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Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:09 pm

This topic comes about from a number of strands in other threads. One was the never-ending thread about Presley in Vegas and the effects it had on his performances. Another was the references in the Hey Jude thread to Robert Matthew Walker's book from the late 1970s. In that book, Walker makes a number of comments about Elvis performances that are seemingly influenced by the Darin style (We're Comin' In Loaded is one example). As comparisons crop up between Presley and Darin quite a bit on here, along with their very different attitudes to performing and taking control (or not) of their career path, I thought it would be interesting to compare their versions of songs that both of them recorded.

Darin's early recordings at Decca from 1956 are a disparate bunch, with influences ranging from Johnny Cash (Rock Island Line), Frankie Laine (Timber) and Guy Mitchell (Dealer in Dreams). None are Darin essentials, with Darin seemingly trying his hand at anything in order find his own voice.

His first real run-in with Presley-type material was his self-penned "Mighty Mighty Man", which is something of a pastiche of the type of Presley vocals found on "Got A Lot of Livin' To Do", complete with difficult to understand pronunciation and the "hiccup" sound of that Presley recording. Still, Darin is trying to find his own sound and his own voice, and this is one of the very few times when he attempts to impersonate Presley. While pleasant enough, the song and the performance are hardly remarkable, despite the wink and the nudge with which they are delivered.

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Three months later, in July 1958, he was in the studio to record a song that Presley would eventually cover, I Want You With Me. The song would go unreleased for two years, when it would appear on the "For Teenagers Only" LP. Darin's version is far more raucous that Presley's recording from 1961, with Darin growling some of the words. Darin's recording also draws on the instrumentation used by one of his idols, Ray Charles - perhaps an indication that Darin was still trying to find his own sound, something which took him a lot longer to do than Elvis. Meanwhile Presley's version is, in my opinion, the superior. It's one of the few occasions where he actually really lets rip on the Something For Everybody album.

It is only in the instrumental where the Darin version wins over its rival. The saxophone solo by King Curtis is remarkable, and considerably more exciting than the relatively standard instrumental in Presley's rendition. Curtis was a saxophonist whose rock n roll recordings were not dissimilar to those of Boots Randolph. Curtis was trained as a jazz musician, working for a while in Lionel Hampton's band before turning to session work which ranged from recordings with Buddy Holly to Nat Adderley. His recordings under his own name from the mid to late 60s are wonderful, in particular the 1970 album "Live at Fillmore West", which was recorded and released just a year before his death from a knife wound after confronting a junkie outside his (Curtis's) house.

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Two years later, Darin made his first attempt at a recording of "I Got A Woman", which had been recorded by Elvis four years earlier (and possibly/probably at Sun). This first Darin recording is intriguing, with the setting just a small jazz combo at the sessions used for the "Bill Bailey" single and the "Winners" LP, Darin's only real jazz (as opposed to swing) album. Frustratingly, the recording remains unreleased. A second, more conventional reading, was then recorded for, and released on, Darin's first live album, Darin at the Copa. A third recording was made on November 10, 1961 for the Bobby Darin sings Ray Charles album. That, too, remains unreleased, with the remake made four days later used on the LP.

Considering the rather strange history of the recording, one could be forgiven for expecting the issued studio recording to be a rather safe rendition, but it is anything but that. For better or worse, Darin's performance runs for nearly seven minutes. Presley was clearly using Charles's 1954 single as the influence for his own recording, whereas Darin turned to the 1958 live recording from Newport. The arrangement is remarkably similar for the first three minutes or so, with instrumentation almost the same as Charles's version. It's in the second half of the song where Darin's version depart from Charles's blueprint, with Darin's version far less interesting than Charles's, who improvises far more than Darin, who simply repeats over and over the "she's alright" section.

Darin's version might drive you crazy by the time it has finished (and not in a good way), but it does serve as an example of how Presley's and Darin's record companies would handle their work differently. If Presley had recorded something like this (and the nearest example we have is the jam of Don't Think Twice), it would be edited down to three minutes or so, presumably to make it seemingly more palatable for the listener. With Darin, the whole thing was released. Is this self-indulgence on Darin's part, or is it a singer trying out new things (for him) and stretching himself? On that, the jury is, perhaps, still out, although there is some irony that it would be I Got A Woman that would also be stretched out by Presley thanks to the segue into Amen and divebomb routines during the later concerts. Interestingly, Darin's Ray Charles LP featured backing vocals from The Blossoms, with a duet with Darlene Love on The Right Time (probably the album's best track). Darin's version of What'd I Say was split over two side of a single, and nominated for a Grammy - ironically losing out to Ray Charles's I can't Stop Loving You! Darin said of the album "It wasn't the greatest LP I've ever made, but I had to get it off my chest." Perhaps there is also some irony in the fact that the nearest Elvis got to Charles's instrumentation was on the unused backing track of Leave My Woman Alone for Easy Come Easy Go (which, is remarkably similar to Darin's version, except for Darin's extended ending).

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Darin was always at his weakest when singing gospel songs, and his version of "Swing Down Sweet Chariot", retitled "Why Don't You Swing Down" was by far the weakest track on the wonderful "Earthy" LP from 1963. Darin gives the song something of a frantic folk makeover, which lacks the charm and beauty of Presley's far superior 1960 recording. Of course, Darin's recordings were rarely about sounding pretty, but even so his version seems to lack the clear direction of the other songs on the album.

The same can be said from the Ray Charles-influenced Release Me on the You're The Reason I'm Living LP. Again, it is the least song on the album, with Darin barely singing, letting the backing choir take much of the song. Darin's singing is at its most affected here, generally a sign that he didn't have his own ideas for the song. Presley on the other hand takes the song, which by that point had been a hit for Humperdinck, and turns it into a bluesy romp, ramping up the tempo and adding his own twists and turns on the melody. As for Darin's version, it's a rather painful ending to what is only a relatively interesting album. Also affected, but better, is his rendition of It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin' from the same album. (Like many of Darin's Capitol recordings, these songs are not on youtube).

To me, Darin seems lost towards the end of his Capitol contract. For instance, he seemingly misses the point of Love Letters completely, turning the fragile melody into a lavishly orchestrated beefy ballad, complete with a triplet beat, completely removing with a sledgehammer any charm the recording might have had. Quite what he was striving for here is unknown, in comparison to Elvis in 1966 who knew exactly what he wanted to do with the song, as we know from the seemingly minute changes he makes before or during each take. Darin's recording remained unreleased for 30 years.

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Darin's version of What Now My Love from 1965 was lost, along with the tapes for a whole LP of swingers, in a fire, and so the next time darin meets Elvis is the 1966 rendition of Until It's Time For You To Go, which is miles away from Presley's own recording with regards to style. Darin's version is as stripped back as possible and is a soft lament to lost love. Presley's on the other hand disregards the folk origins completely and turns the song into a relatively heavy-handed piece of MOR. Not that there's anything wrong with MOR, but here Presley misses the point of the song in the way that Darin missed the point of Love Letters. Like so many of the May 1971 recordings, Presley's version lacks the subtleties required, and one can assume that Elvis knew something was amiss considering he remade the song a month or so later, despite the fact the original version ended up as a single A-side (go figure!)

Perhaps the most interesting Darin/Presley comparisons are on two blues songs that Darin recorded in 1966 and 1967. Funny What Love Can Do is, basically, a rip off of Baby What You Want Me To Do, while Easy Rider is See See Rider in all but title. Even on this appalling quality video from Darin's 1966 BBC TV Special, one can see that Darin has a surprising empathy with the blues, with the peformance aided and abetted by the wonderful guitar work of Jim Sullivan, an English session guitarist who passed away just last month. Despite cries from some quarters that Vegas kills the artist, even at this relatively late stage in his career, Darin was proving that he was willing to strip things right back and get back to a song's roots. The orchestra sits out for most of the song. It's hardly the raucous blues jam of the 68 Comeback, but it is still a remarkably authentic performance.

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Easy Rider, Darin's take on See See Rider, is a blues recording driven by Darin's own harmonica solos and double-tracked vocal, similar in style to his studio recording of Funny What Love Can Do. Clearly influenced by the success of groups such as The Animals, and even the early recordings of The Rolling Stones (Darin would strip back the Stones' Back Street Girl in order to give it a folk reading in 1967), these are rare Darin forays in rock music and a complete change of pace after the easy listening style of the Capitol Years.

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in 1969, Elvis recorded his sole studio cover of a Darin song, I'll Be There - a recording which, despite being one of the least important of the Memphis sessions, takes Darin's rather bland original and gives it soul that was never present in Darin's recording. Darin's version was let down by a poor arrangement. Elvis's version is as much a sing-through of a song he loves as much as anything else, but Elvis was in fine form and on a roll.

After Darin recorded his Dr Dolittle album in 1967, he started his own label to record his own protest songs, but in 1971 found himself signed for Motown. He recorded a live album in las Vegas which wasn't released until 1987, despite being the best live album of Darin's career. His live show was both remarkably similar and dissimilar to Presley's act the previous year. For the most part, the material is covers of recent hits. Darin turns his attention to Blood Sweat and Tears' Hi-De-Ho, altering the lyrics slightly to feed some of his political feelings into the song. James Taylor's Fire and Rain gets a reworking that lasts six minutes, and Darin worked up an ambitious medley of Beatles songs. What's more, the "oldies" get committed performances in Darin's shows. Mack the Knife might not have the guts the 1959 rendition had, but If I Were A Carpenter is as beautiful as the 1966 studio version, and Beyond The Sea gets a nine-minute workout, and the shows ended with a ten-minute rock n roll workout inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis and, of course, Ray Charles.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Darin's performance and arrangements at this time and Presley's is that Darin's arrangements completely rework the songs in question, whereas Presley's (in the main) are relatively straightforward covers. Darin's Hey Jude, for example, bookends his Beatles medley, but he cuts the "na na na" chorus completely, and sings the song through at the beginning of the medley in the "folk voice" he used on the If I Were A Carpenter sessions, transforming the song into a tender love song. The middle eight of Something leads to a snatch of A day In The Life before a rockier than usual take on Eleanor Rigby, gospel-edged Blackbird and then reprise of Hey Jude. Sammy Davis attempted a similar medley 6 years later, but it lacked the ambition of Darin's effort. Yes, the orchestration of certain sections is undoubtedly "Vegasy", but the way the songs are put together (and, most notably, the choice of songs) is remarkably accomplished.

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By the time of the above performance, Darin was seriously ill and was soon to undergo heart surgery. He would go on to make two more albums as well as star in his own variety show. The remaining studio recordings lack the excitement and charm of Darin's previous work. These are often uninspired covers of well-known songs, and sounding as if darin is putting his voice on a backing track left for him by another performer altogether. His rendition of Let It be Me, for example, is simply a bland retread, and his misjudged remake of Don't Think Twice (he had recorded a folk version in 1963) is unremarkable. Like Presley's own last sessions, these are over-produced recordings in the main that add little of importance to what had gone before. There is one real exception, Darin's cover of Randy Newman's Sail Away, with an arrangement really quite similar to one which Presley would have employed had he tackled the song at the time.

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While Darin and Presley have often been compared on these boards, what is interesting when looking at the songs that both of them recorded is that both men excelled in very different areas and in very different ways. Most of Darin's Presley-like performances come from the first couple of years of his career when he was fighting to find his own voice - unlike Presley who found his at his first recording session. If Darin was more ambitious, he was also more prone to artistic misjudgements such as his recordings of Love Letters and Release Me, discussed above. Presley liked to play things more safe, but rarely approached a song in an inappropriate manner. What is perhaps most clear is that, from 1971 onwards, both men seem to have been artistically spent. Both would still have great moments (most of Darin's came from his TV show), but for the most part (and for very different reasons), both of these young men, just a year apart in age, had little to give in their final years. The key difference is that Presley's story plays like a tragedy, whereas Darin's is like a miracle - predicted to be dead by 16, Darin continued against the odds until he passed away aged 37 in 1973.

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:30 pm

Thanks for an excellent post; very interesting.

I adore Bobby Darin and was listening to some of his Ray Charles LP on my ipod this morning.

I can't stop playing "Love Swings" recently.

Maybe you'd disagree, but I can imagine Elvis covering "Just In Case You Change Your Mind" from Bobby's first LP for "Loving You" (although I don't think it had even been written then?!).

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Fri Nov 30, 2012 11:50 pm

londonflash wrote:Thanks for an excellent post; very interesting.

I adore Bobby Darin and was listening to some of his Ray Charles LP on my ipod this morning.

I can't stop playing "Love Swings" recently.

Maybe you'd disagree, but I can imagine Elvis covering "Just In Case You Change Your Mind" from Bobby's first LP for "Loving You" (although I don't think it had even been written then?!).


I think there are quite a few from that period that might have suited Elvis, but Darin's versions seem to lack the pure rock n roll that Elvis was recording at the time, instead falling somewhere between Neil Sedaka, Ray Charles and Guy MItchell! Wear My Ring has quite an Elvis arrangement, especially with the high-voiced backing singer, Millie Kirkham style - and yes, Just In Case You Change Your Mind, too although I find Darin's performance relatively unconvincing. The unfinished recording Didn't It Feel Good sounds like something out of an early 60s Elvis movie, as well, but Darin gives up after take 4 with a declaration of "Oh balls!"

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:39 am

Thank you so much for this, poormadpeter! I´m just beginning to discover Bobby Darin. I have had two dvd´s for a while, and I really enjoy them. I love his perfomance of If, a song by the band Bread. What I also found interesting, is Darin´s version of Bridge Over Troubled Water from a tv show.

I would like to learn more about Bobby Darin. Which book(s) would you recommend for a newbie like me?

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 1:15 am

The fool wrote:Thank you so much for this, poormadpeter! I´m just beginning to discover Bobby Darin. I have had two dvd´s for a while, and I really enjoy them. I love his perfomance of If, a song by the band Bread. What I also found interesting, is Darin´s version of Bridge Over Troubled Water from a tv show.

I would like to learn more about Bobby Darin. Which book(s) would you recommend for a newbie like me?


I forgot about Bridge, actually, and should have talked about that! Oops!

As for books, That's All by Jeff Bleiel is mostly about the music and performances and is a good read.

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 2:15 am

Thanks a lot for sharing this.

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 2:26 am

poormadpeter wrote:As for books, That's All by Jeff Bleiel is mostly about the music and performances and is a good read.

Thanks. I will start my Darin education with this one.

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 4:15 am

I recommend the dvd "Mack is Back".....his performances are outstanding...

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 8:08 am

thanks for this poormadpeter

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 11:03 am

Thanks, pmp. Nice topic, with a lot of care. (They pulled down "Love Letters"; I was curious about that, but YouTube pulled it down. You know, if radio had been {mis}treated like YouTube, there'd be no popular music at all!)

The blues guitar entry is interesting again in its ambition, but it's not comparable to Elvis '68. And his style is very different: he does some hard work with the chords, but he just strums with his right hand. Elvis did a lot with the right hand, and that's part of what made it special, and also people often miss this. Elvis's rhythmic sense was absolutely deadly, and one little snap of his pick could send you reeling. Also, he has a lead guitarist on this, and Elvis was the lead guitarist, in '68, anyway. It was a thrashing, rhythmic lead, but it wasn't strumming. Also, it had roots in the southern urban/rural R&B of mid-'50s Memphis, and that's hard to replicate if you weren't there and didn't live it.

You gotta love his ambition: he wanted to be many things, clearly. Part pop, part old-fashioned "lounge singer" (in the positive sense that Sinatra characterized himself), folksinger-topical song man, blues guy . . . he seemed to try everything. "Sail Away" is great, I think. It's hard to imagine Elvis doing anything like that, but we can all just fly into our imaginations about how he might have done completely different things had he lived. (You know, if he'd never done "Trilogy," a lot of people might have said that he'd never do something like that. And after he did do it, they put it down as "Wagnerian flag-waving," excepting Dave Marsh's more sensitive understanding. And it turns out, based on Elvis's '72 interview, that Marsh was right! Elvis knew what he was doing, that he kind of enjoyed challenging the audience {the "Cowboy Hat Guy" vignette, where Elvis gives his game away}, and that was unexpected.) Still, "Sail Away" would not be the manner of Elvis's critique, I think, although he made a few very powerful critiques on FEIM - and elsewhere. It just wouldn't take such a form.

Darin tried to put an awful lot into a brief lifetime, and acquitted himself admirably. Thanks.

rjm

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Sat Dec 01, 2012 3:30 pm

For a quick Bio on Bobby : try the film " Beyond the Sea" vocals are by Kevin Spacey who stars as Darrin( and I thought does a pretty good job): there is ONE mention of Elvis during the movie....

Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:53 am

Hey pete, I just found this one on YT. If you scroll to 7:30 you'll find BOTW and It's a far better performance than Tom Jones also on YT. Did he record it in the studio ?

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Re: Darin sings Presley: Comparisons

Tue Dec 18, 2012 2:04 am

Robt wrote:Hey pete, I just found this one on YT. If you scroll to 7:30 you'll find BOTW and It's a far better performance than Tom Jones also on YT. Did he record it in the studio ?

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No, he recorded very little in the studio in his final years. There is, I think, an even better Bridge than this from a couple of years earlier, but that seems to have gone from youtube now.