Cross-generational musical collaborations are nothing new. In recent years, we’ve seen Lady Gaga team up with Tony Bennett and Paul McCartney co-write a song with Kanye West. And in 1960, Bobby Darin, then 24, recorded an album with master Tin Pan Alley lyricist and songwriter Johnny Mercer, who was 51.
If this sounds like an unusual pairing at its best — or a recipe for disaster at its worst — keep in mind that this was part of Darin’s grand plan at the time to widen his appeal to an audience beyond the teenybopper, rock ‘n’ roll demographic that helped launch his career by sending his doo-wop bathroom aria “Splish Splash” to the top of the charts.
In 1959, he chose to record his own cover of the Threepenny Opera’s “Mack the Knife” (much to the chagrin of Dick Clark, who thought he would alienate his young fans) and, as they say in showbiz, the rest is history. There was no turning back; from then on, Darin dabbled in big band, swing, classics, country, folk, pop, and even rap (“Me and Mr. Hohner”) throughout his career. So it should come as no surprise that it was Darin’s idea to collaborate with Mercer on a series of peppy tracks composed by Ziegfeld Follies alumni and American bandleaders.
The result was Two of a Kind, originally released in April 1961 as a fairly underrated notch in Darin’s musical catalog. Backed by Billy May’s orchestra, the collection of toe-tapping duets calls to mind the back-and-forth vocals featured in Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road to… movies.
Recently, the album was reissued by Omnivore Recordings. The release features alternate takes of some tracks and some previously unheard ones, but the spirit of the album remains the same: sheer fun.
You can hear the smiles on Darin’s and Mercer’s faces while listening to this album, and their mood is contagious. They were clearly having a great time collaborating on this project.
The album begins with a shortened version of the title track, written by Mercer and Darin themselves. (If you’re wondering who Walden Cassotto is, that’s Darin’s birth name.) From there, we’re treated to pure, feel-good swing: “(Back Home Again In) Indiana,” “Bob White,” “Ace in the Hole,” and “East Of the Rockies.”
Other gems include “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jelly Roll,” “My Cutey’s Due at Two-to-Two Today,” and “Medley: Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home/Row Row Row.”
The tempo slows down a bit with “If I Had My Druthers” and on two previously unreleased tracks, “Cecilia” and “Lily of Laguna.” While “Cecilia” is lovely and “Lily” is done in a humorous style, I feel that they throw off the pace of the album a little too much, which is why they were probably omitted from the original release.
Then there’s the cleverly disguised naughtiness and double entendres found in my favorite track, “Who Takes Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter?” (Listen for Darin’s impersonation of the King on this one!)
It’s easy to see why Two Of A Kind remained a favorite album of Darin’s manager, Steve Blauner, for years after Darin’s death. No doubt Two Of A Kind may have also inspired Paul McCartney to reach out to Mercer in 1974 about recording an album together.
Sadly, Mercer was ill at the time and died soon afterward from an inoperable brain tumor. Even a former Beatle couldn’t achieve what Darin had done, and the reissue of Two Of A Kind proves after all these years, it’s still a one-of-a-kind album recorded by two musical legends.
Get your copy of Two of a Kind straight from Omnivore Recordings!