When “Stagger Lee” topped the charts despite its cheerful glorification of homicide, it at least had the defense of being rock and roll. No matter how lovey-dovey or innocent the presentation was, rock still had an undercurrent of immorality. This was music whose very name celebrated wild dancing and/or sex, and was popularized by questionable young men who snooped around late-night juke joints. But jazz-pop, that most easy-listening of genres, was normally unsullied by any untoward subject matter. Louis Armstrong had taken “Mack the Knife” to #20 three years before Bobby Darin, but he sang of Macheath almost through the eyes of an admiring kid who dreams of one day attaining his power and influence. Murder is just a byproduct of becoming the de facto king of the town.
Darin, though, sings as though he is Mack. Moreover, he relishes every murder he’s committed, pleasure dripping from his words like blood dripping from the teeth of a shark. This Macheath isn’t the gangland businessman who needs to put rivals in their place, but the refined sociopath who’d stab you with a smile and still have clean gloves for dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town. He’s the ladykiller with a line of women waiting to take their place across the table and in his bed. And despite Darin being best known for sugary pop hits like “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover,” he so embodies the elegant killer that he slashes the teen idol label in just three minutes. Later covers of may have used freshly translated lyrics with more graphic descriptions of Mack’s misdeeds, but few have matched Darin’s disturbing exhilaration. 8
Hit #1 on October 5, 1959 for 6 weeks; re-peaked on November 23, 1959 for 3 weeks; total of 9 weeks at #1
20 of 963 #1′s reviewed; 2.08% through the Hot 100