Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Sunday Morning Vault: Bobby Darin--Mack the Knife (1959)

     Although not always successful, it would not be a stretch to call Bobby Darin one of the most versatile performers (if you define it through quantity) in the modern era. From teen pop to Frank Sinatra style crooning, folk rock, rock, and even a bit of Motown, Darin squeezed a lot of material in his 37 years on this planet. Not all of these attempts were successful, but if you take the time to look at his body of work, he accomplished much more than you would expect.
     Almost 40 years after his death he is defined though "Mack the Knife", which is probably why so many see him as just a night club act. "Mack" was written by the team of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht for their musical drama, "Die Dreigroschenoper" or as it's known in English, "The Threepenny Opera" in 1928.
     Gifford Cochran and Jerrold Krimsky wrote the English lyrics for it's Broadway debut in 1933, which failed badly. It fared better in the early 50's off-Broadway adaptation written by Marc Blitzstein. This is the version that we all know and Darin recorded in 1959. Louie Armstrong did the first swing version in 1956. Interestingly enough, the name Lotte Lenya which is found in the song belonged to Kurt Weill's widow who was at Armstrong's recording. As a bit of a tribute to it's original author, he spontaneously added her to the names in the song.
     Darin recorded the song and it was released as a single. Despite it's being an increasingly popular song in Darin's nightclub act, he was hesitant about it's release. There were those (Dick Clark among them) who thought that it's association with an opera would cause it not to sell well to teenagers. Darin, who already had three top 10 hits previous ("Splish Spash", "Queen of the Hop" and "Dream Lover") and was seen as a bit of a teen idol, was not sure about putting out a song about a murderer. The final decision was made by Ahmet Ertegun from Atlantic Records and Darin soon had his only number 1 hit.
     For those who are not aware of his full career, you might be interested to take a further look beyond here. He had a total of 21 top 40 hits with 9 of those being in the top ten. Although none of them were quite like the most swinging song about murder ever....


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