John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“Danke Schoen” Is a True Oddity

Young Wayne Newton proves he’s a great female vocalist in this perfectly constructed song.

By - Nov 25th, 2015 01:01 pm
Sign-up for the Urban Milwaukee daily email
Wayne Newton: Danke Schoen

Wayne Newton: Danke Schoen

Let’s get this out of the way, because it will take about as much suspension of disbelief as you can muster: Wayne Newton, for his brief moment in the sun, before he got all Newton-y and Vegas-y, was not only a great vocalist, but as this song attests, a great female vocalist. Listen to Danke Schoen and tell me otherwise. Ella Fitzgerald would have been proud to call that her own. It swings like mad and the delivery is so sophisticated and smooth, you can’t believe you are looking at what appears to be a twelve year old boy in extreme pompadour mode. Who is this guy?

To answer that I had to do something I was very reluctant to do — I went to the Wayne Newton Wikipedia page. But it was instructive, informing me in the first paragraph that his various nicknames in Las Vegas, a town he apparently owns, are “The Midnight Idol, Mr. Las Vegas and Mr. Entertainment.” I like the first one best, because when he had his first massive hit with this song, he looked like a guy who would not be allowed to be up that late. Fact is, he was 21, but I doubt he was putting much wear and tear on a razor yet.

What else? Aside from the fact he is partly Native American and he started in show biz with his brother, billing themselves as The Rascals Of Rhythm, I won’t burden you. You all have some notion of who he is, and the fact that James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Interior, picked him to replace The Beach Boys for the July Fourth celebration on the National Mall, speaks volumes. He was booed, by the way.

I’ve always been intrigued by this song and his sparkling performance. He didn’t get where he was on his looks, which are pleasant enough. Young Wayne could really deliver. There is no substitute for talent and from all reports, he had had plenty. The song itself is international in origin. The music was composed by Bert Kaempfert, with the German lyrics written by Kurt Schwabach and the English lyrics by Milt Gabler (Billy Crystal’s uncle!).

Everything about this is pre-Beatles. You almost sense the incoming tide of British rock which will sweep away large tracts of Tin Pan Alley, replacing it with the Brill Building, Bob Dylan and other artists and groups writing their own material. Some of it deserved to be set aside and, while it’s hard to imagine peaceful coexistence of these generational opposites, it would have been nice if the quality offered up by both camps rose to the top. Sad truth is, in the meritocracy that isn’t the music business, some of the things that float to the top are flotsam.

This song certainly isn’t. It bids a pleasant and fond adieu to a lover in a way you might call classy if you were being 100 percent period correct:

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for all the joy and pain
Picture shows, second balcony was the place we’d meet
Second seat, go Dutch treat, you were sweet

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Save those lies, darling don’t explain
I recall Central Park in fall
How you tore you dress, what a mess,
My heart says danke schoen

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for walks down Lover’s Lane
I can see hearts carved on a tree
Letters intertwined for all time
Yours and mine, that was fine

Danke schoen, darling, danke schoen
Thank you for seeing me again
Though we go on our separate ways
Still the memory stays for always
My heart says danke schoen

Danke schoen, my darling, danke schoen
I said thank you for, hmm, seeing me again
Though we go our separate ways
Still the memory stays for always
My heart says danke schoen
Danke schoen, auf wiedersehen
Danke schoen

© Bert Kaempfert, Kurt Schwabach, English lyrics by Milt Gabler

Crafted within an inch of it’s life, if this was a hotel sheet, you could drop a dime on it and it would bounce. This song ends at the perfect spot (so few do), after four half-step modulations take each verse progressively higher. The orchestration is also linear, adding little bits like the organ on the second verse until, by the end, the horns are swinging hard, and with a little denouement at the very end, Wayne bows out.

I like the lyric in the first verse, “Thank you for all the joy and pain.” It seems wise to be appreciative of all of life, as difficult as it is. Nobody gets a free pass, and in a year filled with plenty of public and private sadness, one in which Milwaukee lost some wonderful people, a year in which the world heaped more bad news on us at every turn, it’s important to keep in mind how precious life is. Oddly enough, this song makes me feel that way.

Danke Schoen, Wayne Newton, of all people, and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

One thought on “Sieger on Songs: “Danke Schoen” Is a True Oddity”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    I never knew that Wayne Newton was part Native American, nor did I think of this song as a Beatles omen. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *