May 062022

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

Strangers in the Night

SecondHandSongs says that the two most-covered songs written in 1966 were by the Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby” and “Here, There and Everywhere.” That’s no surprise. The next two most-covered songs from that year were written by another songwriting team; Burt Bacharach and Hal David came up with “The Look of Love” and “Alfie.” Also no big surprise.

But then comes the fifth-most-covered song of 1966: “Beddy Bye” by Bert Kaempfert. Ring any bells? If not, perhaps you’ll recognize it from the movie it appeared in – the James Garner comedy-thriller A Man Could Get Killed. Still no? Well, at the time it had no lyrics, but once they arrived, and once Frank Sinatra sang them, it became immortal as “Strangers in the Night.”

We’ve talked about the complicated history of “Strangers in the Night”‘s creation (read more about it here), but we haven’t gone into depth on its resultant fame. By the end of 1967, there were already hundreds of covers out there, some with lyrics and some without. That’s a lot of strangers. Here are five of them.

James Brown – Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra cover)

You wouldn’t expect James Brown to be one of the early adapters of “Strangers in the Night,” or if you would, you’d think he’d turn it into something a little more Mr. Dynamite-y. But Sinatra was Brown’s favorite male vocalist, and on his 1969 album Gettin’ Down To It he performed a batch of romantic standards, “Strangers” among them. Robert Christgau called the result “a ballad album that could scare the shades off Ray Charles.”

Bette Midler – Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra cover)

The first track and the first single from Bette Midler’s 1976 album Songs for the New Depression, “Strangers in the Night” got the disco treatment. Maybe that accounts for Rolling Stone calling it “the album’s excruciating nadir.” It certainly didn’t turn off fans of the divine Miss M, who sent it to #7 on the charts.

Cake – Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra cover)

Cake is one of those bands whose sincerity I question when they play cover songs. Were they ever fans of “I Will Survive,” or did they want to revel in irony for their own pleasure? The same question comes up again for me as they wend their way through a cover of “Strangers in the Night” that may or may not be their working to perfect any louche tendencies.

The Volcanoes – Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra cover)

Now this is how you do a postpunk take on “Strangers in the Night.” The Volcanoes were a UK band that never really took off, but had a solid fan base due to their gigging around London. The evidence of their quality is limited, but one of those pieces of evidence is this cover, the A-side of a 1983 single.

Anna Ternheim – Strangers in the Night (Frank Sinatra cover)

Swedish chanteuse-songwriter Anna Ternheim recorded a very nice cover of “Strangers in the Night” for her deluxe edition of 2008’s Leaving on a Mayday, joining four other standards in a little “Anna Sings Sinatra” EP. Her arrangement is easily the most gentle of these five, and it makes for a very relaxing atmosphere.

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