Sunday, 21 April 2013

Mack the Knife: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

So I've spent the past several hours writing an essay and listening the the excellent Rookie mag playlists, and it's made we want to be able to make mixtapes and so forth (the playlists, not the essay - that is about the relationship between race and gender, and is full of stuff about scientific racism and sexism and not music). That has led to me sitting here with about a bajillion different versions of the Kurt Weill/ Bertolt Brecht song "Mack the Knife" open in a bajillion different tabs - and I'm only scraping the surface, here. 
I was first introduced to the song two years ago, when I was involved in a cabaret/ variety night at my college. A charming Malaysian man did a classic jazzy version of the song just before I was due on stage to do an original beat poem (I get these ideas in my head sometimes, and they are almost always bad). I then did a subject at uni on the history of cabaret (the subject was called Cabaret!, exclamation mark included) and we did an entire lecture on the song. Since then, it's popped up in a bunch of different places and it's always astounded me just how many versions there are. And that is why I have decided to compile this (by no means comprehensive) list of different covers. Bear in mind I'm sorting things totally based on my own biases, so, yeah.
If you don't know the song, here's the basic wikipedia description: ""Mack the Knife" or "The Ballad of Mack the Knife", originally "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer", is a song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama Die Dreigroschenoper, or, as it is known in EnglishThe Threepenny Opera. It premiered in Berlin in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. The song has become a popular standard."
The song is interesting in that basically every version has a slightly different interpretation of the lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics included/ removed can make a big difference to the tone of the song, and sometimes it's the way it's played. Anyway, let's kick things off with THE GOOD:

Nick Cave
I have a lot of love for Nick Cave, and I was super excited when our lecturer played this version. It's regular ol' Cave Creepy, and I recommend it if only for Cave's weird dancing around. Plus his hands look really big. For some reason that makes it better.

Marianne Faithful

This is a great version. It's super creepy, and has a lot of the more literal lyrics - a lot of versions focus on sharks and scarlet pillows and so forth.

Ute Lemper

Ute Lemper is pretty famous for this sort of thing. I also think she's kinda weird - she has some odd facial expressions and the 'r'-rolling sounds strange. Still, I'm including it because it's in the original German. And, y'know, she is a pretty talented lady.

Ella Fitzgerald
Before you watch this version, go here and watch Louis Armstrong's performance of the song:
Now, I don't want to spoil the surprise of Fitzgerald's total awesomeness, but if it's the only way to convince you to watch it: she forgets the lyrics halfway through and starts pretending to be Louis Armstrong, and it's amazing. Maybe not the greatest version of the song, but still basically the greatest thing ever.


Michael Buble
I don't mind that Buble song where he's with the girl in the supermarket (I started typing 'in the girl with the supermarket', which means I am tired and should go to bed) who doesn't exist or whatever, but I really wish he'd stop covering cool songs. He sucks out their soul and leaves them dead and empty and it is awful. I get that he does elevator music as a thing, and that's fine, but then people think that he wrote "Moondance" and they don't get the amazingness of the original and I just have a lot of feelings about this, ok. See also:

Why is this even a thing.

The Psychedelic Furs
So I love The Psychedelic Furs, but this cover is just kind of lame. It sounds nothing like the original tune, plus it sounds a lot like one of their other songs, and I get confused when it comes on my iTunes. Go listen to their song "Book of Days". Or "Pretty in Pink". I don't even know why they did this.


The Young Gods

So this is an industrial version of the song, in German. I don't know if it's really a song which works in this genre - the tune is deceptively upbeat. I dunno, I don't really listen to industrial, so I don't have much to compare it to.

The Muppet Show
This is actually super awesome. I won't say too much about it, just watch.

So, yeah, there is a tiny, tiny fraction of the vast number of versions of "Mack the Knife". Honourable mentions to The Doors and Sting for their excellent versions, and of course Kurt Weill's wife Lotte Lenya (track down her version where she's singing with Louis Armstrong and he keeps interrupting her to tell her how to properly sing the song her own husband wrote).
And now I shall actually go to bed!
That is a lie. I am probably going to browse tumblr and eat Pringles.

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