Saturday, December 03, 2011

Covers that you might not have known are covers: "Mack the Knife"

"Mack the Knife/Die Moritat von Mackie Messer"

Familiar version: Bobby Darin (1959)
Original version: Bertolt Brecht (1929)
Bonus version: Sting (c. 1995?)

I was taught from a young age to dislike Bobby Darin's American version of "Mack the Knife." See, my mother was German, and she grew up with the original version, "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer." And she absolutely hated the American version.

It's not hard to understand, really. Mackie Messer, according to the original German song, is a terrible person. He murders numerous rich men for their money, stabs a woman to death, burns down a building with seven children and an old man inside, and rapes an "underage widow," But nobody can prove anything.

Mack the Knife, on the other hand, kills three men or so, but he's a charming kind of guy -- the women line up to date him, not to be murdered by him. And the song is so lively and up-tempo. As my mom used to say, Bobby Darin took all the darkness and menace out of what was originally a very dark and menacing song. But it was a number one hit for him.

So here's Darin, Bertolt Brecht, and, just for the hell of it, Sting (in German).

Bobby Darin

Bertold Brecht

Sting. (No idea when it's from, but from Sting's apparent age I'd guess some time in the '90s.) I threw this in just for fun. It's in the style of the original, not the American version. Sting's German sounds pretty good to me, but that's pretty much what I sound like when I try to speak it, so maybe we both suck.

Lots of times, the most familiar version of a song isn't the original version. I write about some of these "covers that you might not have known are covers" on occasional Saturdays.

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