Men who sound like women make some great music, don’t they? We’ve explored gender-bending vocal ranges quite a bit in our years as a discovery service, whether it be the spine-tingling highs of Jeff Buckley, the smooth neo-soul of Andy Bull and D’Angelo or the sensual pitch shifts of Prince. As it turns out, I’m always almost wrong when picking these things, and it was one of my managers at work today who pointed out to me that the very famous tune I was whistling wasn’t by some French chanteuse entertaining soldiers in WWII, but rather a 21 year-old kid called Wayne. After having heard this tune as the soundtrack to almost every film of my youth and then some (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in particular springs to mind), I rediscovered this song when it bookended the excellent, marathon mix our friend Andrew Rose did for us a few months ago. If you haven’t downloaded that, get on it now. And given that my other posting choice for today was Bjork, it felt only fitting that I write about a classic in that utilises another language, even if the voice is American.
What I love most about ‘Danke Schoen’ is the way is liquefies the German into a romantic, exotic sounding dialect. Having been to the country a number of times, I have to agree – though the people are lovely – that most of their phrasing sounds like someone is barking at you. Though scores of locals have criticised the approach that Newton took, primarily because he wanted to rhyme a foreign phrase with English when it actually wasn’t quite going to work, I think it sounds rather French and that feeds back into my original idea that it was someone like Billie Holiday or Edith Piaf on the microphone. Of course, the song was written by a German, but only hit the big time when Newton stepped up in 1946. Like Bobby Hebb’s ‘Sunny’, it’s been around the traps a hundred times, but interestingly, it’s one of the earliest renditions that remains the most likeable. The world fell for Newton, popularly known as ‘Mr Las Vegas’ who has seemed to have found enough botox to keep looking 21 forever. Las Vegas is still into him – they’ve named a street in his honour and he’s estimated to have performed some 30,000 shows there.
Simply put, ‘Danke Schoen’ is a song that makes you feel good. With a sprightly swing step to it, contrasted with a legato vocal and strings that seems to ooze over the syncopation from the brushes on the kit, it’s everything that was great about post-wartime 45s, and the big-band revolution that was taking over Europe as fast as it was The States. It’s one of those ‘last drinks’ songs that everyone can relate to, and the melody is so well written that it seems fresh regardless of context. Again, like ‘Sunny’, it works on a cycle-of-fifths modulation that proves not only the strength of the chordal material but also why it justifiably has become a jazz standard. So when you’re done with your post-dubstep and operatic doom-pop, take this old faithful for a spin. After 30,000 shows, it’s unlikely Mr Las Vegas is going to let you down.
Wayne Newton – ‘Danke Schoen’