Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

I’m endlessly fascinated by ‘Mack The Knife’. It’s based on a 17th or 18th century ballad about a Scottish murderer, it’s incredibly bleak. It gets turned into this strange, spiky song for The Three Penny Opera and then has this second life as a Rat Pack standard. The melody can stand anything being piled on top of it and it’s still great. Bobby Darin did the most famous version, the most white bread rock with all the edges sanded off the for the suburbs, I love the way it snuck this bleak murder ballad into a chicken in a basket set at Vegas. I specifically love this version because it’s the meeting of two worlds, you’ve got Lotte Lenya with this arch Germanic style, very theatrical, that whole Berthold Brecht thing of not particularly emoting – she’s telling you something, this is information. And then you’ve got Louis Armstrong, who just luxuriates with the lyrics, he plays with them, everything’s making him laugh in the song, he jumps up and down with the tune and the band are brilliant, so liquid and joyful. Where the two things meet is just magical, I can listen to it over and over again. The only version that really exists then goes into other takes of it with Louis Armstrong instructing Lottie Lenya on how to sing it. It’s absolutely fascinating because he’s trying to tell her where the beats are and she can’t really get it because it’s not this soulful, sensual thing, it’s quite a brutal song. They rub up against each other in such an interesting way. The history of 20th century music is somewhere where those two meet, in between the European classical theatrical tradition and American jazz.

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