It’s Bobby Darin’s signature recording that we recognize as a Great American Thing. “Mack the Knife” is a song from The Threepenny Opera (1928), composed in Berlin by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertold Brecht.
Louis Armstrong (Great American Things, May 11, 2009) performed the first popular recording in America in 1956, four years before Bobby Darin (Great American Things, January 2, 2010) did his version. Dick Clark advised Darin against recording the song, thinking that the rock and roll audience wouldn’t go for a song that originated in an opera. Clark didn’t make many mistakes during his career, but he cheerfully acknowledges this one.
“Mack the Knife” became the biggest hit of Bobby Darin’s career. It went to number one on the charts, and stayed there for nine weeks. It not only won the Grammy for Song of the Year, it’s since been honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame award. Darin’s version is number 3 on Billboard’s All-Time Top 100, and was number 251 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Oh, and on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, some British guy named Simon Cowell called “Mack the Knife” the best song ever written…