Bert Kaempfert
My Way Of Life






When an artist or conductor like Bert Kaempfert (1923–1980) christens an album My Way Of Life, you can be fairly certain that this is no Exotica album per se. If there are exotic traits to be found, then in a few accidental segues on some songs. And this is indeed one of the least exotic works I have ever considered for AmbientExotica. So why did I choose this album? For one, I own most of Bert Kaempfert's original LP's, so an in-depth review is potentially close at hand. Secondly, every review of his releases poses an interesting question: is this a bland, boring Easy Listening release by the numbers with sugar-sweet brass hooks and violin streams on top? Or does Kaempfert inject a few effulgent schemes, maybe even exotic ones? The answer in this regard has to be negative. M


y Way Of Life is an interesting album due to the large amount of eight original compositions Kaempfert co-wrote with his longterm collaborator Herbert Rehbein, but most of the material is surprisingly bland even in regard to Kaempfert's Easy Listening spectrum he usually unchains in a skillful way. The LP is still intriguing though, undoubtedly featuring the dreamiest material that exchanges memorable brass hooks with mellower insinuations and accompaniments. Another curious addition is the ubiquitous acoustic guitar which can be found in the foreground on each of the twelve tracks. It is as if these guitar chords provided the original starting point of a composition which was then the base for further ornaments such as the surprisingly quirky flute tones and many string reveries. Since My Way Of Life is the mooniest offering of Kaempfert's 60's albums, it is worth your while if you are a fan of dreamy Exotica and Space-Age Bachelor Pad tidbits. Do the many Easy Listening strata provide an equally enjoyable listening experience, despite their lack of exotic percussion and birdcalls? There are indeed strong moments on this LP. In the following paragraphs, I'm providing more details about the 12 arrangements.


The album launches with (You Are) My Way Of Life, one of many successful collaborations of the writer duo Kaempfert/Rehbein. Instead of blasting brass flourishes and uplifting rhythms, this surprisingly doleful-melancholic tune launches with a quiet choir, an acoustic guitar aorta and quiet strings. Once the horns hit after about 45 seconds, the impetus of the choir is revved up, the ensuing mélange of a Latin lamento is distinctly placid, but all too gloomy and overly melodramatic. What the opener lacks in jumpiness, Mister Sandman, a take on Pat Ballard's classic, delivers in a glaring way: a similar acoustic guitar frame is elevated by deliciously wondrous fairy tale flute sprinkles that inherit that special Space-Age feeling you would not necessarily expect in such a rendition. The warmhearted brass bursts, the quiet choir and the smooth cymbals make this a particularly lofty take whose chorus is expectedly swinging and strong, but here we have the rare case where the verses and bridges are even better!


After the dreamy flute and string legato of the outro, Welcome To My Heart follows next, a composition written by Rehbein and Kaempfert with Lee Pockriss. It starts in a New Age kind of way, with a soothing ethereality that is kept intact and boosted by the languorously humming choir throughout the song. The muted trumpet played by Manfred "Fred" Moch is a little bit too kitschy in the already fluffily bolstered setting. Notwithstanding these minor problems, this is still one of the better Easy Listening tunes.


With Memories Of Mexico, Kaempfert moves into the expected Latin territories and offers yet another one of his gigantically saccharine tunes he is known for to this day: decidedly mellifluous flute tones mark the opening phase, with brass fanfares, gossamer strings and a high plasticity acoustic guitar joining, the latter of which is placed upfront in the mix. The orchestra strings are soon in the limelight once the female choir joins them. Is it an Exotica track? Nope, but if you take the targeted German audience into account which suffers from rainy days and a yearning for sunbathing in Acapulco, Memories Of Mexico is a dazzlingly effervescent track. True-born Mexicans will undoubtedly despise its stereotypical formula, but Kaempfert sets the Central European Easy Listening status quo of the late 60's, and since the Lounge and Easy Listening genre is usually based on poeticized memories, let us just cope with its exhilaration, for Manhattan After Dark follows, and it is here where Rehbein and Kaempfert come up with a genuinely superb downbeat dreaminess that transfigures the moonlit concrete jungle into a vivacious neon luminescence complete with a balmy choir, euphonious brass infusions, a wafting acoustic guitar and splendid strings akin to the Les Baxter school of play. I am serious: this is the best song of side A by a wide margin.


This side is closed by a take on Harry Sukman's Theme From The Naked Runner which is actually called You Are There. Kaempfert augments the similarly dreamy arrangement with soft double bass backings and a vibrant brass euphoria. Most of the time, the strings whirr gently and the choir hums mildly, making this another top-notch composition that is only slightly less snugly than the grand Manhattan After Dark. You have to be in the mood for these tunes though, as their enchanting magic in the veins of Jackie Gleason is best consumed during later hours.


Side B opens with the auspiciously titled Malaysian Melody, but to be frank, it disappoints in terms of its exotic prospect, although it succeeds with its melodious complexion. It features one of Kaempfert's usual arcs: a soothing mix of mild strings, a humming choir, a sudden inclusion of Manfred Moch's melodramatic trumpet, followed by tone sequences in major. What about the Far Eastern tonality? Well, a few molecules are indeed whirling in-between the brass polyphony, but they are not multitudinous enough to evoke a true faux-feeling of being in Malaysia, if you catch my drift. The oscillation between soothing passages and over-the-top trumpets does work flawlessly in the end, leading to one of the better tunes of this LP. While the version of Fidento Dante Marchetti's Fascination provides a hammock-friendly mirage full of those typical 60's doo-doo and ooh-ooh chants next to mellifluous brass carpets, On My Lonely Way keeps the pace and creates an equally syrupy phantasmagoria with the help of convivial staccato flutes, a Balearic guitar and meandering strings. Even though this tune is co-written with Charlie Singleton, the sugar oozes off every pore, making this a lackluster, completely uninteresting piece, I'm afraid. This sure is a prime example of a good Easy Listening song, and good Easy Listening songs are usually bad in delivering excitement. The three remaining songs of side B comprise of two Kaempfert/Rehbein productions and one final rendition.


Soul Time unleashes several ultra-short blithesome brass bursts, interweaves an infinitesimal accordion at some point and leads to Fred Moch's great trumpet solo, whereas Ridin' Rainbows unfortunately depicts the 60's psychedelia in its title only, but otherwise presents an uplifting bunch of fairy tale flutes, onomatopoeically laughing (!) horns and the mandatory acoustic guitar frame. I cannot help myself but like the wonky quirkiness of this unique piece. The outro Stompin' At The Savoy, the famous song written by Benny Goodwin and Andy Razaf, is a gently swinging big band piece with mild-mannered strings and colorful brass stabs. Since the backing strings are so mellow and quiet, they double the impact of the amicable horns. A seemingly haphazard, but by no means hazardous finale to a dulcet LP.


Well, what could my final statement about My Way Of Life be? On the plus side, it is one of Kaempfert's dreamiest and definitely coziest works of the 60's. Unfortunately, it is also rather bland. Although Kaempfert and his orchestra do not make a particularly audacious misstep, the range of the material remains in the same absorbed realms all the time. The lackluster result is all the more surprising to me, as I usually prefer the starry-eyed side of Exotica and Lounge, I am thinking of Arthur Lyman's Hawaiian Sunset (1959) and Gene RainsFar Across The Sea (1961). Alas, Bert Kaempfert's album cannot compete with them, let alone with his own, much greater work Magic Music Of Far Away Places (1964). And of course, he is not able to reach his tremendously coruscating post-Exotica benchmark Tropical Sunrise (1977).


What is amiss on My Way Of Life is the bongos and the congas, even though the album is not marketed as an Exotica album. And still, a wound up percussion scheme would have spiced the material and made it more interesting, as many catchy melodies and brass bursts are already on board. There are magnificent pieces on here nonetheless: Manhattan After Dark is eminently lush and tranquilizing, the well-known Mister Sandman is carefully altered at the beginning when Kaempfert injects particularly lofty flute tones, and Memories Of Mexico is a pretty neat tune if you can cope with the – nowadays fairly insolent – piles of clichés. In the end, however, My Way Of Life is a rather dull Easy Listening album with only traces of whimsical Exotica particles, but it is at least a bit more varied and lively than the majority of Jackie Gleason's records. Not the best Kaempfert album to own, but since it has been digitally reissued and is available on iTunes, Amazon MP3 etc., a short pre-listening session won't hurt the fan of vintage Exotica works. 


Exotica Review 223: Bert Kaempfert – My Way Of Life (1968). Originally published on Jun. 1, 2013 at