Things About Bobby Darin


Among his more unusual records there's a solo piano instrumental Beachcomber (1960), plus a spin-off US top 30 single - Early In The Morning / Now We're One under the guise of the Rinky Dinks (#24 in July 1958), and a 1967 album of Leslie Bricusse songs from the movie Dr Dolittle including Talk To The Animals. He also plays piano back-up on the Buddy Knox single That's Why I Cry.

A reggae version of Dream Loverwas issued in November 1972 by Greyhound (Blue Mountain label). The Plasmatics record their own version on their 1980 album New Hope For The Wretched (Stiff).

On his album L.A. Is My Lady, Frank Sinatra adapts Mack The Knife by singing "oh Satchmo Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, they did this song nice/ and Lady Ella too/ they all sang it with such feeling / that Old Blue Eyes can't add nothing new..."

Bobby Darin's early 1960s' backing group includes future The Byrds' Roger (Jim) McGuinn.

His first major hit, Splish Splash, is included on the 1978 soundtrack album to the Alan Freed biopic American Hot Wax (AM). His second hit - Queen Of The Hop, namechecks other current hits of the time, from "sweet little sixteen", to "you can talk about your Julie and your Peggy-Sue, your Miss Molly and Mary-Lou". His early hits can also be heard on the soundtrack of Apollo 13(1995) and American Beauty (1999).

In her 1984 autobiography Who's Sorry Now Connie Francis tells how she and Darin had "an innocently romantic love affair" when she was just 18. Her enraged father turns up at the rehearsals for a TV spectacular in which they are both appearing, and chases Bobby through the studio waving a gun!

A long-time Democrat and Civil Rights activist, the shock of Robert Kennedy's 1968 assassination causes Darin to re-evaluate his life. The tangled truth about his parentage also emerges - at age 32, when he considers standing for public office, and it's feared such details might be used by the opposition to slur his name. "My entire life has been a lie" he confessed. He got rid of his possessions and Beverly Hills home and moved into a trailer in Big Sur (writing "How many steaks can you chew boy/ how many cars can you drive/ how many moon in June-type tunes can you write, before you're a lie" in Song For A Dollar). His subsequent album, the self-penned Bobby Darin Born Walden Robert Cassotto, includes his In Memoriamtribute to his friend Kennedy.

As an Italian-American there are inevitable Corleone-style horse's head in the bed style rumours about Darin's career, such as the one about Bobby's change of style away from 'swing' so annoying an organised crime boss that Darin wound up beaten-up with his head stuffed down a toilet bowl until he nearly drowns.

During a late Las Vegas engagement he stunned the straight-laced audience by ripping off his toupee to achieve the honesty necessary to sing Blowin' In The Wind.

In the moody monochrome Too Late Blues - perhaps his finest movie, he says "I sold me, man, but never my soul..."


profile by Andrew Darlington


Bobby Darin lived his short life on a time-fuse, no time to waste, nothing to lose. He lived fast. Died young. The regular rock 'n' roll blueprint - sure, so why should we care about him now..? Well, there's the biopic in which Kevin Spacey portrays this problematic American idol. It provides a kind of curious relevance, tied in with the odd renaissance of 'swing' that charges at least one of his multiple career-stages with contemporary resonance. But there are other reasons too.

Born in Philadelphia on 14th May 1936, he grew up in New York unaware that 'big sister' Nina who raised him was really his (unmarried) mother. And from that point on Walden Robert Cassotto's star-crossed life zigzags uncontrollably, yet was always driven by insatiable ambition. A child victim of triple rheumatic fever, sister Viv recalls "just walking across the floor would be agony for him." So he stays indoors a lot. Listens to Mom's big-band 78 rpm records, soaking up rhythms. They said he'd be lucky to survive beyond his teens, and certainly never reach 30. And that's the point. He had a lot to achieve. And little time left to do it. Listen to his records now and it's hard to find the real Bobby Darin, or even the direction he's travelling. They're more a series of deliberate counterfeits, infused with a sense of restless quest - an odyssey of identities, a pop 'n' roll trickster. He could likely have earned a career by sticking at any one of them, but he had no time for perseverance. Instead it's sometimes difficult to reconcile those several personalities co-existing inside the same body. And that's also the point. He compressed more lives and living into the short time he had allocated than most could reasonably expect to achieve in longevity.

A single-term college drop-out, hungry for experience, his ruthlessness was legendary. As was his ambition. Determined "to establish myself as a legend by the time I'm 25," he goes straight from the Bronx High School to hunting acting roles. Selecting a new name, inventing a new identity from a malfunctioning Chinese eaterie sign advertising (Man)darin cuisine, it's 1956 and he connects with fixer-mentor Don Kirshner. But instead of stage-work he finds himself serving an unsuccessful year at Decca records, covering Lonnie Donegan's Rock Island Line, and cutting atrocities such as Blue-Eyed Mermaid. Disappointed, he up-shifts to Atlantic stable-label Atco, a token white kid alongside The Coasters, The Drifters, Clyde McPhatter and La Vern Baker. Recruited to such a high-profile roster as a back-atcha, perhaps, at the white teens who'd creamed off Atlantic's black hits, but one benefiting from Ahmet Ertegun's production skills, and the label's new eight-track machine. It's here he initiates his first career as young teeny-bop rocker, co-writing Splish Splash (with DJ Murray The K's mother!) - a #3 party-style smash hit (he's in the bath unaware that downstairs there's "a party going on"). It's a novelty-hook that enables comedian Charlie Drake to undertake the UK chart-cover duties. Then Queen Of The Hop ("she's my sugar-time baby, I'm her lollypop"), and Plain Jane - both rocketing up the US charts through sheer force of enthusiasm (his west-coast sessions also propelled by Nino Tempo's deep-throated sax).

Never quite destined for full pin-up status Bobby's round-faced dark-haired Italianate smile nevertheless now guarantees him a presence in the fan-mags, if some ways less prominent than surly sexually-charged Elvis or doe-eyed Ricky Nelson. He's the Bronx-brash kid grown up poor, who'd 'splish-splashed' onto the precarious first rung of stardom, but as a developing writer and performer these early hits prove respectable efforts. He's never less than an inventive craftsman. Atlantic don't deal in non-achievers. For Darin, though, there's no time for smug satisfaction, he's already turning his ambition towards elevating himself higher, by creating an all-time pop-rock classic. He selects the proven C/Am/F/G7 chord sequence to do it with. And Dream Lover, with its shrill yearning adolescent angst, easily ranks as a 1950s' teen anthem up there alongside Roy Orbison's Only The Lonely and Ricky Nelson's Poor Little Fool. The powerfully ascending "cos I want - da-dah!/ a girl - da-dah!!/ to ca-all - my own!!!", each line punched out in higher register, rising to erupt into the full revelatory passion of "I wanna dream lover,/ so I don't have to dream alone." The perfect fairground record, a blaring jukebox vinyl 45 rpm, a sound exactly attuned to trebly transistor radio-play. And he's rewarded with his biggest hit so far.


"I have rock 'n' roll hits," he brags, "but I have to go beyond rock 'n' roll. I have to prove I can sing." So it's after Dream Lover that he first switches roles, drastically emerging in a tuxedo on Dick Clark's Saturday night American Bandstand ABC-TV show - with Mack The Knife. Suddenly he's a finger-clicking Sinatra hipster oozing "oh the shark has pearly teeth dear" with a sinister adult-friendly slickness. Time has softened that tectonic-shift. Now 'The Rat Pack' is a smart pose for a Robbie Williams or the sad fragments of Westlife. But back then Sinatra's smooth sophistication was for the oldsters, while rock is the new thing for the kids. "Rock 'n' roll is lewd - in plain fact, dirty," says Ole Blue Eyes, "it's phoney and false, and sung written and played for the most part by cretinous goons." Sinatra merely swung, he couldn't rock. And Darin's sudden volte-face was seen as a betrayal. He might even be one of the 'Bobbies' - alongside Vinton, Rydell, and Vee, who Jerry Lee Lewis was accusing of destroying that first great age of rock 'n' roll. But 'dazzling Darin's' ambition is vindicated when the record becomes massive, the US list-leader for nine weeks, and Atlantic's biggest-selling single to date. Soon there are classy brassy jazzy albums too, That's AllThis Is Darin and the live supper-club cabaret circuit Darin At The Copa drawing on Brecht and Weill, Hoagy Carmichael (Lazy River), Gallic swing with Beyond The Sea (La Mer), scat, smooth show tunes and standards.

A time of gold discs and Grammy awards. Yet for Darin, it's a phase that lasts little over a year. Not quite cute enough to be a true bobbysoxer idol, not quite tall enough to be a Sinatra, already he's been there, done that, moved on. He discovers Ray Charles. He writes You're The Reason I'm Living- an artful fabrication of I Can't Stop Loving You which becomes an American smash in 1962, and gives a full Raelettes treatment to I Wonder Whose Kissing Her Now. Both for Capitol - ironically a label he's moved to as its replacement for Sinatra. And there are more hits. Just consider these two examples, first - the cheekily suggestive Multiplication. Staid BBC programmers find it a little too smutty for polite radio, Bobby's assertion that - when it comes to sexual reproduction, "mother nature's a clever girl, she relies on habit," especially when he adds "in each generation, they play the same", before growling "they'd better!" into the fade. Then there's Jack Nitzche's Spanish guitar arrangement for the remarkable Eighteen Yellow Roses with its torrid overtones of incest. In the second verse he sings of furtively reading a card tucked into the "eighteen yellow roses" which came today, to learn that "though you belong to another, I love you anyway". Darin's injured hurt and passion at the implied adultery carries through into the final line, which explosively reveals that this is not a marital infidelity, but that "a father's love will never fade away." Yet there is too great an emotional intensity for it to be a purely paternal love, and too possessive to be considered strictly parental. Two very dissimilar records, both undeniably unique. Elsewhere, he hits with the jaunty country yodel of Things, covers Nat 'King' Cole's curiously inspired Nature Boy, writes a ruggedly bluesy But Not For Me - later associated with Sammy Davis Jr, while his other writing credits extend to Early In The Morning - a defining hit for Buddy Holly, I'll Be There which will chart for Gerry & The Pacemakers, and This Little Girl's Gone Rockin' for Ruth Brown.

THINGS AND OTHER THINGS (1962 compilation album)

Admit it, Kevin Spacey comes close. About as close as you can get. In stills and movie sequences he's almost there… as close as it's now possible to recapturing that long-lost time. As close as, say - Ian Hart and Gary Bakewell's impersonation of Lennon and McCartney in Backbeat (1994), or Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison on Oliver Stone's The Doors (1991). A Darin for all phases. Spacey tells The Observer that Darin "is probably next to Sammy Davis Jr as the greatest nightclub entertainer we've ever had." It's a movie project that began with producer Arthur Friedman negotiating the life rights from son Dodd Darin's book Dream Lovers, while the movie roll-call of possible 'Darins' - from Bruce Willis to Tom Cruise, from Leonardo Di Caprio to Johnny Depp, eventually alights on Spacey. And for him it's more than just a role. He worked at Abbey Road with Phil Ramone and a 48-piece orchestra to perfect the soundtrack, he also directs and is promoting the movie by touring a Darin show around American nightclubs. "My aim," he says, "is to bring attention to his entire catalogue." And by the dawn of the 1960s that catalogue had rung the changes many times. Long before Bowie or Madonna would take out the chameleon patent. He'd even fulfilled his original career plan with acting roles in a number respectable movies, appearing in Heller In Pink Tights (1960) with Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn, the glossy comedy Come September (1961) with Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida, the musical State Fair (1962) with Pat Boone, a fine role as jazz musician 'Ghost' Wakefield in John Cassavetes' Too Late Blues (1961), and - significantly, the 'screwball comedy' If A Man Answers (1962) as newly-weds with Sandra Dee. He marries her in real life too. She's played by Kate Bosworth in the current movie. Like Darin, she had personal problems - a history of child abuse that left a legacy of alcoholism and anorexia. And Bobby could be 'rude and brash' even to her. There are persistent stories of his voracious sexual appetites, Dodd arguing that "I'm sure he never forgot for a moment that he was going to die" to explain his involvement in 'swinging' threesomes. Yet, they'd become the season's golden couple and everything seems fine... until the beat boom sidelines him. Music changed, Brit-groups are all over the charts, leaving his career stranded on the lounge lizard nightclub circuit. But perhaps there are other factors at work? The world had stopped, and he'd got off. He'd been involuntarily relieved of the urgent compulsion to achieve legendary status, although he can reasonably claim he's given it his best shot and come so close he'd been a contender. His health isn't good. His marriage is failing. He's even begun losing his hair. What the hell? It's tempting to suggest that, for the first time in his life, the lull provides him a space of release. A freedom to assess and reflect how far he's come, and where he might yet go.

He only manages to pick up the pieces in the late 1960s by stumbling across the aching fragility of Tim Hardin's second album. Unable to compete with material written by this new breed of singer-songwriter, he instead does for If I Were A Carpenter what The Byrds had already done for Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man, taking the original arrangement, strengthening it with electricity, but replicating Hardin's cracked vocals to such an extent that the writer painfully exclaims "he's stolen my voice" when he first hears Darin's single on the radio. But it's a startling interpretation of an exquisite song. One that inevitably takes its rightful place at the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, championed by the hippest of the hipperati, with Andrew Loog Oldham even taking out press-space at his own expense to champion its excellence. I bought it, before I bought the original. I still value them both. But for Darin, there had been life-changes, "really, I don't care whether I am in the charts or not" he comments at the time, "I don't need to be in the charts. I'm not that sort of artist, but I suppose it's nice to know that people still remember you." It was to be Bobby Darin's last real success, coinciding with his 1966 return to Atlantic, and his divorce. He covers more Hardin - including a fine Lady Came From Baltimore, and then turns the tables by writing Simple Song Of Freedom - the closest Tim Hardin himself would ever come to a chart record.

Bobby Darin lived his life on a short time-fuse. Later on he was forced to carry a backup oxygen supply as part of his touring equipment, with the constant awareness that every show he gave, every song he sang, might be his last. Living on the edge of borrowed time. During his hectic final years he cuts singles for Motown, hosts his own syndicated NBC-TV show, guests on both Sonny & Cher's Comedy Hour and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, and acts in a movie with Patricia Neal - Happy Mother's Day, Love George (aka: Run Stranger Run 1973). There's also vital surgery to insert artificial valves into his weakened heart. Warned that he'd never survive into his third decade, his life was always time-coded. Yet he works on into the early-1970s. Until eventually, during dental work the dentist neglects to administer antibiotics, resulting in septicaemia, a blood-poisoning infection that stresses his implant-valves to malfunction. Rushed to hospital he undergoes some eight hours of surgery, before succumbing to heart failure on 20th December 1973. Now there's Beyond The Sea, the biopic which opens on 26th November 2004. And the odd renaissance of 'swing' charging at least one of his multiple career-stages with a curious relevance. These are just some of the reasons why we should care now...