BOBBY DARIN (1936-1973)

It was Jerry Lee Lewis who famously remarked, with some satisfaction, that The Beatles cut down all the Bobbies, referring to plastic American pop idols like Bobby Vee, Bobby Vinton and Bobby Rydell. I was never sure whether he’d have included Bobby Darin in this list but if he did I think he would have been wrong. Darin was a cut above all the other Bobbies.
         My dad’s all time favourite song was ‘Mack The Knife’, his favourite version the one by Bobby Darin. I was displeased therefore when the chapel in Skipton where his funeral took place in 1997 could only come up with the Louis Armstrong recording to play during the service. Foolishly, I’d left my copy of Darin’s Greatest Hits in London and the local record shop couldn’t come up with it either. No matter, Louis Armstrong it was and dad’s old pals, those still around to attend, much appreciated it anyway. They knew how much dad liked the song.
         A few years ago I wrote this introduction to a Bobby Darin songbook. 

Bobby Darin was one of pop music’s great chameleons; a crooner, pop singer, jazz singer and protest singer, at home in cabaret and on the concert stage; a film actor, lover and political commentator; and a business man who understood how, why and where money flows in the music industry. What is all the more remarkable is that he packed all this into a short life, dying at the age of only 37 from heart problems that had dogged him all his days. Told by a doctor that he was unlikely to live beyond the age of 18, it seems he adopted a reckless spirit and determined to live his life to the full before the maker called.
         Born Walden Robert Cassotto on 14 May, 1936, in New York, and raised in East Harlem, he attended Hunter College but quit after one semester to become an entertainer. Befriending songwriter and future publishing magnate Don Kirshner, he signed with Decca Records and, after a struggle, made the US charts in 1958 with the novelty hit ‘Splash Splash’. In the UK the song was covered by comedian Charlie Drake whose high profile ensured it reached number seven - as opposed to Darin’s number 18 – but you didn’t need a degree from the Guildhall School of Music to tell which was the superior recording.
         This little early setback didn’t matter. ‘Queen Of The Hop’, a major US hit, was followed by two number ones, both of which have become standards. Darin’s distinctive vocal delivery on ‘Dream Lover’ was sexually enticing, perfect to attract a legion of girl fans, while his snappy version of the much-covered ‘Mack The Knife’ remains the most admired rendition of the popular Brecht & Weill song from The Threepenny Opera.
         The worldwide success of ‘Mack The Knife’ shifted the balance of Darin’s career. The slightly quirky pop singer now became a suited, finger-popping supper-club entertainer and, somewhat engagingly, he compared himself favourably to the less likeable Frank Sinatra. Other hits followed: his hip take on ‘Lazy River’, the Hoagy Carmichael standard; the slightly risqué ‘Multiplication’, about mating; and the catchy ‘Things’ which was covered by such disparate talents as Marilyn Monroe and Val Doonican. Never one to stay in one place, he recorded pop alongside show tunes and standards, always adding his own touches of cool panache, casual poise and disarming professionalism.
         In 1960 he moved into films, starring in Come September whose glamorous co-star Sandra Dee he married the same year. He appeared in 13 films in all, and was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Captain Newman MD. Combining film work and recording, he stepped up a gear to record an album of Ray Charles covers, then turned abruptly left into a sort of quasi-folk protest style, recording Tim Hardin’s lovely ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ (a number 9 UK hit) and John Sebastian’s warmly romantic ‘Darling Be Home Soon’. Evidently inspired by the earnestness which engulfed pop music in the mid-Sixties, he reverted to his own name with an album titled simply Born Warden Robert Cossotto. His next was titled, equally simply, Commitment, which seemed to sum up Darin’s entire attitude. A circle had been turned.
         Although the hits had dried up by the late Sixties, for the rest of his life Darin continued to be attract big crowds to his shows and command respect from younger artists. Following the assassination of his friend Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968, he considered a career in politics which never materialised. Nevertheless, he took charge of his business affairs with remarkable acuity and might have carved out a career as a successful impresario had fate not intervened.
         Bobby Darin married for a second time in 1973, but his happiness was short lived. He died on December 20 the same year following a second bout of open-heart surgery, this to replace a valve. In 1990, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which his son Dodd, by Sandra Dee, accepted on his behalf, and in 1999 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
         Recently the subject of the film Beyond The Sea, directed, written by and starring Kevin Spacey, Bobby Darin lives on as a figure of unbalanced energy who bestrode the lines between crooners and pop stars and the integrity-driven songwriters who followed. The songs in this folio are the touchstones in one of the most idiosyncratic careers in music.

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