Monday, August 24, 2009

50 years ago: Bobby Darin charted with "Mack the Knife"

Mack the Knife

Louis Armstrong

Writer(s): Kurt Weill (m)/Mark Blitzstein (l)/Berthold Brecht (l) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: January 13, 1956

Peak: 20 US, 77 HR, 8 UK, 14 AU, 18 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 5.03 video, -- streaming

Mack the Knife

Bobby Darin

First Charted: August 24, 1959

Peak: 19 US, 18 CB, 15 HR, 6 RB, 12 UK, 12 CN (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 2.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 24.03 video, 44.7 streaming

Mack the Knife

Ella Fitzgerald

First Charted: April 21, 1960

Peak: 27 US, 31 CB, 6 RB, 19 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 2.13 video, -- streaming

Awards (Bertolt Brecht):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Louis Armstrong):

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Awards (Bobby Darin):

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Awards (Ella Fitzgerald):

Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Mack the Knife” originated in 1928 as “Moritat,” which translates to “murder deed.” RCG Bertlot Brecht and Kurt Weill wrote the original German song about “a bloodthirsty Berlin gangster” RS500 on the prowl for the musical The Three Penny Opera. Despite the song’s gruesome subject matter, the irresistible melody made the song hit-worthy. KL Instead of translating the lyrics literally, Marc Blitzstein was assigned to give the song a rewrite. SJ

The song became a standard before Bobby Darin ever recorded it. “Mack” charted six times in 1956 alone; the Dick Hyman Trio’s #8 instrumental version being the most successful. However, Darin’s version trumped them all. A year earlier, at age twenty-two, Darin first hit with the “Splish Splash”, followed by three more hits which cemented his appeal to the teen market. However, he wanted the kind of longevity enjoyed by Frank Sinatra. At the time Darin even told Billboard, “In night clubs I learn to other things. I even do ‘Mack the Knife.’” BB Bob Dylan said Darin would have, like any other kids growing in the ‘40s and ‘50s in America, wanted to be Sinatra – “the way he dressed, the way he sang, the way the girls flocked to his side and swooned.” BD

Thankfully, Tom Dowd, an engineer and producer at Darin’s label, Atlantic Records, was “always on the look-out for new and innovative artists who could preserve the blues or jazz tradition, but the company was concerned that songs should be timely and would cater to the root of the artist, and at the same time would be merchandisable.” TC Ahmet Ertegun, the co-president of the record company, was interested in taking Darin “out of the pop world and into a more adult sphere.” TC

Darin recorded “Mack the Knife” for his standards album That’s All. Darin never saw it being a single SJ but Atlantic thought otherwise. The song transformed Darin’s image into that of “a finger-snapping sophisticate at home in the cocktail lounge.” RS500 It also gave the label its first non-R&B pop hit. TC


  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Bertolt Brecht
  • BB Billboard (9/08). “All-Time Hot 100
  • TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Pages 61-2.
  • BD Bob Dylan (2022). The Philosophy of Modern Song. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Pages 65-67.
  • JA David A. Jasen (2002). A Century of American Popular Music: 2000 Best-Loved and Remembered Songs (1899-1999). Routledge: Taylor & Francis, Inc. Page 126.
  • SJ Bob Shannon and John Javna (1986). Behind the Hits: Inside Stories of Classic Pop and Rock and Roll. New York, NY; Warner Brothers, Inc. Page 196.
  • KL Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 59.
  • RCG The Old Songs (1900-1929)
  • RS500 Rolling Stone (2011). “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time

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First posted 8/24/2011; last updated 11/2/2022.

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