Bobby Darin - merely a fifties 'rock n roller' who fluked 'Mack the Knife' and 'Beyond the Sea'? Not by a long chalk! A capable movie actor, a television and nightclub performer, more than a handy pianist - and drummer - and a songwriter with more than 100 songs to his credit.
But above all a wonderful song stylist who straddled genres - like NO OTHER. The most remarkable aspect of his talent - packed into a mere 17 years of recording due to his untimely early death in 1973 - was not that he recorded rock and roll, swing, jazz, pop-country, folk, protest song, gospel ... and more ...but that he was SO GOOD regardless of style. One of a kind in fact.
For a complete run down of Bobby Darin's career - and indeed his legacy today - please visit:
The Legendary Bobby Darin web site
A wonderful resource courtesy of Linda - the starting point for all things Darin!
Check out the music scholarship at Bobby Darin's
old high school in the Bronx, NYC.
See 'The Bobby Darin Award' for more details. Keeping Darin's music alive!
Bobby's last television appearance, a fine example of his performing talents, is now available on DVD, courtesy of Questar of Chicago. Bobby Darin - Mack is Back! includes many bonus extras including other television clips, his 60s movie career, a discography and a telling mini-documentary. Recommended!
Today much of Bobby's musical output is available on CD. Many of the Atco albums ('58 - '62) have been re-released intact e.g. That's All, This is Darin and Darin At the Copa. The only downside tends to be the short running times of the original LPs. Particularly of interest among these releases is Two of a Kind (1961) a duet album between Bobby and Johnny Mercer, backed by Billy May and his Orchestra, where they swing and adlib mercilessly to a series of 'oldies' - an album perhaps unique in concept and execution! Other original releases (sometimes 2 LPs on a CD) are also available from Capitol ('62 - '65) and Atlantic ('66/'67).
Particularly good value are a whole series of compilation CD releases covering the whole spectrum of recording styles and labels. THE place to start is the 4 CD Rhino box set As Long As I'm Singin': The Bobby Darin Collection. This includes samples from Atco, Capitol, Atlantic, Direction (his own label) and Motown. Additionally there is a bonus illustrated reference booklet. The styles of recording split by CD - 'The Rock and Roll Years', 'The Pop Years' (parts 1 and 2) and 'The Folk and Country Years' - the latter also including some of the 'protest songs'. The selections are not exhaustive - but will whet your appetite for more!
On a more modest scale - the single CD releases - do check out the following:
The 'Rock 'n Roll' Tracks: Splish Splash - novelty number sure, yet the driving drum beat and rock sax are very much predominant... we get movin' and a groovin' and the rock 'n roll fade. Listen to Mighty Mighty Man for an uncanny impression of the early Elvis, replete with the girlie backing track. Ray Charles - a huge hero of Darin's (and the second biggest influence after Sinatra?) - is paid homage with Early in the Morning - yeah, yeah, yeah and rockabilly - for the real McCoy - there is What'd I Say - 'hey mama don't treat me wrong'. Perhaps the quintessence of the early r & r is Something to Love - the repeated backing phrase, turtle dove rhyme (seemingly obligatory for love at the time) and the less manic tempo - fades to a tee this time. Richard Wess with the arrangement (Darin's ideal musical co-conspirator). For the rock ballad, complete with saccharine sentiment, Dream Lover fits the bill - a beguiling percussion complements the vocal, the staccato jumps in the melody and a mock longin' in the lyrics. Minimalism? - try Lost Love. Now take a Crosby oldie and apply Chubby Checker twist treatment - You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby - just try denying the influence on lyricist Johnny Mercers '74 London recording of the same. Baby Face gets a similar treatment - 'lets twist awhile' suggests Bobby amidst a few amended lyrics. The Darin movies came up trumps a couple of times too - Multiplication (from Come September) has hand clapping effect merged with drums and If a Man Answers (film of same name) has just the right juxtaposition - mute brass, drums and guitar.
Mack the Knife et al: The Atco release of Mack the Knife (from the Threepenny Opera) with the definitive Richard Wess arrangement proved to be a staggering event in popular recorded song. The biggest hit by Darin - ever, influenced by the Louis Armstrong version for certain and the event above all others which opened the door to the myriad of musical genres that Bobby would perform in the coming years. The song itself - a short story of a murderers deed - echoed further in other future recordings. A sequel or rather homage followed with Gyp the Cat which could not quite repeat the triumph (and Darin refused to opportunity for the closing spoken comment), Beyond the Sea, which closely followed Mack, adapted from a French song, mirrored a similar energy and contains a drum interlude rightly celebrated. Clementine - back in short story mode, features a very unpolitically correct narrative but some amazing vocal effects, and above all recreates the swinging dynamic could even Sinatra swing this hard! Artificial Flowers - originally from the stage, provides more storytelling opportunities - this time with a Richard Behrke arrangement - note the relish of the delivered line 'all covered in ICE'. Indeed Mack, Clementine and Flowers all feature death as the central theme, though rarely less sombrely - no funeral dirge here. A final curiosity - check the arrangement of Hello Dolly that Darin recorded at Capitol - the intro homage and 'look out old Dolly?!? is back!
Swingin' the Standards: Brash and brassy from the start - check out the definitive (Billy May arranged) version of A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square - then in come the strings in beautiful compliment, catch the lyric 'A-broad in the air' and again in 'the feet of Astaire' great vocal rise. Similar techniques applied to Roses of Picardy, often sung so limp and effete, Bobby brings them to bloom like no other! Mute brass initially, then boom, the bass strings to presage the return of the Darin voice - 'that keep lockup up .... .Much of the 'standards' catalogue belong to the Capitol years of the mid 60s, but back at Atco, not to be missed in Lazy River. The refrain in two parts, with an injection of verve after a teasing start, and so different from the usual 'laid back' style of the songs normal arrangements. Down With Love - though maybe not quite standard status - starts with those plucked strings, then Darin arrives with a passion in the lyrical sentiment - especially the Viennese! Raw energy again! For non-swing try the vocally backed track of I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, its almost a gentle longing from Darin's voice and a truly muted arrangement, check out the influence on Joe Francis' version some twenty years later. There are so many more examples... recommended are Just Friends, The Party's Over - a fine closer, It Had to be You - so many years before Harry Connick Jr, just try denying the influence here, and for a really sumptuous and seductive wallow just settle down to Don't Dream of Anybody but Me (the song courtesy of Bart 'Fly Me to the Moon' Howard and Neal 'Batman theme' Hefti) - almost a lost song - not to Bobby Darin fans!
'Old Thyme Honky-Tonk' Style: The honky-tonk piano piano leads us to Darin's precise picking of the lyrics.. 'to-pick-up-the-pieces' in the sheer delight which is I Wanna Be Around and a similar treatment is applied to the 20s oldie There Ain't No Sweet Girl Worth the Salt of My Tears. A whole persona is built round these treatments. Similarly check out The Good Life (an almost hesitant delivery here, the slow build to confidence) and Oh Look at Me Know- lazy drum beat, crescendo brass - very Billy May and very Sinatraesqe. For a whole (and very special album) in similar style you would be hard pushed to beat the combination of Darin and the lyricist Johnny Mercer in swingin', ad-libbin' style a plenty (with not a little assistance by Billy May) - Two of a Kind.
Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer
(with Billy May & His Orchestra)
Two of a Kind (Atco Records)
LP: ATCO 33-126 1961
CD: 90484-2 TimeWarner 1990
1: Two of a Kind (intro)
3: Bob White
4: Ace in the Hole
5: East of the Rockies
6: If I Had My Druthers
7: I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jellyroll
8: Lonesome Polecat
9: My Cutey's Due at Two-Two-Two Today
10: Paddlin' Madelin' Home/Row Row Row
11: Who Takes Care of the Caretakers Daughter
12: Mississippi Mud
13: Two of a Kind (reprise)
Country Pop, Folk, Protest et al: Things a rather tinkly tune recorded at the end of the Atco day pre-empted a more rigorous country music policy at Capitol for Bobby. You're the Reason I'm Living has a lolliping tempo and harmonica in the arrangement. 18 Yellow Roses - a penned tribute to his wife - has a fine guitar arrangement and some rare double tracking of the Darin voice. Listen to (I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle and pick up the growl in the voice, the railroad vocabulary merged with the tale of an inmate ....Georgia Main ..to ball and chain, of course the train whistle in the arrangement. Sally Was a Good Girl - courtesy Shorty Rogers arrangement - is big band meets country, upbeat tempo and trumpets mid refrain! A country favourite for me is Walking in the Shadow of Love ..tender vocal harmonies on 'first ...second...third step' and a lovely executed key change mid song. For yet another new vocal style (and some weird cod-instrumental effects) don't miss Lovin You.The 'Folk' years mid 60s at Atlantic seemed to bring not just a change in style but in vocal projection itself ...new pipes almost. Guitar and drums, strings and a whisper is brought to If I Were a Carpenter. Blowin' in the Wind - a mighty tribute and possibly a carbon copy of Dylan. In similar vein we have The Lady Came From Baltimore (more Tim Hardin lyrics). For Darin composing skills in this persona ...wearing the countries colours indeed ... is the whispered I Am accompanies by a bucolic flute.A couple of recommendations from the late Motown years .. perhaps the archetypal 'protest song' Sing a Song of Freedom which starts at a gentle whisper and builds to real passion. Just check some of the lyrics ...build them shelves, to fight amongst themselves ...that's the advice for politicians! And many a heartfelt 'freedom' from the backing singers at the close. For a true gospel feel, just take a listen to Sail Away ...Darin takes on the role of recruitment agent to slavery, and at imploring tempo makes the prospect almost tempting. Great harmonica in the orchestration and a terrific arrangement for a sadly neglected Randy Newman song.
'The (previously) Unreleased sides' Some live recordings have made their way onto the Rhino box set - and are well worth hunting down. Ditto a couple of tracks on the Great Gentlemen of Song CD. However for over twenty samples of studio Capitol output, the recent Unreleased sides CD has much to savour. A lurching tempo with delightful understated piano presage Just Bummin' Around - sort of Bobby Darin in Roger Miller country, old slouch hat and all. My Melancholy Baby gets heavenly choir treatment whilst the Stephen Foster ballad Beautiful Dreamer gets a Darin musical adaptation as does the traditional When You Were Sweet Sixteen. For a more upbeat Bobby, Gershwin's I Got Rhythm shows yet again his appreciation of the classic repertoire.
In Summary: I hope I've conveyed the richness and diversity of the talent that was Bobby Darin - and without even touching upon his movies, his television appearances, his instrumental skills (there are some recordings out there to prove these) and much besides. And he did tour with both Count Basie and Buddy Holly - would anyone else do that?
His composing skills - not just many of his rock 'n roll hits but also many in the style of the standards writers warrant another page - one day!
If I can encourage anyone to seek out and sample much of Darin's legacy which remains available today, and keep his name and talent alive in the smallest way then this page will have been more than worthwhile...Look out Old Mackie is back!
To email me regarding Bobby, check out my address on the home page linked below.
For links to other Bobby Darin sites see my links page
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