Barbara Parent: Who Knew What Dad Was Thinking?

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Oh the shark, babe has such teeth dear

And he shows them pearly white…”

No matter where I am or my age at the time I hear those lyrics, and those lyrics have to be sung by Bobby Darin.

Not Ella, Not Louie, and although they both went on to record fine arrangements  it has to be Bobby Darin singing, “Mack the Knife” that brings me back to eating supper at the kitchen table on Florence Street.  

I am about to put a forkful of mashed potatoes in my mouth with the intent to eventually slip them into my napkin so I don’t gag on the lumps when my father says he heard a song on the drive home from work and the singer sounded just like Sinatra.

Dad is excited about this guy. It is early in 1959 before Darin’s “Mack the Knife” spends nine weeks at #1 and before the song is named 1959 Record of the Year and Darin, the Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards.

I am clueless at the time because the Bobby Darin I know sings, “Splish Splash.”

What was weird was dad going on and on about this “Mack the Knife” singer’s voice, obviously a young newcomer as far as dad was concerned but for me Bobby Darin was “Splish Splash” the big hit of the day.

It was confusing for me as to why dad, a fan of the mellow style of the big band vocalists, would be raving about rock ‘n roller Bobby Darin.

My teenage top 40s were blasted on my Webcor Hi Fi, and usually met with dad’s voice winding its way up the living room stairs and through my closed bedroom door: “Turn down that racket!”

Even more confusing for me, along with why my mother didn’t  whip the lumps out of the potatoes, was this, “Mack the Knife,” dad was so excited about.

 Bobby Darin was all over WPOP but wasn’t singing about a shark with white teeth.

His big hit song was: “Splish Splash, “ I was takin’ a bath, all about a Saturday night, a rub dub I was relaxing in the tub…”

Rock ‘n roll lyrics were enunciated clearly for the most part and if we kids stopped to ponder the meaning of “Splish Splash,” which we never did, all we cared about was the beat and that our American Bandstand peers rated it as,  “A good song to dance to.”  

My friends and I were doing just that after school that day, dancing on the oak living room floor in Bobby Jones’s house before his mother got home from work.

This morning, as I’ve often done over the years, I remove “This Is Darin,” the album dad gave me on my 16th birthday from its worn jacket. The singer’s third album released in 1959 does not include any rock ‘n roll but rather 13 standards I’d never heard of and wondered at the time, what was dad thinking?

Listening to Darin’s vocals on standards, “My Gal Sal”... “Have You Got Any Castles, Baby”...  “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” spin on the Crosley turntable, I realized a long time ago exactly what dad was thinking.


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