The 1960s incarnation of NBC’s quiz show The Match Game, which I watched occasionally after school for no good reason, was a bland sort of affair, as was most daytime television outside of American Bandstand, though it had arguably the spiffiest theme song of any game show, ever: a Bert Kaempfert tune called “A Swingin’ Safari.”
In Europe, Kaempfert, then the A&R director for Polydor Records in Germany, earned lots of coin for his exquisitely-crafted instrumentals. But Polydor didn’t have a US outpost back then, and Kaempfert had only one Top Ten single in the States: the glorious “Wonderland by Night,” released here on Decca in late 1960, eventually landing at #1 for three weeks. Apart from Kaempfert, about the only Polydor product that showed up here was a single by one Tony Sheridan, who probably had no idea that his backup band of the moment would become legendary. And anyway, Kaempfert produced that session.
Dot Records, home of the cover version (see, for instance, Gale Storm or Pat Boone), duly issued a remake of “A Swingin’ Safari,” credited to Billy Vaughn and His Orchestra, which made it to #13 before Match Game premiered in December 1962. It is, however, Kaempfert’s original, not the Vaughn cover, that was actually used on the show. (It took me many years to figure this out. Listen to both and compare.)
Still, irrespective of who got the credit, “Safari” was arguably the second-greatest legacy of Match Game. The first? The send-off for host Gene Rayburn, who died in 1999, on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” After announcing Rayburn’s passing, Colin Quinn solemnly intoned, “In lieu of flowers, the family requests that those who wish to remember him should send [blank].”