Song Of The Week: “Mack The Knife” by Bobby Darin

When contemplating where to find a hit song, I’m sure your first thought is the same as mine — 1920’s German opera, of course!

Great minds think alike: six artists scored a hit with “Mack The Knife” in 1956 alone (although four of those were instrumentals), and when Bobby Darin attended a revival of The Threepenny Opera by lyricist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill in New York in 1958, he decided to work on his own arrangement.

Darin struggled in the mid-50’s as a singer and songwriter on the rock & roll scene before finally striking it big with three massive hits in the span of a year: “Splish Splash” (which he wrote in 15 minutes after being challenged with the title), “Queen Of The Hop,” and “Dream Lover.” Those singles sold millions and established Darin as one of the biggest teen idols in the land. All of this success led to a headlining engagement in Vegas, where he tailored his act for a more adult audience.

One of the songs he added to his repertoire was “Mack The Knife.” Appropriately — considering where he was performing — Darin’s arrangement out-Sinatra’d Sinatra, transforming it into the swingingest, jauntiest song ever about a murderous criminal. It quickly became a high point of his stage act and his label boss, Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, wanted him to record it as a single.

Having worked hard to establish a huge teen audience, Darin was nervous about suddenly changing his image. It was one thing to perform “Mack The Knife” in concert on a relatively small stage, but quite another to release the song on a national stage and abandon his rock & roll following. Ertegun convinced him it would be okay.

It was a little more than okay.

Released as a single in the summer of 1959, “Mack The Knife” gave Darin his first and only #1 (which he followed up with another classic, “Beyond The Sea”) and gave him the confidence to experiment with country, soul, and folk in the following years, all of which provided him with more Top 10 hits. Sinatra recorded his own jazzy version 25 years later but admitted that Darin’s rendition could never be topped. High praise from the Chairman of the Board.

So look out! Der Haifisch, der hat Zähne! The line forms on the right, babe … with Bobby Darin.

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