Thursday, December 3, 2015

Look Out Ol' Mackie Is Back

Kent ...
One thing I noticed listening to Wild Wayne's 40th Anniversary Interviews ... Jack Scott, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Duane Eddy, Hank Ballard, Bruce Belland (the Four Preps) and Fred Parris (the Five Satins) all tell similar stories ... their hit song started out as a B-side before they figured out how good it was.  
I was listening to another one of those countdowns on tape.
1991 = WCBS-FM's Top 101 Songs Of The 1950's.
The #1 song was "Mack The Knife" by Bobby Darin.
DJ Bob Shannon said that Bobby listened to Louis Armstrong's version of the song and made the same mistake that Louie made.  The name Lottie Lineard wasn't supposed to be in the song.  She wasn't a character in the "Three Penny Opera."  She was the songwriter's wife.
I was wondering if you came across this information when you did your Bobby Darin Series?
By the way, on December 1, 1960, Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee got married.  It lasted seven years.
Ironically I was working on a piece over the long Thanksgiving Weekend and, as part of my reseach, saw that Sandra Dee was granted her divorce on March 7, 1967.
As for "Mack The Knife," here's the way we covered Bobby's biggest hit in our 30-Day Salute to Bobby Darin:
Chapter 5:  Darin Crosses Over
Despite all his pop chart success, Bobby wanted more.  The truth is, in his heart, Bobby didn't believe that rock and roll would last.  Like many of the older generation, he felt that rock was just a fad that would eventually peter out.  (Keep in mind that by 1959, Elvis was in the army, Buddy Holly had died in a plane crash, Jerry Lee Lewis had already been forsaken by his fans after marrying his cousin, Little Richard had left rock and roll for the church and several new poster-boy teen idol wannabes like Fabian, Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell were now prominently on the scene.)  Bobby knew that the key to a successful, long lasting career was to capture the hearts of the older audience as well ... and if he could take the kids along with him, all the better. 
Darin would be criticized throughout his career for using rock and roll as a stepping stone to a bigger musical career.  Indeed, some of his own comments early in his career would indicate that he wasn't particularly fond of the genre ... but there is no question that he could write it and sing it and connect with the young teenage audience.  (After recording "Splish Splash", Bobby told his long-time friend Richard Behrke, "You'll vomit when you hear it.")  He always said that it wasn't a great song ... but that it captured what the kids wanted.  Lyrical references to Peggy Sue and Good Golly Miss Molly insured its place alongside these other early classic rockers.  He as much as admitted to his master plan in an interview with Down Beat Magazine in 1960:  "Pat Boone was using rock and roll as a device ... which is all well and good.  It's exactly what I did."  
There was no question that Bobby wanted to branch out and do more musically.  When he first talked about doing an album of standards, his contemporaries told him it was career suicide.  Close friend Dick Clark pretty much spelled it out for him ... he would lose his audience and alienate his fans if he even TRIED to change his style.  Bobby felt that if he simply stuck with rock and roll, he'd just be one of a thousand other singers ... but if he could continue to polish up his stage act ... and reach a broader, more mature audience, he could take his career to levels never even dreamed of ... and sustain a much longer lasting career than any flash-in-the-pan rock star.  
Darin was determined to prove the cynics wrong.  Despite all the advice he received to the contrary, he went in and cut the standards album he wanted to make. With that thought in mind, "That's All", for all intents and purposes, may very well have been the very first concept album.  Bobby wanted to show his versatility as an artist and when the unlikely pop / rock candidate "Mack The Knife" was selected as his next single, it blew the lid off EVERYTHING else that was out at the time.  It shot straight to #1 and stayed there for nine incredible weeks.  Besides several other previous chart appearances (most often as "The Theme from 'ThreePenny Opera'" or "Moritat"), Bobby made the song his own ... to the point that every "eek" he ad-libbed in the studio have now become permanently etched as part of the lyrics of the song ... you end up singing along with each and every one of them every time you hear it.  Richard Weiss did an INCREDIBLE arrangement and the song took on a whole new life of its own.  "Mack The Knife" was a radio SMASH, crossing over to ALL genres of music ... even the JAZZ stations played it!  
Bobby was rewarded a few months later when he was nominated for four Grammy Awards.  In the Music Industry's second-ever (and first televised) ceremony, "Mack The Knife" was nominated for Best Arrangement. (Richard Weiss lost to Billy May, who had done the arrangement on Frank Sinatra's hit "Come Dance With Me".)  Darin and Sinatra (and the same two songs) faced off again in the Best Vocal Performance Male category and Sinatra also won THAT award.  But then Bobby rebounded with the Best New Artist award and topped off the evening by winning The Record Of The Year Award for "Mack" (which just happened to beat Sinatra's "High Hopes" recording.)  By now, the comparisons to Frank Sinatra had really started to escalate and would follow him for most of the rest of his career.  (How ironic that these two crooners would go head-to-head in so many categories at that year's Grammy Awards!)   
At the end of the evening, whether he was pumped up by the excitement of the day's events or overcome by his own massive ego, exhilaration and / or exhaustion, BobbyY made a comment that would haunt him for the next several years.  When pressed by UPI's Vernon Scott about challenging Sinatra in all four categories (and winning in two), Darin reportedly said "I hope to surpass Frank in everything he's done."  Soon newspapers all over the country were talking about the cocky young kid with the big mouth, who was WAY out of line for even hinting that he deserved to mentioned in the same breath as "Old Blue Eyes" ... despite the fact that those same newspapers had been playing up the comparisons for months already.  
While Darin would spend the next several years denying or down-playing the remark, Sinatra refused to comment.  In hindsight, it seems to have been more of a feud fueled by the press than anything personal between the two artists.  Photos circulated of Sinatra and Dean Martin using a Bobby Darin album cover as a dartboard .... but the truth is that Darin was close with fellow rat-packer Sammy Davis, Jr., most of his life.  (In fact, the liner notes for Bobby's big crossover album "That's All" even reprinted a telegram sent by Sammy Davis, Jr. stating "I've just heard the dubs for your new album.  What can I say?  They're so good I hate you!  But seriously, Bobby, I think the album's another step in a career that I feel will last a long time.")  Bobby also remained on excellent terms with Sinatra's daughter Nancy and her then-husband Tommy Sands.  There are even reports that suggest that after Sinatra broke away from Capitol Records to form his own record company, Reprise Records, Bobby was approached about jumping ship from Atlantic  to record for Ol' Blue Eyes.  (Darin reportedly turned down the offer, feeling he'd be the lost, forgotten artist amongst Sinatra's rat-pack pals also signed to the label ... in fact, Bobby signed with Capitol to record alongside his other idol Nat King Cole, hoping to fill some of the void left by Sinatra's departure!)  Another well recounted incident tells that after one of Bobby's nightclub engagement, Jerry Lewis approached Darin and told him that he was all alone in the league ... Frank, Dean, Sammy and Jerry were all several years older ... and NOBODY else was doing what Bobby was doing ... he had the whole arena to himself.  The only one who could louse it up for him was Bobby himself ... otherwise, there was NOBODY out there that could touch him.  Bobby took the advice to heart.  
The most-famous comment Sinatra ever made on the subject when asked what he thought of Bobby Darin was:  "I sing in saloons.  Bobby Darin does my prom dates."  Darin called it "one of the greatest single lines of all time" and said that he was only too happy to play his prom dates ... until graduation! 
ISN'T IT IRONIC?:  Years later, Frank Sinatra would cut his OWN version of "Mack The Knife", using a virtually identical arrangement to Bobby Darin's!!!  In fact, on his 1984 album "L.A. Is My Lady, Sinatra added a lyric paying tribute to some of the previous "Mack" hit-makers:  "Satchmo Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Lady Ella, too ... Old Blue Eyes can add nothing new."

DIDJAKNOW?-1:  Against the best wishes of his musical colleagues and his record label, Bobby Darin released his "That's All" album in March of 1959.  Atlantic Records didn't know what to do with the record ... it was SO different from anything else that Bobby had recorded ... and, in fact, different than anything the label had released up to this point.  Coming off the heels of Bobby's smash hit single "Dream Lover", they didn't know what to release next ... all they knew was it had to be big.  The decision was pretty much made for them ... radio jumped on the lead LP track and started playing "Mack The Knife" ... in fact, it quickly crossed over into EVERY style of music, getting played not only on the rock and roll stations but also the pop / contemporary stations, the big bands stations, the jazz stations and everything in between.  It was, by ALL definitions, an across-the-boards SMASH.  Atlantic had no choice but to release it as a single ... which they did in August of that year ... incredibly, a full FIVE MONTHS after the song first hit the streets as an LP track!

DIDJAKNOW?-2:  Bobby Darin was criticized by some for "glamorizing" the character of Mac Heath ... it was basically a song about a murderer!  Bobby most patterned his arrangement after the Louis Armstrong hit from 1956 but the musical "ThreePenny Opera" was also making a comeback in the theater at the time Bobby's song hit.  One of the characters mentioned in the lyrics was Lotte Lenya ... who was actually the widow of Kurt Weill ... one of the original songwriters of "Moritat" ... which became "Mack The Knife"!  In fact, Lotte was starring as Jenny in the off-Broadway revival of "ThreePenny Opera" at the time that Bobby's record hit!  Ironically, Lotte Lenya had discussed the possibility of recording some of her late husband's songs with Atlantic Records label head Ahmet Ertegen ... when Bobby came to Ertegen with the idea to record "Mack The Knife" for his new album of standards (a song he had already been performing in concert for months) it was a COMPLETE coincidence.
 Lotte Lenya

"A Theme from 'The ThreePenny Opera'" was a Top 20 Hit three times in 1956.  Richard Hayman and Jan August took their instrumental version to #12.  It was surpassed by the similarly named Dick Hyman Trio (actually called "The UNFORGETTABLE Sound of the Dick Hyman Trio" on the single) who released the similarly sounding "Moritat ... A Theme from 'The ThreePenny Opera'".  Their version went all the way to #7 in Cash Box.  (Hey, didn't they use to play this on the old Ernie Kovacs television television series all the time?!?!?!)  In fact, three MORE instrumental versions also reached the charts that year when released by Lawrence Welk, Billy Vaughn and Les Paul.  Finally, Louis Armstrong took his vocal version to #20 that year as well.  It's the Bobby Darin  version, however, that's become the definitive take ... and most certainly his signature tune.)  However, this IS Forgotten Hits ... so today you get several of the highlighted versions!