Lee Hazlewood wrote an incredibly catchy song to capture Nancy’s mood, ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’. As idiosyncratic as ever, it had a sadistic element, especially when Nancy sang it in long boots on TV. She was walking over the Sands all right, but she came to regret the tough, trampling ‘Boots’: “The image created by ‘Boots’ isn’t the real me,” says Nancy Sinatra, “‘Boots’ was hard and I’m as soft as they come.”
“Lee Hazlewood told me that I was the reason that those boots were made for walking,” laughs Tommy Sands today, “so I take that as the truth, I was probably the inspiration for the song.”
Early in 1966 ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’ was a worldwide No 1. It sold six million copies and her father had never even had a single as big as that. “This was before the days of computers and nobody had noticed that Nancy’s contract with Reprise had expired,” said Lee Hazlewood. “When ‘Boots’ was number one in half the countries in the world, Nancy came over to my house and she was crying. She said, ‘They didn’t pick up on my option at Reprise and they said that I owed them $12,000.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding, we’ve got the biggest record in the world.’ I rang my lawyer in New York and I rang Nancy the next day and said, ‘How would you like $1m? I’ve got three labels that are offering that for you right now, and I can get something pretty good for myself as well.’ She talked to Daddy who said she could write her own contract with Reprise – after all, she was selling more records than him at the time. I said, ‘Okay, what’ll we’ll say is – you never pay any musicians; you never pay for studio time; and after three years, you own the masters.’ She said, ‘That sounds good.’ I said, ‘Just don’t tell them it was me as I’ve got to work with the other artists here.’”
Nancy and Lee followed ‘Boots’ with ‘How Does That Grab You, Darlin’’. It was not so much a new song as a rewrite of ‘Boots’, but it did the job and made the Top 10.
Frank knew he was an albums artist but he also wanted to appeal to the kids. If Dean could have hits, so could he. If Nancy could do it, so could he. He was a better singer than both of them combined, though that was part of the problem. Vocal perfection was not the order of the day, and Jimmy Bowen had to come up with something.
The bandleader, Bert Kaempfert, was a German Lawrence Welk, a purveyor of cheesy listening, and he had made the US charts with the instrumental, ‘Wonderland By Night’. He was also known for the insidious ‘A Swingin’ Safari’.
Kaempfert could write catchy tunes but he never seemed to put himself out. He would craft a commercial main theme and that would be it. His songs were full of repetition and he didn’t write bridges or middle eights. What’s the point? They could be used instead for another composition. Sometimes Kaempfert didn’t even write the tune: he found an old German folk song which became ‘Wooden Heart’ for Elvis Presley.
To a degree, his international songwriting had been unexpected. He had served as a bandsman in the German navy during the war. After his service, he played clarinet and piano in orchestras and then discovered and established Schlager acts for Polydor in Hamburg. In 1961, he spotted the Beatles playing in St Pauli and had recorded ‘My Bonnie’, which made the German charts, their first hit anywhere in the world.
Kaempfert was enjoying a lucrative sideline through American writers putting English lyrics to his songs. Wayne Newton had his breakthrough hit with ‘Danke Schoen’ in 1963 and Nat ‘King’ Cole recorded his brain dead ‘L-O-V-E’ the following year. You may wonder why a sublime performer like Cole should record ‘L-O-V-E’ and the answer was M-O-N-E-Y. Kaempfert’s ‘Moon Over Naples’ was given a lyric by Charles Singleton and Eddie Snyder and was now ‘Spanish Eyes’.
“Blue Spanish eyes
Prettiest eyes in all Mexico.”
So a German musician wrote a Neapolitan tune, which was turned into a song about a Mexican girl that became a hit for an Italian-American crooner, Al Martino.
Kaempfert had written the score for his first Hollywood movie, a spy caper, A Man Could Get Killed, starring James Garner, Melina Mercouri and Sandra Dee. When the music publisher, Hal Fine, was trying to interest Bowen in some material, he played him the main theme, then called ‘Beddy-Bye’. Bowen said, “Get me some lyrics for this and I’ll give it to Sinatra, but don’t call it ‘Beddy-Bye’.”
Fine agreed but Bowen didn’t like the first lyric he submitted. Nor the second. Fine commissioned a third lyric, this time from Charles Singleton and Eddie Synder, who had written ‘Danke Schoen’ and ‘Spanish Eyes’ and should have been given the job in the first place.
They took their cue from the film where James Garner and Melina Mercouri are exchanging glances in a bar and by the end of the film they’re in love forever. “That was all we needed,” said Snyder, but he also told Kaempfert, who happened to be in Hollywood, that there must be a bridge and they worked something out.
Hal Fine passed the song, now called ‘Strangers In The Night’, to Jimmy Bowen. He loved it and Frank could see its potential. Thinking that Bowen might be stringing him along, Fine played it to Bobby Darin, who was about to divorce Sandra Dee, and to Jack Jones.
Bobby Darin responded immediately. ‘Strangers In The Night’ was a hit song and he recorded it on March 23, 1966. Then Jack Jones recorded it on April 8.
Jimmy Bowen knew Frank would be furious if he found that the song had been given to rival acts and the last thing Frank wanted was to be in a chart race and lose. Frank might hire stranglers in the night to teach him a lesson.
Bowen had to act fast. He had an album session scheduled with Dean Martin and an orchestra for Monday evening, 7pm-10pm, April 11. Dean, as if to rub it in Frank’s face, was making an album which would be called The Hit Sound Of Dean Martin. So an orchestra was available on that date although it wasn’t Frank’s crowd as they weren’t the old big band guys.
Dean recorded quickly and Jimmy Bowen knew he could ask him to come in an hour late. In that spare hour, he would record ‘Strangers In The Night’ with Sinatra. Bowen asked Ernie Freeman to write an arrangement over the weekend and the lead guitarist from his own records, Donny Lanier, would conduct.