ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Darin, Darin At The Copa

Sometimes you find an album that makes you ponder 3 ideas:

  1. I wish this album would never end.
  2. If only time machines were real….
  3. Why the hell wasn’t I born decades ago?

These were my exact thoughts this week as I listened to Bobby Darin’s Darin at The Copa. Unfortunately, I am just now getting into the world of Darin, but he has quickly become one of my new favorites and this album solidified his distinct spot on my shelves.

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I have been doing research on Darin and I think it is only fitting for my first post about him to be about this album for both his history and my sake. First, there is the matter that Darin performed this album at the Copacabana (Yes, the one with Lola). After doing some research on Darin, I found that this was his dream venue. He always wanted to play the Copa just like Frank Sinatra, except he wanted to sell more seats. Second, since moving to the New York City area, I am finding the historical music scene that surrounds this town fascinating and I can’t help but tear up when I wonder across these pieces of history.

This album is a collection of songs from Darin’s first appearance at the Copa. By the time his first stint at the Copa concluded, he had shattered their attendance records and performed to rave reviews in nearly every New York publication. He must have been the envy of every performer who regularly frequented the dinner club scene in New York and I think he is still the envy of many young performers today.

Darin At The Copa opens with a medley of an African-American spiritual, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and a song written in the same tone and style, “Lonesome Road.” “Chariot” is a traditional spiritual that has been around since the early 1900’s, whereas “Lonesome Road was written by Nathaniel Shilkret and Gene Austin in 1927 in the style of an African-American spiritual to wide commercial success. Darin pulled these off effortlessly and arranged the medley himself. It was a daring move for the young performer. This album was recorded in 1960 and he was promoting African-American song stylings. Proving, as I have discovered he often does, that he was always a few moments before his time. Change was already long overdue.

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Next, Darin goes into the standard “Some of These Days,” followed by his smash hit “Mack The Knife.” He then dives into the music of Cole Porter with “Love for Sale” and “You’d Be Nice to Come Home To.” “Love For Sale” is one of the biggest highlights of the entire album. He sings this song with a finesse of deception and loneliness. He took advantage of his vocals here and went rogue compared to many singers of the day. He then closes side A with another one of his hits, “Dream Lover.”

Side B opens with another song arranged by Darin, “Bill Bailey.” Oddly, this song also has roots in “Dixieland” and African-American tradition. This underlying tone shows that Darin was trying to be a change agent of the time not only with his vocals, but with his social conscience.  He then goes into the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, “I Have Dreamed” showing he had the vocal ability as a classic singer and superb song interpreter.

Darin then goes deeper into his jazz stylings with “Alright, O.K., You Win.” This optimistic tune admits the spell a woman has over a man and is then coupled with a medley of “By Myself” and “When Your Lover is Gone.” “By Myself” is one of my favorite compositions and Darin sings this song with the heartbreak tone this song deserves. Next, he mixes the jazz scene up by throwing in his interpretation of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” on which he also played the piano. Lastly, he closes out the album with a song he claims helped start this direction of his career, “That’s All.”

Then, against my wishes, the album concludes.

This record had me sitting at the center table of the Copa watching Darin’s electric performance in

American singer and film actor Bobby Darin (1936 - 1973) rehearsing in London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
American singer and film actor Bobby Darin (1936 – 1973) rehearsing in London. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

person. I literally looked at my needle a few times to see if it could contain the music. Darin’s pure energy resonates with the listener 56 years later, as if the listener was there. Listening to this album is being in the presence of Darin. His vocals, energy, character, and personality shone as bright as it did in 1960.

I’m afraid if I was at the performance, I might have needed shades.

This album proves that a singer never truly passes and that their impact can touch countless generations through black gold (and if you like that digital stuff). The mastering of this album is done to perfection. I am amazed how Darin was able to jump from Cole Porter to Ray Charles, while mixing in his own compositions and arrangements. This vinyl caught a performer in their natural habitat and captured a brilliant moment in both Darin’s catalog and music history.

With this album, I was able to catch a glimpse of Darin’s high-octane performance style that every performer should strive for. This album also shows the true art of performance and it sadly proves it’s demise in our overly commercial, mechanical, music industry.

Which makes me ask the profound question…..why the hell was I born in 1990?

ALBUM REVIEW: Bobby Rydell, The Great Ones

Before there was tween boy bands, glee clubs, and Justin Bieber there was Bobby Rydell.  To be honest there really isn’t much of a comparison, but that puts him in modern language.

I stumbled upon Rydell on YouTube. I was searching the song “My Coloring Book” and he was the only male version of the song I could find. This is one of my favorite songs and Rydell’s version is often overlooked, but it is one of the best. After this encounter I immediately began searching for his records at all my vinyl stops.

FullSizeRender 7One of my first finds was Bobby Rydell…Salutes The “Great Ones.” Rydell was only 19  years old when he released this album. As the liner notes state, he was already a staple on such TV shows as the Perry Como TV shows and Red Skeleton shows as well as a sought after act at The Copa and The Sahara. Not to mention he had already garnered 4 top ten hits.

This album by Rydell takes an interesting turn in his small yet accomplished catalog. Saluting the greats that came before you is not just honorable, but it is quite daring. He was setting himself up for failure. He was singing songs that only the greats, like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland sang with Broadway standards sprinkled in. How could he compare?

Rydell decided to play by his own rules, translating these songs into a “1961” vibe.

He opens the album with Al Jolson’s “Mammy.” A song that has been adapted in many different compositions. This is essentially a melted down version of “Rockabye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.” He gives this song a boyish charm with a more modest aura.

He then goes into Sinatra’s “That Old Black Magic.” There is never another Sinatra, but Rydell again accomplishes this song with ease accompanied by a more rhythmic backing. He concludes side A with the Gypsy anthem “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Taking on Ethel Merman is like teetering off a cliff, but he did it with debonair and classic charm instead of Merman’s usually brashness.

FullSizeRender 6Side B contains some real gems starting with the Steve Allen penned “This Could Be The Start of Something New.” Again, Rydell’s arrangers placed the song at a speeder tempo. Instead of the gentler and special aura that only Ella Fitzgerald could give this song, Rydell gives this tune a remix worthy of American Bandstand or Shindig. The same concept can be found in his renditions of “So Rare” and “There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder.”

By the end of the album, Rydell easily wrapped all the ladies around his finger with “The Birth of The Blues.” This song demands answers with its perfectly timed pauses and the way Rydell places the lyrics in a “questionable” phrase. I think there were a few girls fainting at the foot of the stage.

This album is a perfect reflection of what was happening in music culture in 1961. Rockabilly was starting to hit and all the churches were worried about this new “rhythmic” music. The classic pop style of the greats was being placed on the back burner for this new rock and roll experiment.

Rydell attempts to touch both these audiences with this album. His crooning singing style fit in perfectly with the Dean Martins and Jack Jones’ of the time, yet he knew there was something else on the horizon. Although this album may not have been a huge success it is reflection of the development of music and the confusion that both artists and record companies were going through in this transitional time.

This album proposes an idea. It was experimental at the time when experiments were shunned. Rydell’s album not only serves as listening pleasure, but as an artifact of the evolution of modern music. Basically he gave the Great American Songbook and a light, but daring, Rockabilly twist.