Mack the Knife is a beloved jazz standard. Besides Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin are heavyweights who recorded it. Here is a fabulous version by Armstrong.
The song, which is from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, is not very nice. Weill’s wife, Lotte Lenya, sings it here, probably in the 1950s. She’s not much of a vocalist in English, but it’s a fascinating clip. (Here she sings it in German.)
The commentary before she sings describes Berlin as a degenerate pit in which Nazism grew. Lenya leaves no doubt who this much-loved song really is about at the end.
Here are some lyrics from the song. Very pleasant stuff:
Jenny Towler Poor wee Jenny, There they found her Knife in breast.
Mackie’s wandering On the West Pier Hoping only For the best.
Mind that fire burnt All through Soho. Seven kids dead One old flower.
And those sweet babes Under sixteen Story goes that Black and blue
For the price of One good screwing Mackie, Mackie How could you?
It goes on like that. It’s also unclear why the murderer, Macheath, is not German. I have no interest in seeing a production or reading it, so I guess I’ll never know.
At the end of the day, we have a song that is about murder and references Hitler. It’s beloved and sung by big stars. Actually, it’s a perfect pop classic for the 20th century.