and swing/jazz music in particular, I’m feeling a need to post about Bobby Darin, and his tune Mack the Knife. I have no idea if anyone who reads this blog knows anything about this tune…it’s my guess that even if you think you haven’t, you’ve more than likely heard it. It really has been popular enough to musically span the decades since it’s release. It’s one of those tunes that has a great, swinging beat and can’t help but get you dancing around. But there is a problem with this tune….let me elaborate.

There was a study done at one time, stating that the vast majority of Americans don’t listen to the lyrics of a tune they like. If it has a good beat and you can dance to it, that’s more than enough for them to enjoy it. The lyrics are secondary. In most cases, I have found that to be true, even regarding myself. This was undoubtedly the case with the afore mentioned Bobby Darin tune. That has one of the best beats ever in a song, which has always made it a bit endearing to me. That was, until a few years back I actually read the lyrics. Here they are:

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe
And he keeps it … ah … out of sight.

Ya know when that shark bites, with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, though, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s nevah, nevah a trace of red.

Now on the sidewalk … uuh, huh … whoo … sunny mornin’ … uuh, huh
Lies a body just oozin’ life … eeek!
And someone’s sneakin’ ‘round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

A-there’s a tugboat … huh, huh, huh … down by the river don’tcha know
Where a cement bag’s just a’droopin’ on down
Oh, that cement is just, it’s there for the weight, dear
Five’ll get ya ten old Macky’s back in town.

Now, d’ja hear ‘bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin’ out all his hard-earned cash
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy’s done somethin’ rash?

Now … Jenny Diver … ho, ho … yeah … Sukey Tawdry
Ooh … Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Oh, the line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town.

Aah … I said Jenny Diver … whoa … Sukey Tawdry
Look out to Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown
Yes, that line forms on the right, babe
Now that Macky’s back in town …

Look out … old Macky is back!!

All that time that I was be-bopping around the house to that tune, I was actually be-bopping to an upbeat sounding tune about a serial killer. Good grief! One has to wonder when the tune actually hit the charts back in the ’50s if the vast majority of teenyboppers really listened to the lyrics. I would tend to doubt it…it had a great beat and you could dance to it, remember?

I now read the lyrics to a tune before I decide whether I like it or not. Wouldn’t you, if you had come to love a song because it had a funbeat that made you happy, only to discover the subject matter years later? What’s funny is that my children already are in the habit of reading the lyrics…they know that if the lyrics are too explicit, I’ll more than likely ixnay the purchase of that particular cd. This is the case with Mack the Knife as well. My two older boys despised the song for quite some time…dismissing it as “Ella Fitzgerald music” because of the jazziness. Since then, they’ve also discovered the lyrics and it has become one of their favourite tunes. My eldest son even has it on his iPod. The beat and the lyrics pose such an oxymoron that it reduces them to fits of hysteria whenever they listen to it. But for me, if I’m going to indulge in such vileness, I’m going to listen to a version that’s far superiour. Here’s Ella’s take on the same tune:

{Spoken} Thank you. We’d like to do something for you now.
We haven’t heard a girl sing it. And since it’s so popular,
we’d like to try and do it for you.
We hope we remember all the words.{}

Oh, the shark has pearly teeth, dear
And he shows them, pearly white
Just a jack knife has Macheath, dear
And he keeps it out of sight

Oh, the shark bites with his teeth, dear
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves though, wears Macheath dear
So there’s not, not a trace of red

On a Sunday, Sunday morning
Lies a body, oozin’ life
Someone’s sneaking ’round the corner
Tell me could it be, could it be, could it be
Mack the Knife?

Oh, what’s the next chorus?
To this song, now
This is the one, now
I don’t know
But it was a swinging tune
And its a hit tune
So we tried to do Mack The Knife

Ah, Louis Miller
Oh, something about cash
Yeah, Miller, he was spending that trash
And Macheath dear, he spends like a sailor
Tell me, tell me, tell me
Could that boy do, something rash

Oh Bobby Darin, and Louis Armstrong
They made a record, oh but they did
And now Ella, Ella, and her fellas
We’re making a wreck, what a wreck
Of Mack The Knife

{Louis Armstrong imitation}
Oh Snookie Taudry, bah bah bah nop do bo de do
bah bah bah nop do bo de do
Just a jack knife has Macheath, dear
And do bo bo bah bah bah nop do bo de do {}

So, you’ve heard it
Yes, we’ve swung it
And we tried to
Yes, we sung it

You won’t recognize it
It’s a surprise hit
This tune, called Mack The Knife

And so we leave you, in Berlin town
Yes, we’ve swung old Mack
We’ve swung old Mack in town
For the Darin fans,
And for the Louis Armstrong fans, too
We told you look out, look out, look out
Old Macheath’s back in town

Much, much better….at least in my opinion!