In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
Bert Kaempfert – “Wonderland By Night”
HIT #1: January 9, 1961
STAYED AT #1: 3 weeks
We are so far beyond the era when a German bandleader could hit #1 with a mellow jazz instrumental that it’s almost shocking to believe it ever could’ve happened. But it did. Bert Kaempfert, a middle-aged German with a difficult-to-pronounce name and a whole lot of forehead, briefly became a pop star in America on the back of “Wonderland By Night.” And shockingly enough, “Wonderland By Night” doesn’t even represent Kaempfert’s greatest contribution to pop history. That would come later in 1961, when Kaempfert recruited a Hamburg-based club band called the Beatles to back up British rocker Tony Sheridan on his album My Bonnie, thus becoming responsible for the Beatles’ first commercially available recordings.
As for “Wonderland By Night,” it’s a cool song. Powered by a slow, assured R&B shuffle, Kaempfert plays a drifting but memorable trumpet riff. For a while, he lets it hang there in the air before doing a few muted wah-wah things on a chorus. There are vocals but no words. At a few fun little moments, the entire band grunts in unison. It’s a short and simple track, but it sets a mood, managing to be mournful and contemplative and horny all at once. And even if you can’t believe that it ever hit #1 in these United States, you can at least see why people liked it.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s LL Cool J rapping over a “Wonderland By Night” sample on his nostalgia-powered 1993 album track “Funkadelic Relic”: