Mack the Knife is based on a character named Mackie Messer (messer is German for “knife”) in *The Threepenny Opera * (in German, Die Dreigroschenoper), by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, which in turn was based on *The Beggar’s Opera *by John Gay, which contained a character called Macheath.
Mackie Messer was much more violent than Macheath, and a song introducing him compares him to a shark. The cement bags and tugboat in Darin’s version refer to his dropping one of his victims overboard.
Louis Armstrong definitely says “Macheath.” Messer might sound too weird for an English speaking audience; I know the character was called only Macheath in the production I saw at the Roundabout Theatre a few years ago.
Second and fifth too. The fifth could easily be misheard as, And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor And now Mack he spends just like a sailor
That and the title could lead to folks that only know Darin’s version* (and no knowledge of the song’s history) to hear every “MacHeath” as “Mack he”.
(*More accurately Darin’s version/cover of Louis Armstrong’s version using the '54 Blitzstein translation.)
I’m a big fan of the '76 Manheim-Willett translation/version, notably used over the end credits of Quiz Show with Lyle Lovett singing. A nice counterpoint to Darin’s version for the opening credits.
‘Macheath’ is in the original German, in the first stanza. Later on he’s just Mackie.
Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne,
und sie trägt er ins Gesicht
und Macheath, der hat ein Messer,
doch das Messer sieht man nicht
The composer sang it like this. Note he’s deliberately rolling his 'r’s and it’s supposed to be a little droning; the Moritat was a sort of tabloid news-style street performance.