The monster’s gone, your daddy’s here

Dear Old Dad.  He just never seems to get the same respect that Mom does.

While Mother’s Day was established as a national holiday by Woodrow Wilson back in 1914, attempts to establish an official Father’s Day were repeatedly rebuked by Congress Unknown-398and others for many decades.  Why isn’t exactly clear.  It took until 1966 when Lyndon Johnson finally issued a proclamation designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, “honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.”  Well, better late than never, I guess…

In the popular music arena, songwriters seemed to give mothers and fathers equal attention.  From folk to blues, from R&B to Christian, from funk to ballads, from country to swing, every genre is represented with songs about fathers.  I was chagrined to find, though, that a preponderance of Daddy tunes were about what a deadbeat he was, leaving home, fooling around, drinking too much.  Still, there are plenty of songs that praise Pops… if you look hard enough…

Today, I have assembled 15 titles that I think will make a nice mix of songs for you to play if you’re hanging out with Dad (or you are Dad) this Sunday.  I’m betting there are plenty of fathers who can sing along to most of these tunes from his era.

Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads!

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“Father and Son,” Cat Stevens, 1970

images-200In “Father and Son,” the lovely yet powerful call-and-response piece from 1970’s “Tea for the Tillerman,” Stevens creates a somewhat tense dialog between a man and his son, who hold different opinions about life and love.   The father admonishes the boy — “you’re still young, that’s your fault, there’s so much you have to know” — and the son retorts, “How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again, it’s always been the same old story…”  In the end, they agree the boy must leave home and find his own way:  “Away, away, away, I know I have to make this decision alone…”

“Father and Daughter,” Paul Simon, 2006

images-201One of the most perceptive songwriters of his time, Simon has written lyrics exploring everything from loneliness to jubilation, from troubled water to little towns, from Graceland to Kodachrome.  In the best song from his mostly ignored 2006 album “Surprise,” he serves up the kind of reassurance and affection only a parent can offer to a child:  “I’m gonna watch you shine, gonna watch you grow, gonna paint a sign so you’ll always know, as long as one and one is two, there could never be a father who loved his daughter more than I love you…”

“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” James Brown, 1965

Unknown-388America had already shown its appreciation in the early ’60s for the Rhythm & Blues genre coming from the Motown groups (The Miracles, The Supremes), but with this infectious track, James Brown’s first Top Ten hit, the Godfather of Soul offered up a whole different, more passionate breed of soul music.  Brown wrote the song –perhaps the first funk tune on US charts — about an older man who isn’t shy about strutting his stuff on the dance floor amongst much younger folks:  “Come here sister, Papa’s in the swing, he ain’t too hip now, but I can dig that new breed, baby, he ain’t no drag, Papa’s got a brand new bag…” 

“Daddy,” Nicolette Larson, 1980

Unknown-389Larson’s fine vocal harmonies were first introduced by Neil Young on his “Comes a Time” LP, and her rendition of Young’s song “Lotta Love” was her breakout single, hitting #5 in the spring of ’79.    On her excellent follow-up LP, “In the Nick of Time,” Larson chose to include the 1940s-era Bobby Troup song “Daddy,” made famous by The Andrews Sisters and various orchestras of the time.  Troup, who also wrote “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” wrote this one about a girl who loves to be pampered:  “Hey Daddy, I want a diamond ring, and bracelets, and everything, hey Daddy, you ought to get the best for me…”

“My Father’s Eyes,” Eric Clapton, 1998

Unknown-390Patricia Clapp was only 16 when she gave birth to her son Eric.  His father, a 25-year-old soldier from Montreal, shipped out before Eric was born, and the two never met.  This song’s lyrics, written by Clapton in 1992 but not released until his 1998 “Pilgrim” LP, speak of his longing for a chance to gaze into his father’s eyes, and also refer to the brief life of Clapton’s own son Conor, who died at age 4.  In his 2007 autobiography, he wrote, “I tried to describe the parallel between looking in the eyes of my son, and the eyes of the father I never met, through the chain of our blood.”  A sample:  “Where do I find the words to say, how do I teach him, what do we play, bit by bit, I’ve realized, that’s when I need them, that’s when I need my father’s eyes…”

“Papa was a Rollin’ Stone,” The Temptations, 1972

Unknown-391This tragic song by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong tells the tale of a young man talking about the deadbeat father he never knew, who neglected those who loved him most:   “I never got the chance to see him, never heard nothin’ but bad things about him, ‘Mama, I’m depending on you to tell me the truth, Mama just hung her head and said, ‘Papa was a rollin’ stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home, and when he died, all he left us was alone’…”  Originally written for The Undisputed Truth as its follow-up to “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” it was instead recorded by The Temptations in a magnificent 12-minute version full of instrumental passages.  It was pared down to 6:45 for the single, which turned out to be the group’s final #1 hit.

“Oh Daddy,” Fleetwood Mac, 1977

Unknown-400When Fleetwood Mac was recording the multiplatinum “Rumours” album, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were at each other’s throats, and John and Christine McVie were in the process of divorcing.  Mick Fleetwood was having his own problems with his wife back home, but he appeared to Christine to be the “steady rock” holding the band together.  With this song, Christine McVie was letting Fleetwood know, in her own way, that he was the father figure of the group at the time they needed one the most:  “Why are you right when I’m so wrong, I’m so weak but you’re so strong…  Oh Daddy, if I could make you see, if there’s been a fool around, it’s got to be me…”

“My Dad,” Paul Petersen, 1962  

imgres-32The Donna Reed Show, an early ’60s sitcom starring the Oscar-winning actress as the pleasant, level-headed mom, featured two different episodes in which her fictional children, Mary and Jeff, sang songs at a school dance.  Their real-life counterparts, Shelly Fabares and Paul Petersen, took those songs to Top Five success on the US singles chart.  Fabares’ rendition of “Johnny Angel” went all the way to #1 in early ’62.  Petersen,

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Carl Betz as Petersen’s Dad

only 17 at the time, followed with the #6 hit “My Dad,” a saccharine ballad written by Brill Building stalwarts Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill expressly for the show episode.  Both the song and lyrics are admittedly pretty shmaltzy (“My Dad, now here is the man, to me he is everything strong, no, he can’t do wrong, my Dad, now he understands, when I bring him trouble to share, oh, he’s always there, my Dad…”)  but hey, why not?  It’s for Father’s Day…

“My Father’s Gun,” Elton John, 1970

Unknown-393Elton John’s lyricist partner, Bernie Taupin, was fascinated by the old American West and its stories of the frontier, as evidenced by the almost country-western feel to the music and words of most of the tracks on their third album, “Tumbleweed Connection.”  Taupin reaches back to the Civil War in “My Father’s Gun,” a slow-building, dramatic tale in which the son buries his soldier father and then vows to keep fighting in his father’s place:  “I’ll not rest until I know the cause is fought and won, from this day on, until I die, I’ll wear my father’s gun…”

“Daddy’s Working Boots,” Dolly Parton, 1973

Unknown-394For her 11th studio album, “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” Parton recorded a batch of songs she wrote about growing up in rural Tennessee before heading to Nashville for fame and fortune.  The title track was a Top 20 hit on the country charts, but equally poignant was this song that paid tribute to her father and how hard he had to work to support her family during tough times:   “As long as I remember, I remember Daddy workin’, workin’ on the job or either on the farm, trying to provide for the family that he loves, and Daddy’s working boots have taken many steps for us…”

imgres-34“Papa Don’t Preach,” Madonna, 1986  

Never one to shy away from provocative topics, Madonna tackled teenage pregnancy and abortion in this #1 hit written by Brian Elliot.  The narrator, who is pregnant and weighing her options, cautiously approaches her father in her hour of need, pleading for loving support and advice rather than lectures and scolding:  “You always taught me right from wrong, I need your help, Daddy, please be strong, I may be young at heart, but I know what I’m saying…  We’re in an awful mess, and I don’t mean maybe, please, Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep, Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep, but I made up my mind, I’m keeping my baby…”

“Daddy’s All Gone,” James Taylor, 1976

Unknown-401The homesickness for hearth and family that strikes touring musicians is the subject of this autobiographical song from Taylor’s seventh LP, “In the Pocket,” one of his best.  The lyrics speak of him calling home from yet another night on the road, lamenting the fact that he has many more concerts ahead of him before he can return home where he wants to be:  “Oh, I miss you, baby, I sure am on the road, I don’t need to say much more, just the same old well-known stranger that I was before, it seems like yesterday now, Daddy’s all gone, he’s only halfway home, he’s holding on to the telephone singing, please, don’t let the show go on…”

“My Father,” Judy Collins, 1968

images-203One of Collins’s first attempts at composing was this gorgeous piano ballad, written in October 1967 for her blind father, who died only three weeks after she recorded it.  They both had suffered from depression and alcoholism, and had forged an uneasy bond over their afflictions.  She wrote how he had dreamed of greater things for himself and his family, most of which never came to pass:  “My father always promised us that we would live in France, we’d go boating on the Seine and I would learn to dance, I sail my memories of home like boats across the Seine, and watch the Paris sun set in my father’s eyes again…”

“Daddy Don’t Live in New York City No More,” Steely Dan, 1975

Unknown-396Here’s a funky little blues-based track from Steely Dan’s underrated “Katy Lied” LP.  Creative duo Donald Fagen and Walter Becker chose to use a different guitarist on each of the album’s 10 tracks; this one features the smooth stylings of jazz great Larry Carlton.  The lyrics paint a picture of a typically dark Fagen-Becker character, this time an unreliable father figure who’s either drunk or absent most of the time:  “Driving like a fool out to Hackensack, drinking his dinner from a paper sack…  He can’t get tight every night, pass out on the barroom floor…”

“Forefathers,” Dan Fogelberg, 1990

images-204The sensitive singer-songwriter from Illinois was well past his commercial peak when he released the criminally overlooked LP “The Wild Places” in 1990.  The album contains some of the best music and most perceptive lyrics of his career, including this bittersweet paean to his Scandinavian and Scottish ancestors and the sacrifices they made for the generations that followed:  “And the sons become the fathers, and their daughters will be wives, as the torch is passed from hand to hand and we struggle through our lives, the generations wander but the lineage survives, and all of us, from dust to dust, we all become forefathers by and by…”

“Come to Poppa,” Bob Seger, 1976

Unknown-397Seger had been a musical force in Detroit and the Midwest ever since his early band, The Bob Seger System, had a taste of success in 1968 with their #17 hit “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.”  It wouldn’t be until 1976 when Seger truly broke through nationally with the Silver Bullet Band on their excellent “Night Moves,” LP, the first of six consecutive Top Ten albums.  The title song was a huge hit, peaking at #4, and two other tracks, “Mainstreet” and “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” charted as well.  Other notable songs include “The Fire Down Below,” “Ship of Fools” and the old Willie Mitchell tune, “Come to Poppa,” with lyrics that suggest whom you can turn to when things aren’t going your way:  “If life gets hard to understand, and the whole thing is getting out of hand, come to Poppa…”

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Honorable mentions:

My Father’s House,” Bruce Springsteen, 1982;  Father of Night,” Bob Dylan, 1970;  The Ding Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line,” Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, 1992;  “Daddy’s Tune,” Jackson Browne, 1976;  “Dear Father,” Yes, 1970;  “Father’s Eyes,” Amy Grant, 1979;  “Father Figure,” George Michael, 1988;  “Father of Day, Father of Night,” Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, 1973;  “Son of Your Father,” Elton John, 1970;  “Father to Son,” Queen, 1974;  Sugar Daddy,” Fleetwood Mac, 1975;  “My Father’s House,” Kenny Loggins, 1991:  “Hey Papa,” Terence Boylan, 1977;  “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast,” Wayne Newton, 1972;  “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Harry Chapin, 1974.

 

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The author and his daughters

 

I just want to say thank you

(This column originally was posted on Nov 24, 2016.  I have modified it slightly by adding a few different Thanksgiving-related songs I’ve discovered since then.)

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Every holiday has its traditions, and Thanksgiving is no exception.  Roast turkey and stuffing.  Cranberry sauce.  Football on TV.  Football in the back yard.  Black Friday strategizing.  Spirited (sometimes contentious) family debates around the table.  Perhaps most important, heartfelt expressions of gratitude.

And there’s one more tradition, at least in my home.  Thanksgiving is the day I find my copy of the Arlo Guthrie album with the 18-minute story-song called “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” recorded in 1967.  It’s a partly serious, mostly whimsical telling of a true story that happened “two Thanksgivings ago, two years ago on Thanksgiving” in and

around alices-restaurantStockbridge, Massachusetts.  It involves Guthrie and some friends, especially Alice, who cooked “a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat,” a ton of garbage, and a cop named Officer Obie.

Frankly, the rambling piece is only marginally about this holiday, but the hip FM radio stations in most cities would always play it on Thanksgiving morning, and ever since, I make a point of cranking up the volume at my house and singing along when Arlo instructs us to do so.

Other than “Alice’s Restaurant,” though, I’ve noticed that Thanksgiving doesn’t have many songs to commemorate the day, at least not compared to Christmas with its hundreds and hundreds of carols and secular Yuletide music.

But wait.  Hack’s Back Pages has done some digging, and I’ve found a few that fit the bill.  These 15 songs about Thanksgiving aren’t so much about the history of the holiday as they are songs that feature lyrics that focus on thanks or gratitude, and I think we could all do better at showing our appreciation for the blessings in our lives.

I’ve offered a sample of lyrics and a little background trivia behind each tune, and there’s a Spotify setlist at the end so you can listen along.

Here’s hoping you have plenty to be grateful for, and are surrounded by family and/or friends with whom you can share the day.  Peace.

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55dc153b2c6c20e32265ffecadf302551b2e9c64“My Thanksgiving,” Don Henley, 2000

Henley collaborated with former Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch to write several songs for his overlooked 2000 album “Inside Job,” including this poignant tune about a man looking back with regret on his years gone by, and the blessings he didn’t appreciate at the time.  But it’s never too late to be grateful:   “And I don’t mind saying that I loved it all, I wallowed in the springtime, now I’m welcoming the fall, for every moment of joy, every hour of fear, for every winding road that brought me here, for every  breath, for every day of living, this is my thanksgiving…”

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“Gratitude,” Earth, Wind & Fire, 1976

With disco music on the rise, Earth, Wind & Fire could seemingly do no wrong in 1975-76, and their mostly-live LP “Gratitude” topped the charts for three weeks, sparked by the #1 single “Sing a Song.”  The Grammy-nominated title track, written by group leader Maurice White, exemplified his focus on positivity and spiritual peace:  “Want to thank you, want to thank you, we just want to give gratitude, got plenty of love we want to give to you with good music, and we’re trying to say that the good Lord’s going to make a way…”

sdity“I Thank You,” Sam and Dave, 1967, and ZZ Top, 1980

“You didn’t have to love me like you did, but you did, and I thank you, you didn’t have to hold me like you did, but you did, and I thank you…”  Isaac “Theme From Shaft” Hayes and David Porter wrote this soul classic in 1968, and Sam & Dave’s recording reached #9 that year.  Texas blues rockers ZZ Top covered it in 1980, and later, Bon Jovi, Bonnie Raitt and Paul Rodgers also recorded cover versions.

brook-benton-thank-you-pretty-baby-vintage-r-b-mercury-sheet-music-and-lyrics_933068“Thank You Pretty Baby,” Brook Benton, 1959, and Nat King Cole, 1964

In the ’50s, Benton was a songwriter for crooners like Nat King Cole until he was persuaded to record his songs himself, thus beginning a solid career as a solo artist, charting a dozen Top Ten hits in the 1959-1962 period, and throughout the ’60s on the R&B chart, culminating in the #4 hit “Rainy Night in Georgia” in 1970.  He and Cole both recorded this song of appreciation for the woman the singer so clearly loves:  “Thank you for your loving ways, thank you because you’ve been so kind, I’m gonna just take my time and thank you honey, because you’re mine, all mine…” 

led-zeppelin-ii-1400175028“Thank You,” Led Zeppelin, 1969

This is one of a half-dozen acoustic-based ballads released by the undisputed kings of hard blues rock.  Carried along mostly by delicate electric and acoustic guitars and subtle organ, the song features a pretty melody sung by Robert Plant, who wrote the lyrics as a loving tribute to his wife:  “And so today, my world it smiles, your hand in mine, we walk the miles, thanks to you it will be done, for you to me are the only one…”

71YGmjVtw0L._SL1500_Kind and Generous,” Natalie Merchant, 1998

The former lead singer of the alternative band 10,000 Maniacs went out on her own in 1995 with “Tiger Lily,” but it was the 1998 follow-up LP, “Ophelia” that was Merchant’s commercial acme, reaching platinum status and peaking at #8 on the US Top Albums chart.  One reason why was “Kind and Generous,” an uncharacteristically happy song (for Merchant) that made it to #3 on the US Adult Top 40# and #18 on the traditional Top 40.  The lyrics are just about bursting with gratitude:  “You’ve been so kind and generous, I don’t know how you keep on giving, for your kindness, I’m in debt to you, for your selflessness, my admiration, and for everything you’ve done, you know I’m bound… I‘m bound to thank you for it…”

r-4456576-1386950644-4182-jpeg“Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” Sly and The Family Stone, 1970

“Dance to the music, all night long, everyday people, sing a simple song, mama’s so happy, mama start to cry, papa still singin’, you can make it if you try, ah, I want to thank you for lettin’ me be myself again…”   Sylvester Stewart, known worldwide as Sly Stone, wrote the lyrics to most of the group’s songs, including this one, the third of four #1 singles the pop/funk/soul band charted between 1968 and 1971.  The lyrics offer a virtual word salad of disjointed thoughts and images but keep coming back to the chorus, where he expresses gratitude for being allowed to just “be myself again.”  Translation:  After all the posturing, it’s good to get back to the real person inside.

thank_you_for_being_a_friend_-_andrew_gold“Thank You For Being a Friend,” Andrew Gold, 1978

Most of the instruments you hear behind Linda Ronstadt’s vocals on her mid-’70s hit albums were played by musical virtuoso Andrew Gold, who went solo in 1977 and had a top ten hit with “Lonely Boy.” The next year, “Thank You For Being a Friend” followed as a modest #25 hit, but it’s better known (in a version recorded by Cynthia Fee) as the theme song to the popular sitcom “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992).  In a 2010 appearance by Betty White on “Saturday Night Live,” it was affectionately sung to her by past and present cast members:  “And when we both get older, with walking canes and hair of gray, have no fear, even though it’s hard to hear, I will stand real close and say, ‘Thank you for being a friend’…”

b4f7585036a2a8f80b5dfe1dc1eafbb7“Thank You,” Dido, 2000

British singer-songwriter Florian “Dido” Armstrong exploded out of the box in 1999 with her “No Angel” album, which peaked at #4 in the US and went on to sell an astonishing 22 million copies worldwide.  The #3 hit “Thank You” was spurred on by its use in the TV show “Roswell,” the film “Love Actually” and, most prominently, as an element in Eminem’s huge hit rap song “Stan,” which was on the charts simultaneously with Dido’s single.  Its lyrics show gratitude to her boyfriend for being there when she needed him most:  “Push the door, I’m home at last and I’m soaking through and through, then you handed me a towel, and all I see is you, and even if my house falls down now, I wouldn’t have a clue, because you’re near me, and I want to thank you for giving me the best day of my life, oh just to be with you is having the best day of my life…”

116233675“Thanks,” James Gang, 1970

Joe Walsh was just 22 when he became the guitarist, singer and chief songwriter of Cleveland’s heroes, The James Gang.  Walsh’s songs “Funk #49” and “Walk Away” became national hits, and Walsh himself went on to become a major star in his own right, first as a solo act and then as a member of The Eagles.  On the 1970 album “James Gang Rides Again,” the lyrics to Walsh’s track “Thanks” took a somewhat resigned, matter-of-fact approach to life:  “Thanks to the hand that feeds you, give the dog a bone, thanks to the man that gives you, haven’t got your own, that’s the way the world is, woh-oh…”

r-6223553-1414122226-9323-jpeg“Thank You Friends,” Big Star, 1974

The critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Big Star released three albums in the early ’70s, which eventually received attention in the ’80s when bands like R.E.M. and The Replacements mentioned them as a major influence.  Lead singer Alex Chilton, who had wowed the US when he sang the #1 hit “The Letter” with The Box Tops at age 16, wrote most of their material, including this joyous tribute to good friends:  “Thank you friends, wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, I’m so grateful for all the things you helped me do, all the ladies and gentlemen who made this all so probable…”

the-beatles-second-album-cover“Thank You Girl,” The Beatles, 1963

“You’ve been good to me, you made me glad when I was blue, and eternally, I’ll always be in love with you, and all I wanna do is thank you girl, thank you girl, thank you girl for loving me the way that you do, that’s the kind of love that is too good to be true…”   This formulaic early Lennon-McCartney song was written as the follow-up single to their first #1 hit in England, “Please Please Me,” with “From Me to You” slated for the B-side.  In the end, though, “From Me to You” won out, and “Thank You Girl” became the B-side.  In the US, it appeared on the Capitol album “The Beatles’ Second Album” in 1964.  Said Lennon in 1980:  “One of our efforts at writing a single that didn’t work.”  Said McCartney about it in 1989:  “A bit of a hack song, but all good practice.”

thank_you“Thank U,” Alanis Morissette, 1998

Morissette was only 21 when her “Jagged Little Pill” LP spawned four hits and ended up selling 16 million copies in the US alone.  Things had exploded so fast for her, she said, that she needed to take some time off.  “When I did stop, and I was silent, and I breathed, I was just left with an immense sense of gratitude, and inspiration, and bliss, and that’s where the lyrics to ‘Thank U’ came from.”  It reached #1 in her native Canada and #17 here:  “How about me not blaming you for everything, how about me enjoying the moment for once, how about how good it feels to finally forgive you, how about grieving it all one at a time, thank you India, thank you Providence, thank you disillusionment, thank you frailty, thank you consequence, thank you thank you silence…”

5fe9d8e8f08344bb2a2666f05968ec13-640x640x1“Grateful,” Anthony Hamilton, 2016

In this blog, I don’t generally focus on recent songs, but sometimes exceptions are necessary.  The talented R&B composer-singer Anthony Hamilton, widely praised by critics and nominated for multiple industry awards, rose to prominence in 2003 with his album and title song “Coming Where I’m Comin’ From.”  Hamilton has the respect of his musical peers, who have flocked to collaborate with him these past dozen years.  His 2016 release “What I’m Feelin'” includes the heartfelt album track “Grateful,” which is well worth seeking out:  “Here I am, a new man, the best days of my life, and it goes without saying, you’ve turned it all around, introduced me to love, when I had given up, and I’m so grateful for you…  The way you changed my life, I owe it all to you, I found real love in you, all because of you…

r-2883539-1364799570-9512-jpeg“Danke Schoen,” Wayne Newton, 1963

Bert Kaempfert, a German orchestra leader who wrote Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” and Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” also wrote Wayne Newton’s biggest hit, which was supposed to be Bobby Darin’s follow-up to “Mack the Knife” in 1963 until Darin heard Newton sing it and gave it to him.  (Language lesson:  The rough translation of the German “danke schoen” is “thank you kindly.”)  The song got a second life in 1988 when it was featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when Ferris sang it (lip-synching Newton’s recording) from a parade float:  “Thank you for seeing me again, though we go on our separate ways, still the memory stays for always, my heart says danke schoen, danke schoen, my darling…”