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Bobby Darin & Sandra Dee


In the late '50s, when rock and roll was in its infancy, Murray the K (the celebrated disc jockey later called The Fifth Beatle) made a bet with aspiring singer Bobby Darin. Murray's mother had suggested a lyric to him that went "splish splash, I was takin a bath"; the not yet Fifth Beatle bet the not yet teen idol that he couldn't write a song that began with that unlikely couplet. The three ended up with a pop single that sold over a million copies.

Bobby Darin

As unlikely a source for a hit song as that may have been, bigger and even more unlikely pop hits were to come. "Beyond The Sea" was a swinging English version of Charles Trenet's French hit "La Mer." And Darin's classic and legendary hit "Mack The Knife" was from Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. Darin from shaky start to early finish was a musical maverick and a cultural iconoclast. He recorded in many styles, and is one of very few figures seminally associated with rock and roll that is even more connected to swing, the big band approach, and Vegas.

Bobby Darin and his band in the studio

I confess to having really only known the hits before I viewed this incredible DVD of 20 live Darin performances. Besides the ones mentioned, I'm sure most readers will know "Dream Lover," which was one of his more than 150 original tunes that eventually landed him in the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame. In this DVD, one is instantly reminded of what it once meant to be an entertainer. He could sing any kind of song, and play a variety of instruments well (in a surprising version of "Got My Mojo Working," Darin blows a very credible harmonica intro, and then takes a soulful solo on vibraphone!); he could dance, do impressions, tell jokes, and hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Just the way he leads the band in these 20 performances makes it clear what a deeply musical soul he was, far beyond just a teen idol singer.

   Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin

Since I have an unfortunate aversion to almost all musicals as such, I initially had a very rough go with Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin biopic, Beyond The Sea, even though I am a huge fan of that actor/director. But, after seeing the riveting Seeing Is Believing DVD of actual performances, Beyond The Sea made perfect sense to me, and I enjoyed it immensely. It also lent biographical (though partly fictionalized) weight to the performance DVD, so we highly recommend seeing both DVDs. Some of the details of the artist's nuclear family and upbringing are so strange that we won't spoil the movie for you. It's also revealed that the poverty of his early years may have directly caused his early bouts with rheumatic fever that led to a diseased heart that ultimately took him down at the age of 37. Seeing Is Believing is a knockout portrayal of one of the greatest pop artists in American history.
• Frank Goodman

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