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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Meet Bobby Darin
Two of our favorite singers are Joanie Sommers and Bobby Darin. Both kids were bridging the gap between generations, singing teen hits as well as more adult-oriented pop. We see the them as the two key vocalists of a new generation that lacked Big Band experience. Joanie Sommers' discography is sadly out-of-print (except for a few key titles, available from Japan) and she's become a footnote in music history. Bobby Darin has remained somewhat of a legend. He started out earlier, had monster hits and was apparently an exciting performer to see live.

His life story was also pretty fascinating. He started out with a string of teen hits, like Splish Splash and Dream Lover. In an effort to be taken more seriously, he convinced his label to allow him to record in a more tuxedo-vein and together with arranger Richard Wess, produced a series of exciting classic performances like Mack the Knife and Charles Trenet's Beyond the Sea. Sinatra was obviously an influence, but Bobby Darin was an exciting young buck who seemed invincible. He married the successful and oddly intriguing film star Sandra Dee and even was featured in a few movies himself. Once he was an entertainment institution, he found himself still young and torn over the politics of 1960s America. He went "hippie" and started singing an odd mix of folk and soft rock that confused his core audience, nearly sabotaging his career, despite the hit If I Were a Carpenter. His political beliefs were so sincere he considered running for public office. Fearing the truth was going to come out while hitting the campaign trail, the woman he called Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin "Mom" confessed she was his grandmother and in fact, the woman he thought was his sister was actually his mother. By the 1970s, he somehow came to peace with both his tuxedo and jeans personalities and seemed to be on a comeback when he died at 37 of lifelong problems with his heart.

As interesting as the legend is, it's Bobby Darin's music that makes him so compelling. For our interests, we'll concentrate on his tuxedo personality. The best disc to start with is his Atlantic/Atco's compilation disc, Mack the Knife (Atco 791795-2). It contains the hits Mack the Knife and Beyond the Sea, plus 19 other essential tracks like his swinging version of Guys & Dolls, Down with Love and the weirdly wonderful Artificial Flowers. Along with Darin's swinging voice, he had his "intimate" voice, which if used in less talented hands, would be embarrassing. On songs like What a Difference a Day Made, it's heartbreaking and very effective, completely at odds with the cocksure swinger of Mack the Knife.

Once you get hooked, you'll want the two complete albums This is Darin (Atlantic 82628-2) and That's All (Atlantic 82627-2). Both were arranged by Richard Wess and feature a few great tracks not on the Mack the Knife compilation, especially This Is Darin, although there are a lot of repeat tracks.

Darin at the Copa (Atlantic 82629-2) captures Darin in a live performance and while it's good, we're generally not nuts about live recordings and as enjoyable as this one is, at times Darin seems pretty schticky in a Wayne Newton sort of way.

His album with seminal lyricist Johnny Mercer and bandleader Billy May, Two of a Kind (Atco 790484-2), is fun but we know many people who can't quite take the sound of Mercer's voice. We understand the opinion but we like the disc.

This is DarinHis later albums on Capitol have been mostly unreleased, but a lot of great numbers are various compilations. Bobby Darin: Collectors Series (Capitol CDP7916252) features Darin's early attempts to remain up to date and on the whole it's more interesting than good with the exception of Lonely Road and That Funny Feeling, which are beyond wonderful. Much better is Spotlight on Bobby Darin (CDP 744382851226). It's mostly a collection of standards in his tuxedo mood and it's pretty solid, despite a few instances of overly lush strings and a bland vocal chorus.

Also available:

EMI/UK has released You're the Reason I'm Living and I Wanna Be Around on one CD (EMI 7243 8588402). The question would be "Why?" The few goods tracks are available elsewhere. Also from the U.K. comes The Shadow of Your Smile teamed with In a Broadway Bag (Diabolo Records, Diab 863) and If I Were a Carpenter with Inside Out (Diabolo Reccords, Diab 864). The former features mostly standards that are done well but don't quite match his earlier work while the latter is a particular brand of rock/pop that leaves us cold. Rabid fans will want the very uneven three-CD set The Capitol Years (EMI 724349714724). There are some previously unavailable tuxedo tracks, along with the rock, plus some really lame country stylings that we wish we'd never heard. Recently released is A Musical Anthology based on an A&E Biography special that has many repeats and a few previously unreleased live tracks. We'd say for completists only.

 

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