Songwriter hit paydirt with Spanish Eyes and Strangers in the Night, writes Pierre Perrone
Frank Sinatra may well have been the definitive interpreter of the American songbook, but two of his biggest hits originated in Europe. Paul Anka wrote new lyrics to Comme D'Habitude, a chanson by Claude François and Jacques Revaux, and came up with My Way, while the genesis of Strangers In The Night is even more convoluted.
Ivo Robic, a Croatian composer popular in Germany, wrote the melody for a music festival. However, the German bandleader, arranger, producer and composer Bert Kaempfert, with whom Robic had previously collaborated, acquired the copyright. He subsequently included the theme, then known as Beddy Bye, among the soundtrack music he provided for A Man Could Get Killed, a comedy starring James Garner and Melina Mercouri. The Sinatra producer Jimmy Bowen spotted the melody and asked Kaempfert to flesh it out and turn it into a fully-fledged song. Kaempfert called on lyricist Charles Singleton and songwriter Eddie Snyder, who excelled at adapting European material into English.
"We had the scene: a man is sitting across from a girl in a bar. That was it," recalled Snyder, who died on March 10, aged 92. Snyder had spent several years toiling away at the piano in a windowless office in New York's famed Brill Building, the home of such celebrated songwriting partnerships as Burt Bacharah and Hal David, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry, and Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
"We were doing nothing but writing a song a day. Strangers In The Night took us a few days but that was the one. I've never had to work a day since," he said of the much-recorded ballad.
Sinatra famously disliked Strangers In The Night and called it "a piece of shit". He resented having to record a second take after Glen Campbell, then a session guitarist in Los Angeles, fluffed the first. However, it was during this second take that Sinatra adlibbed the "dooby-dooby-doo" which helped make the song even more memorable.
Sinatra's single topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, replacing the Rolling Stones' Paint It Black in Britain in June 1966, and The Beatles' Paperback Writer in the US the following month, and reinvigorated his career. It also won Grammy Awards for Record Of The Year and Best Vocal Performance, and has since been covered by dozens of artists including Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark, Barry Manilow and Matt Monro.
Snyder and Singleton had previously hit paydirt when, at the behest of Al Martino, they composed an English lyric for Moon Over Naples, another Kaempfert instrumental, and created the schlager-infused Spanish Eyes, which became a US hit in early 1966, and a UK No 1 in 1973. Sometimes known as Blue Spanish Eyes, it has also been recorded by Elvis Presley, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tom Jones, Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias, and the rock band Faith No More.
In 1968, with Larry Kusik, Snyder wrote words for Nino Rota's Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet, from Franco Zeffirelli's film, and created yet another standard, A Time For Us, popularised by the likes of Johnny Mathis, Mel Torme and Andy Williams.
Born Edward Abraham Snyder on February 22, 1919, he studied at Juilliard School of Music in New York City. He had a decent voice, good enough to find employment as a "piano man" entertaining the clientele in bars, clubs and hotels, first in New York and then in Miami, where he met his future wife, Jessie, a cabaret singer, in 1945.
In 1951, he returned to New York, and began composing his own material. With lyrics by Stanley J Kahan, he wrote The Girl With The Golden Braids, a hit for Perry Como in 1957, and with Kahan again, and the singer and bandleader Rudy Vallee, Talk To Me for Sinatra in 1959. However, Sinatra and his producers rejected everything Snyder submitted to them over the next seven years.
The year 1966 proved fruitful for the Snyder and Singleton partnership since they also penned The Wheel Of Hurt, Margaret Whiting's last US hit. Snyder's versatility as a gifted melodist and a wordsmith with a neat turn of phrase is also apparent on A Hundred Pounds Of Clay, Remember When (We Made These Memories), Turn To Me and Ten Lonely Guys.
Often at his best putting words to music by Kaempfert or James Last -- as in the case of Games That Lovers Play and When The Snow Is On The Roses -- Snyder helped both German composers become mainstays of the charts throughout the Sixties and Seventies. Snyder was a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame and still composing well into his nineties.
"I'm going to die with a pen and a legal pad in my hand," he said in 2000. "I hope it won't be until my 100th birthday."