Named after a faulty sign outside a Chinese restaurant (the letters M-A-N were blacked out, leaving only D-A-R-I-N), today we remember perhaps the most underrated of the big fifties stars…
Underrated, perhaps, because nobody knew where to fit him in. He didn’t look much like a teen-idol. He could sing rock ‘n’ roll, as well as more old-fashioned swing and jazz. His hit singles include both self-penned songs, like his debut ‘Splish Splash’, and modern interpretations of standards, such as his 1961 Top 10, ‘You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby’.
Born in Harlem, New York, in 1936, into a family of low-level mobsters and vaudeville singers, his mother was actually his grandma and his sister his biological mother – a fact he didn’t find out until he was in his thirties. He was a sickly child, with recurring bouts of rheumatic fever, and always knew that he was not expected to live to an old age.
(The sheet music for Darin’s first big hit.)
Which perhaps explains why he crammed so much into his short life. Songwriter, singer, actor, presenter, political campaigner, chess player… His two UK chart toppers perhaps best sum up his approach to life and music. In the space of four months in 1959 he hit #1 with the swaying rock ‘n’ roll ballad ‘Dream Lover’…
And then with a cover of ‘Mack the Knife’, a German musical number from the 1920s, about a murdering, thieving, raping ‘shark’ called MacHeath…
Two number ones of the highest quality. ‘Mack the Knife’ stands out in particular – it doesn’t sound much like any of the other hits of the time, and the lyrics are pretty niche. It’s simply a record that got to #1 because it’s really, really good. Darin continued to have hits through the early sixties, including karaoke standard ‘Beyond the Sea’ and one of my personal faves, ‘Things’.
(Bobby Darin with Connie Francis – whom he wrote songs for and had a relationship with – and Ed Sullivan in 1960.)
As the sixties progressed he moved into films, then TV and political campaigning. Darin was heavily involved in Robert F. Kennedy’s career, and he went into a deep depression when Kennedy was assassinated, having been present when it happened.
He continued to perform right up until his death, and by the end was on oxygen before and after each performance. Bobby Darin passed away during an operation on his heart, aged just thirty seven.
Bobby Darin, May 14th 1936 – December 20th 1973