My record of the moment is Bobby Darin Sings Dr. Dolittle. I’ve been listening to it non-stop, and it feels like it’s saving my life every day.
I must admit, when I got this album, the premise didn’t seem that promising. I thought of it as a novelty. Leslie Bricusse’s beautiful and whimsical songs in the hands of a high-energy swinger like Darin? It could be a disaster along the lines of Sinatra doing “Mrs. Robinson.”
But never underestimate Darin. He was a singer of enormous emotional range. There’s a lot more to him than “Mack The Knife.” Another recent obsession is a YouTube clip of his version of Once Upon A Time It’s that same aching tenderness that he brings to the ballads here – “When I Look In Your Eyes,” “Something In Your Smile” and especially “I Think I Like You.”
The arrangements by Roger Kellaway are inspired. And very much in tune with what was going on the year this album was made, 1968. Strings, sitars, bells, harpsichords all help create exotic clouds around Darin’s voice. It makes me wonder if there could’ve been more common ground between generations. I mean, what if Mel Tormé and Brian Wilson had collaborated on album? Or Peggy Lee and Jimmy Webb?
Another remarkable thing about this record is Bricusse’s virtuoso lyric writing. In these days of soft rhyming and conversational lyrics, you just don’t encounter verses with this kind of polish:
I would converse in polar bear and python,
And I could curse in fluent kangaroo.
If people asked me, can you speak rhinoceros,
I’d say, “Of courserous, can’t you?”
Our lives tick by like pendulum swings
Poor little things, puppets on strings
Life is full of beautiful things
Beautiful people too
Beautiful people like you
Wow. What an inspiration.
Predictably, Atlantic Records was against Darin releasing this album. And it flopped commercially. But I think it’s long overdue for a proper CD release. In the meantime, look for it in the used bins at your favorite record store. Or hunt around on the music blogs. You’ll be glad you did.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.