choice was Henry Mancini, and her RCA album, We Dig Mancini, won a Grammy, famously beating out the Beatles’ Help! For the best group recording. During the mid-to-late 1960s, Mancini was eclipsed by Lennon-McCartney and Bacharach-David. “I loved Burt Bacharach,” said Anita Kerr. “He was so original and so different, and Hal David’s lyrics were wonderful.” But Lennon-McCartney and Bacharach-David tributes were plentiful, prompting Anita to look elsewhere. “I hunted for another composer,” she said, “and that was Bert Kaempfert. He was hot at that time, and his melodies were so simple and lent themselves to vocal group arrangements.”
And so, Bert Kaempfert Turns Us On! became the third Anita Kerr album on Warner Bros. But let’s backtrack. It had been two years since Anita arrived on the West Coast. She had become restless in Nashville, anxious to expand her horizons beyond the local studios. For almost ten years, either the Anita Kerr Singers or the Jordanaires had sung background on just about every hit emanating from Nashville. It was time to move on, even though she could have had a comfortable living… perhaps to this day… in the Nashville studios.
After Anita and her husband, Al Kerr, divorced, there was no reason to stay in Nashville. With her second husband, Swiss businessman Alex Grob, and her two children, she arrived in Hollywood in August 1965. “In Nashville,” she says, “people have a tendency to categorize you. I had written some songs and I wanted to get them recorded, but I couldn’t do it in Nashville. I wanted to do pop music, not simply be a background singer or arranger. I loved jazz, and deep inside I wanted to do orchestral things. I’d met Henry Mancini and his wife, and he told me that I needed to move out to California. And I wanted to become known as Anita Kerr, not just the woman with the vocal group. I wanted to follow my dream, and Los Angeles seemed to be the place.” Contractually, she was tied to RCA’s Nashville division, and the label not only wouldn’t let her out of her contract but wouldn’t record her unless she was in Nashville. Lawyers eventually resolved the stalemate, leaving Anita free to record for whom she pleased.
“RCA’s Steve Sholes [the man who’d signed Elvis Presley to the label] told me I’d need a manager in Hollywood,” she says, “so Alex became my manager. I knew Dick Glasser, who was an A&R man for Warner Bros. He’d worked in Nashville, and I’d met him there. Alex went to see Dick, and then we went to see the president, Joe Smith, and I was on Warners. Now, I’d just won the Grammy for the Mancini album, We Dig Mancini, and I was on the televised part of the show, so that probably helped.” Before she could fully realize her dream, she had to master some skills she’d never had to learn in Nashville. “One of the things I had to learn in California was to conduct an orchestra,” she said. “There is an old saying: ‘The hardest thing in the world is to start an orchestra, and the next hardest, to stop it.’ That sounds funny, but it’s true. The first session that I had to conduct I was so afraid I told Alex that I couldn’t do it. He gently walked me through the door of the studio up to the conductor’s podium. He has always pushed me, and I’m so thankful for that, because many times I didn’t have enough confidence.”
Anita’s stock had risen considerably because her initial collaboration with Rod McKuen, The Sea, had become a surprise best-seller (all the sequels to The Sea, incidentally, are available on Collectors’ Choice as companion volumes to this reissue). Bert Kaempfert Turns Us On! appeared during the Fall of 1967. Kaempfert was hugely successful, but little known in the United States. True, he’d had a Number One pop hit in 1961 with “Wonderland by Night” and he’d released more than thirty albums in the United States, but most of his work was behind-the-scenes. Born Berthold Kämpfert in Hamburg, Germany, in 1923, he was conscripted into the German navy during the Second World War. He played with a military band, and, while a prisoner in Denmark, formed his own big band. After the war, his band toured Allied officers’ clubs in Germany, and he returned to Hamburg just as it was becoming the center of the German music industry. During the 1950s, he was Polydor Records’ lead arranger and producer, and his first orchestral recordings were released in 1958 under the name of Bob Parker und sein Orchester. In 1960, he did an arrangement of a German folk song, “Muss I Denn,” that Elvis Presley recorded as “Wooden Heart.” Then, in 1961, in his role as producer for Polydor, he signed the Beatles, and produced their first records. After they returned to England, their manager, Brian Epstein, asked for their release from the contract, and he gave it to them.
Throughout the early and mid 1960s, Kaempfert wrote a string of hits: “A Swingin’ Safari” became a hit for bandleader Billy Vaughn and the theme of a quiz show, The Match Game; “Danke Schoen” was a career hit for Wayne Newton; “L.O.V.E.” was one of Nat “King” Cole’s last hits; and a tune called “Moon over Naples” was adapted into English as “Spanish Eyes.” And then Kaempfert wrote the score for a movie, A Man Could Get Killed. The untitled theme caught the ear of Frank Sinatra’s producer, Jimmy Bowen, and at Bowen’s suggestion, English lyrics were added. As “Strangers in the Night” it became Frank Sinatra’s next-to-last Number One hit. Kaempfert slowed down somewhat in the 1970s. Semi-retired in Majorca, he emerged only to play big band jazz concerts. His last performance was in June 1980 before a full house at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and he died a few days later back in Majorca. He was a true giant of post-War pop music, but Anita was one of the few in this country to recognize his work (the only other Kaempfert tributes were by Al Hirt and Bobby Hackett).
The final song on the album, “For Bert,” may or may not have been about Kaempfert. The writers were Anita Kerr and Rod McKuen. Soon after the album was wrapped up, Warners took Anita and the score of “A Swingin’ Safari” out to a local park, and shot the beguiling cover photo. It was fashionable at the time for women to dye graying hair, but Anita’s bouffant was unapologetically silver. Bert Kaempfert Turns Us On! was released during the Summer of Love, so it was inevitable that her final albums for Warners would reflect the changing times. The story resumes on All You Need Is Love.
Nashville, May 2007