Video: Mack the Knife

Date posted: 29 Jul 2011Author: STC

It is a song guaranteed to get your toe tapping and has been performed thousands of times. Unleashed in Berlin in 1928 as a last minute addition to the score of The Threepenny Opera(or Die Dreigroschenoper), with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill, it has become one of the defining songs of the twentieth century. Mack the Knife, which was originally called The Ballad of Mack the Knife(or Die Moritat von Mackie Messer) has become a popular jazz standard despite detailing the vicious crimes committed by the character Macheath.

There are countless version of this song but now, for your enjoyment, we would like to present you with 10 of the best.

1) First up we have the inimitable Ella Fitzgerald. Singing about mass murder has never looked so much fun or sounded so good. There are some nice shout-outs to other notable interpreters of the song towards the end when Ella forgets the lyrics and is forced to improvise.



2) For many, the definitive interpreter of Weill's music was his wife Lotte Lenya, who starred in the original 1928 production of Threepennyand here performs her version of her husband's most famous song, in German. It's childlike yet streetwise, and pure Weimar.



3) The always chic Ute Lemper (accompanied by her eyebrows) here does her version of Mack the Knife, which starts with some impressive whistling. Not the most subtle performance but she shows that she knows how to blow off the cobwebs at a celebration for Elizabeth Taylor.



4) The most street version comes from Nick Cave, who understands the mix of whimsy and darkness that makes this song so great. Here he enthusiastically performs a 1978 translation by Ralph Manheim and John Willett for the opening of The Music of Kurt Weill: September Songs, a film released in 1994 featuring musicians performing their versions of songs by Weill.



5) Robbie Williams plays it smooth in this live performance. It's all tuxedos and a cheeky twinkle in the eye.



6) Even better than his gold sequined dinner jacket is Liberace's impressive medley stringing together versions of Mack the Knifeperformed in different musical styles. Well worth watching.



7) Closer to home, the lovely David Campbell shows how it's done, complete with a loose bow-tie a la Tony Bennett.



8) Winning praise for his unusual timing when he sings Mack the Knife, Bobby Darin is widely considered to be one of the great interpreters of this charming murder ballad.



9) If the original wasn't quite enough, we now have Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin singing Mack the Knife. This clip is taken from the 2004 film Beyond the Seain which Spacey played Darin to Kate Bosworth's Sandra Dee.




10) And finally we end with the great Louis Armstrong. Whether he's rasping it out on his trumpet or singing it in that divinely gravelly voice, there is no doubt he knows exactly what to do Weill's tune and Brecht's lyrics.



One goosebump-inducing take on Mack the Knifethat is not on this list is the one by Paul Capsis that features in our upcoming production of The Threepenny Opera, but you'll have to come to the Sydney Theatre to see it...

The Threepenny Opera,Sydney Theatre, 1 - 24 September, 2011.