Bobby Darin (real name: Walden Robert Cassotto) was born in The Bronx, New York,
on 14 May 1936, a few months after the death of his father. His family was
exceptionally poor (he claimed that his childhood cradle was an orange box), and the
young Bobby was subject to dangerous periods of ill health. At the age of eight, an
attack of rheumatic fever permanently damaged his heart, leading to problems in
A keen musician, Darin was able to play many musical instruments by his teenage
years. A lack of direction stopped him from becoming a master of any, however. He
played drums in a band at the age of fifteen. Darin left college after one year,
resolved to pursue a career in the entertainment industry (it was at this point that he
changed his surname to one picked randomly from the phone book), but was unsure as to
whether this career should focus upon film or music.
His live performances with his band attracted some attention and, in 1956 he was
offered a recording contract with Decca records. Unfortunately, Decca failed to
recognise his potential and placed his on various lightweight pop records, all of
which were entirely unsuccessful.
He later signed to Atco (a subsidiary of Atlantic) records and, after some
disagreements over contracts and a brief courtship with Brunswick records, saw his
first commercial success. His self-composed novelty pop hit Splish
Splash was released in 1958 (Darin was aged 22) and went on to sell over a
million copies, enjoying fifteen weeks in the US Billboard chart. Lyrically, the song
is incredible; here is an example:
Splish Splash, I was taking a bath
Long about a Saturday night
A ruba-dub, just relaxing in the tub
Thinking everything was all right
Well, I stepped out the tub, put my feet on the floor,
I wrapped the towel around me
And I opened the door, and then
Splish, Splash! I jumped back in the bath
Well how was I to know there was a party going on?
Darin claimed that the song took him only ten minutes to write. Two similarly
nonsensical singles followed in swift succession, these were Queen of the Hop and
Plain Jane, the former of which was another million-seller, charting for nineteen
weeks in 1958.
Darin's next, and more accomplished, single marked a digression from sugar-coated
rock and roll to latin dance rhythms. Dream Lover was released in March
1959 to, perhaps, a slightly older target audience. It was his third
million-selling record, spending seventeen weeks in the charts where it peaked at
number two. This was the last significant release actually composed by Bobby Darin
and has subsequently been used as atmospheric music in various films and television
commercials. As a piece of music it is superior to his previous efforts; lyrically,
however, it is standard pop copy, notwithstanding the presumably unintended double
Every night I hope and pray, a dream lover will come my way,
A girl to hold in my arms, and feel the magic of her charms.
The song was responsible for a short-lived national obsession with the latin
Later in 1959, Darin significantly changed his vocal style for the third time in
less than two years to produce his most celebrated hit. Mack the Knife was a
direct copy of the Richard Wess arrangment of The Ballad of Mack the Knife from
Bertolt Brecht's adaptation of The Beggars' Opera (Wess originally produced
this version for Louis Armstrong, cutting out all the particularly offensive lyrics).
Darin had, at this point, become preoccupied with becoming 'bigger than Frank Sinatra'
and decided, interestingly, to perform this single in the style of his hero. The song
sold two million copies and topped the charts for twenty-six weeks, earning the
performer two Grammy awards (record of the year and best new artist). This song
featured the best example of Darin's tendency to ad-lib various sound effects as the
mood of the track built and some menacing lyrics:
Did you hear about Louis Miller?
He disappeared, babe.
After drawing out all his hard-earned cash.
And now Macheath spends like a sailor:
Could it be our boy done something rash?
Performance of this song guarantees the award of a bottle of champagne at karaoke
contests. History fails to record the existence of the ill-advised follow up Gyp the
At this point, Darin began his career as a Hollywood actor with his role in the
film Come September. He appeared in ten major films altogether and was
nominated for an Oscar in 1963. When questioned about the obsessive level of output
he managed he would reply that he was certain that his heart condition would end his
life prematurely and was, therefore, determined to make his mark as quickly as
The next major hit after Mack the Knife was (La Mer)Beyond the Sea,
which charted for fourteen weeks in 1960. Written by Charles Trenet and Jack Lawrence,
it was heavily based upon (i.e. rips off) the French hit La Mer. Bobby gives
one of the best vocal performances of his career on this excellently produced track,
again emulating the style of Frank Sinatra.
Also of note from 1960 is the number twenty-one hit Clementine. This was
an adaptation of the familiar folk song which goes: 'Oh, my darling, Oh my darling etc',
but warrants listening to since Darin uses the tune to reflect upon the life and
misfortunes of an exceptionally overweight young lady, from whom the song takes its
Throughout the sixties, Bobby Darin was a major television personality and a
musician with varying levels of success.
In the mid-60s, the artist had his second revelation inspired by a contemporary
artist whose success he wished to emulate. This time, his target was Bob Dylan,
Darin's version of Blowin' in the Wind is, in terms of arrangement, nothing but
a copy of Dylan's work. Tellingly, perhaps to appeal to a more mature audience and
finally rid himself of his teen-idol image, he engaged in a short campaign to
become known as Bob Darin. The most memorable song from this period is If I Were
a Carpenter, which charted for eleven weeks in 1966, here is an example
If I were a carpenter
and you were a lady,
Would you marry me anyway?
Would you have my baby?
If a tinker were my trade
would you still find me,
carrying the pots I made,
following behind me.
The style of this song was gentle and slow, a deliberate move away from the style
that had made him so popular.
Darin was involved in some way with the Kennedy administration in the later 1960s
and claimed to have had a religious experience of sorts at the funeral of John F.
Kennedy. It is understood that this was the reason for his decision to sell all of his
belongings, stop recording and start a new life in a mobile home in the Jack
Kerouac-approved Big Sur.
In 1968, Darin learned that his family had misled him throughout his childhood
and early life and that the woman he had always understood to be his mother was actually
his grandmother, while his biological mother was his 'sister' Nina.
After this point, his musical releases were unsuccessful and failed to win the
approval of critics. He released a 'political' album called Born Walden Robert
Cassotto in 1970 and was later signed to Motown Records.
In 1971, Bobby Darin went through his first open heart surgery operation to
replace a valve in his heart. This operation was unsuccessful and had to be repeated.
These procedures, coupled with an attack of septicaemia, resulted in his death, at
the age of thirty-seven, on 20 December 1973. His body was donated to the UCLA
Medical Centre for research purposes.
The memory of Bobby Darin is preserved at The Bronx High School of Science (which
he attended) in the form of The Bobby Darin Award, designed to 'honour the memory
of the late entertainer by assisting young music students in his name'.
Here is a quotation which, in some way, summarises his career from the music
arranger Jimmie Haskell:
'Bobby Darin was a greatly talented man who would have gone on to even
greater fame and glory had he lived longer. In working with Bobby, he displayed to me
the utmost intelligence, warmth, and quiet humour. I'm glad I had the privilege of
working with him.'