Every so often, when I was growing up, I’d see “Mack the Knife” on a compilation of Halloween music and, only being familiar with the Bobby Darin version (and only passingly familiar with that), I wondered why. Then I discovered The Threepenny Opera.
Written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht in 1928, The Threepenny Opera is a socialist farce set in the less glamorous parts of Victorian London. Its hero (or antihero, if you must) is Macheath, aka Mack the Knife, a vicious murderer and rapist known to prey upon the women of the Strand. But even Macheath is better than the bosses and other exploiters of the world, and so he’s Our Hero (I did say this was a socialist play, and a farce, right?).
Anyway. “Mack the Knife.” It’s the song that introduces Macheath, in the form of a moritat, or “deadly deed,” a murder ballad serving as a litany of Macheath’s many crimes. It’s been covered innumerable times over the last 90 years, most popularly by the afore-mentioned Bobby Darin. But Darin’s slick 1950s Rat Pack version does little to get across the grit and sheer ugliness of the original song.
Marianne Faithful’s 1996 version, though, doesn’t have that problem. And so, it’s the one I’m choosing for this year’s Halloween mixtape. Enjoy!