I am just as much a big fan of Bobby Darin as I am of Elvis. Darin's name pops up on here with regularity, which is great to see, but just how similar were these two artists?
Well, Presley's career spanned 1954-77 while Darin's was from 1956-73. Both died at a young age and, more importantly, both covered a wide variety of musical styles in their respective careers. Anyone who has heard a Darin concert outside of Darin At The Copa will know that his live shows more often than not encompassed virtually every area of pop music going. Presley's shows were much more conservative in this respect. But perhaps it is best to start with their studio output.
Presley's albums, as we know, were very much a mix and match effort, put together from often huge recording sessions. Darin's were unlike this - partly because of the way
(Bobby Darin & Sandra Dee)
Darin's career progressed. he knew from a kid that he wouldn't make old bones and so, after hitting the big time with the likes of Splish Splash, proceeded to attempt (and pull off) a different style every couple of years going from rock n roll to big band to country to folk to protest to MOR. But each progression to a different style didn't leave the previous one languishing somewhere. His country album "You're The Reason I'm Living" remoulded country hits into big band numbers. Much of his two protest albums were folk-like but also included the swagger of Mack The Knife. Mack The Knife, in turn, featured the brashness of the rock n roll singer. Back to his albums, though, Darin made albums as albums in general - rather than picking tracks from here there and everywhere and the theme was often the style of music whether it be jazz ("Winners"), Big Band (This Is Darin), Rock n Roll (Bobby Darin, his first album), Country (You're The Reason I'm Living), World music (earthy), Folk (If I Were A Carpenter), Protest (Commitment), MOR (his Bobby Darin album on Motown), showtunes (In A Broadway bag) and so on. Darin was also an accomplished actor and, although he made far less films than Presley he was also nominated for an Oscar for Pressure Point.
So, Darin was a fine actor in generally good films (if, sadly, not great ones), technically a better singer than Presley (his breathing, pitch etc was better than Presley), more diverse than Presley (who never seriously tackled jazz, big band or show tunes and rarely touched folk or protest material) and a far better and more diverse and consistent live performer than Presley (his set lists varied tremendously from season to season and his shows, even when seriously ill, didn't ever hit the poor performances of Presley in Aug/Sept 74 and 76-77). He also wrote hundreds of songs (not all good), played piano, vibes and drums, (Note: Bobby also played guitar, harmonica, bongo, flute, banjo and was a great show- dancer, entertainer, TV show host ) did a set of impressions in each show and carried his own TV variety series for a season.
He was also his own man much more than Elvis was - Capitol were not chuffed when they signed Darin up as their replacement for Sinatra and he promptly recorded an album of folk songs from around the world. It bombed, and he recorded a follow up anyway! He also gave away most of what he owned in 1968 to go and live in a caravan and write songs that he believed in, rather than the big band stuff that he had grown tired of. Check out "Songs From Big Sur" CD which features protest songs about Vietnam, the environment, prison mistreatment, war and a bizarre song called RX-Pyro: Prescription Fire that I have no idea what it is protesting about (although the lyrics do advocate the taking of Peanut Butter in "the other way!" Any ideas??)
So why do the general public love Presley but have mostly forgotten about Darin? Well, Presley came along at the right time, for a start. Darin came along two years earlier. Presley was a sex symbol - Darin was short, balding (he always wore a toupee), and although cute could hardly be called handsome. Presley had Parker. I'm not a fan of Parker, but a comparison of Darin and Presley shows quite clearly that he did a damn good job of marketing Elvis at the beginning even if later decisions were not so good. Once you have that fan base, you're not going to lose ALL of them, even if you do make films like Clambake. The marketing machine went into overdrive again in 1968-70 and again in 73, always keeping him in the spotlight even if his recordings were often less exciting than Darin's.
However, both men were remarkably charismatic and could hold the audience in the palm of their hands. So, as Darin's star was rising during 1958-60, how come he didn't steal Elvis' thunder while he was in the Army? Was it his lack of sex appeal? Lack of good management? I would suggest it was two things - firstly Darin's personality was not his greatest asset. He was pushy - he knew he had to get where he wanted to quickly before he died and didn't like people standing in his way. Because the public didn't know his motives for his actions and less than flattering comments, this obviously came over as big headed. That doesn't help any performer. Especially when they are competing with someone as humble as Elvis.
The other element is probably his diversity. It is more difficult to win over audiences in Europe if you are as diverse as Darin. America is used to all round entertainers (such as Darin or Sammy Davis) but, certainly in Britain, we like to pigeon hole people. Harry Connick Jr's funk albums flopped here because he was a big band performer and that's what we expected. The same could go for Darin. And Darin was too busy trying new things to put in enough effort to get hit single after hit single. Presley was rarely out of the charts - Darin was rarely in them after the early 1960s. He didn't have the rebirth that Elvis did in the late 1960s and his protest albums did little to help this. And neither did his variety show which, as DVDs show, contained great performances but were hardly going to win over any fans when he insisted on five minutes of each show being filled with him playing chess against a computer! What riveting TV that must have made!
Despite Darin's faults both in his career and as a person, I admire him tremendously - much more than Elvis in many ways. Darin "did what he had to do, and saw it through without exemption". He never sang My Way. Elvis did, but didn't really deep down believe in the philosophy f the lyrics. If he had been his own man and, literally, done things his way then his legacy would look very different to what it does today.
I was in a second hand record shop this afternoon and a guy brought in a batch of first issue Elvis records to sell. The guy behind the counter said to him - "I can't buy 'em cos I can't sell 'em. There are no new Elvis collectors." Sadly through his films and late jumpsuit years, Elvis is still the subject of ridicule by many. That's not going to change in the near future - especially when any new fans there might be can only buy FTD versions of the original albums at a high price when all they really want to start with is the Masters. BMG say that the original albums don't
(Paul Anka-Pat Boone-Frankie Avalon - Bobby Darin)
sell well enough to be in the shops. On Monday Darin's first protest album makes its first appearance on CD. It hardly sold on vinyl, so is it really commercially viable to release it on CD? Probably not, but the Darin family seem intent on preserving his name and integrity and presenting Darin's music in the most accessible way possible and for a decent price for people to buy (The CD is a twofer for �7).
If only Presley had learned from Darin, he might not have made the mistakes he did in his career and, maybe, still been alive today if he had followed his instinct and done what HE wanted to. Presley's best attributes mixed with Darin's would have made the ultimate career without the huge dips we all know about so well. Perhaps it's not to late to redeem the situation. If only Presley's family and label can now learn from Darin's and get the music back out there at a good price, in good sound, and how it was originally meant to be heard. That way, new fans can actually see that there is something there to collect rather than just a row of greatest hits albums.
Bobby Darin Sings "Splish Splash" Live His Final Performance
Bobby Darin I'm On My Way
Bobby Darin Bridge over Troubled Water
Bobby Darin Sings "Work Song" Live
Bobby Darin Help Me Make it Through The Night
Bobby Darin Sings "Sweet Caroline" Live
By shane brown - youtube /www.epgold.com
Posted: 6th. August 2007