BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (Mack the Knife)


“Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” was written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera). It was first performed in Berlin in 1928. Lotte Lenya, Weill’s wife, sang the song in the original production and in the 1954 Broadway revival (with English lyrics by Marc Blitzstein).

Of course, we know the song better as “Mack the Knife.” Louis Armstrong was the first to record it, in 1956. Lotte Lenya was in the studio when he did, and he spontaneously used her name as one of Mack’s victims at the end of the song. Bobby Darin did Armstrong’s version in 1959, and that version is probably the best-known. Ella Fitzgerald recorded her first version live in 1960 for the album Ella in Berlin. She drew a blank on the lyrics after the first verse, so she improvised lyrics and scat-sang her way through the rest of it. That version won a Grammy.

None of the previous versions of the song are in this Battle, by the way. I picked a couple of versions that I had never heard prior to my putting together. Let’s get to them now.

CONTESTANT #1: Dee Snider

Twisted Sister’s lead singer recorded a version of the song for his 2012 project, Dee Does Broadway. Coming soon to a theater near you (evidently), featuring Clay Aiken, Patti LuPone, Cyndi Lauper, and Bebe Neuwirth.

CONTESTANT #2: Dave Van Ronk

This version is from 1967, from his album Live at Sir George Williams University.

So those are our contestants for round. Which version do you prefer, the big band/metal version by Dee Snider, or the folk version by Dave Van Ronk? If you can’t answer that, then which version annoys you least? Whatever you base your vote on, this would be the time to express your preference, and, if you wish, jot down a few reasons why.

And when you’ve finished voting here, many of the following blogs are doing their own Battle of the Bands today. How about dropping in on them?

Tossing It Out
Far Away Series
StMcC Presents Battle of the Bands
Your Daily Dose
Mike’s Ramblings
Curious as a Cathy
DC Relief – Battle of the Bands
This Belle Rocks
Book Lover
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Shady Dell Music & Memories
Debbie D. at The Doglady’s Den
Angels Bark
Jingle Jangle Jungle
Women: We Shall Overcome
Cherdo on the Flipside

Results will be announced next Wednesday, July 8.

20 thoughts on “BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” (Mack the Knife)

  1. Hey there, I’m a little behind to comment on the BOTB’s but as they say, better late than never. I have to go with Dee on this one. It was an interesting rendition to say the least but he added his rock n roll flair which won me over.
    I also participated in the BOTB last week. Would love for you to come over and vote today before I post the winner.


  2. Dee Snider gets my vote. I liked the transition from a Big Band version to a more rocking one. I found the video entertaining as well.


  3. Fascinating post, John! I had NO IDEA this song was German in origin, having only ever heard the Bobby Darin version. Cool tidbit about Lotte Lenya as well. 🙂 I didn’t like Dave Van Ronk’s vocals at all. Dee Snyder did a credible job, so cast my vote for Dee.


  4. >>… Lotte Lenya was in the studio when he did, and he spontaneously used her name as one of Mack’s victims at the end of the song.

    Wow, JOHN! Never heard that story before. Very, very interesting!

    When I scrolled down and saw DEE SNIDER listed as the first contestant, I think I audibly groaned. But, man, that was a funny video with a “twist”.

    DEE got a trace too loud and wild for my ears, but the first half was surprisingly good. Loved the sudden turn of events and even pretty much enjoyed most of the hard rockin’. So, DEE SNIDER gets my vote, too. (Sorry I couldn’t bust up this shutout for ya, Brother!)

    ~ D-FensDogG
    ‘Loyal American Underground’


  5. LOVED this battle. Yes, vote for Dee all the way (the bluesy-folksy thing normally works for me, but not this time) — what a way to give new life to an old tune! I can think of several show tunes that could do with a Dee make-over 😀 (Uh-huh, not a big show-tune fan here 😉 )

    Thanks for this! It made my day 🙂
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter


  6. My, my what an interesting BATTLE. Certainly diverse. I couldn’t listen to the folk version all the way through. That vibrato in the guy’s voice was like nails on a chalkboard. Dee Snider is no Bobby Darin, but for the purpose of this BATTLE he gets my vote.


  7. John, I never knew the history of the song – wow! Lotte Lenya is a trip. Like many, Bobby Darin is the most familiar. I’ve never heard Ella’s but I think I can imagine it. Dee Snider’s version reminds me of something akin to the movie, ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’. Dave Von Ronk is easy going but I want the energy instead.

    My vote goes to Contestant # 1 – Dee Snider.


  8. Neither version really won me over. I kinda liked the Lenya version, but that’s not in the running. Neither is Bobby Darin version which I absolutely love. I was expecting more from Dee Snider but I don’t feel he played the song to my full expectation.
    That being said, I still enjoyed his version more (or disliked least).
    Put a slash in the Dee Snider side for me.


  9. I go with Dee Snider. It’s a copy of Bobby Darin style (if you close your eyes) and I like Bobby Darin. The other guy ain’t my thing.


  10. I might not be running off to purchase any of these, but of the choices – I’m going with Dee Snider. That was pretty surprising!


  11. I have to be honest. I don’t like either of these versions. I cut Dee Snider off about halfway through thinking the other one MUST be better. Well, yes and no. I made it through it, but it was so blah that I just can’t give it my vote. Dee gets it for enthusiasm if not for talent.


  12. I definitely like Dee Snider’s version better than the other. He sounds so classic in the beginning with that great voice. Love what he did with the song so my vote goes to Dee. It was a fun version. The folksy version was just so-so, to me. Great battle!
    Michele at Angels Bark


  13. Dee Snyder totally rocked this song; both in the beginning and the break out metal. Too awesome for comparison, but Ronk was very lank singing it. For a mellow song, it does have some pizzaz, even sung traditionally. Give my vote to Dee.


  14. OK-The least annoying..Dee Snyder-Hahahaaa. Actually I really enjoyed the first half of his version of the song until he went all , well, Dee Snyder, on us but I still prefer that version to the annoying folk version. His voice got on my nerves even though I liked the acoustic guitar


  15. “Oh, we’re not gonna take it, no, we ain’t gonna take it….” Oops, wrong song. LOL.

    Dee’s version is kind of fun. But the second one? Okay, I’m not trying to be unkind, but I kept expecting him to break out in a version of “The Lollipop Guild”. Sorry, but I couldn’t help myself. That version was AWFUL.

    My vote goes to Dee, hands down.


  16. I’ve never been a Van Ronk fan and his version doesn’t win any points with me. The guitar is kind of nice though.

    I’ve never been a Dee Snider fan either, but I was surprised by his version. Nicely done and fun too.

    My vote goes to Dee Snider.

    Tossing It Out


  17. Bobby Darin by a landslide. Unfortunately, he’s not one of the choices. Of the ones that we can choose from, Dee Snyder.


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