Your favorite version of "Mack the Knife"?

Inspired by the thread on Family Circus.

My favorite was mentioned by Tengu–the one by Nick Cave.

Never really liked the Bobby Darin one. It just wasn’t creepy enough for me.

I like Lotte Lenya’s version, too, but not as much as Nick Cave’s. What are your favorites?

I’m going to have to find Nick Cave’s version.

Of the versions I’ve heard, I like Louis Armstrong’s and Lotte Lenya’s (in German).

Here’s Nick Cave’s versionof Mack the Knife.

I like Bobby Darin’s the best because the uptempo beat on it makes it creepy for me. Without listening to the lyrics, you would think it was some Vegas tune.

The Youtube link above was the first time I had heard Nick Cave’s version. It’s the most true to the musical that it came from that I have heard. When I watched the Three Penny Opera, I thought that whoever picked out Mack the Knife from it as having so much potential was a genius. There is a terrible trilling sound that the singer does. Nick Cave’s instruments seem to mimic the trilling. It’s a pretty cool throwback to the musical without being 100% true to it.

Just to be ornery, I’m going to say my favorite is the instrumental version “Moritat” before the lyrics version came out. Yes, it was a while back. But in those days there were several “pretty” tunes like it. April in Portugal, Poor People of Paris, Lisbon Antiqua to name just three.

Once the lyrics got added, it’s Bobby Darin all the waay!

Ella Fitzgerald won a grammy for a recording of “Mack the Knife.” The record was recorded live before an audience in Germany, and what makes it remarkable is that Ella blanked out on the words right in the middle of the song, but ad-libbed new lyrics without missing a cue.

“Whaaaaaaaaat’s the next verse to this song?
What’s the next verse to…Mack the Knife?”


Hm. It has a lot going for it. I think I still prefer Armstrong’s version, but I’ll listen to Cave’s some more.

I’m a purist: Lotte Lenya, in German. The slow, steady beat (as opposed to the jazzy upbeat version) makes it haunting even if you don’t know the words.

With the Lotte Lenya version, I notice a great deal of vibrato or tremolo or something (I don’t know the technical terms). When I watched the Threepenny Opera, that was one of the things that was like nails on a blackboard for me. All the singers seemed to have it. Does anybody know if it was the fashion of the time, or was it a Kurt Weill thing, or am I imagining things?

Yeah, the rolled Rs. I took quite a bit of German in high school and college (I wish I could remember it!), and we never rolled our Rs. Not saying it doesn’t happen in Germany (and I didn’t hear it when I was there), but it does take some getting used to in the song.

BTW, Lotte Lenya was kinda hot before she became Rosa Klebb.

I’ve always been partial to Sting’s version, found on Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill, a great album that came out in 1985.

More info can be found at

The first version I heard and thus my favorite is Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Buffett’s. Of course, it’s sung like any other lounge song, which makes the music dissonant with the lyrics, but it’s still well sung.

Louis Armstrong’s is fun, as is everything he did was fun.

Louis Armstrong seems to have two widely circulated versions of Mack The Knife. One version starts with him playing the opening notes on the trumpet, the other starts with him saying “Dig, man! Here comes Mack The Knife!”. I like the second one the best.

I liked Steve Martin’s, with the scissor-finger action.

That is absolutely my favorite version. There is no second place.

I think for me this discordance just seems so bizarre since I didn’t hear these lounge type versions till much later. The first time I heard it, I think it was the Nick Cave or Lotte Lenya version. I saw the musical Love Musik which was a short lived Broadway staging of the relationship between Kurt Weil and Lotte Lenya, and I got interested in the music after. I think the Nick Cave version is the first one that jumps to mind when I think Mack. So then much later when I heard Bobby Darin’s (and then tonight this version) was why they seemed so light hearted when they were singing about this awful guy. I mean, some of my fave songs are discordant like that, but I’d never thought of Mack that way.

I can definitely appreciate them, but I really like the darker Mack.

I also have a version that’s by Bertolt Brecht, in German as with the Lotte Lenya one. It’s…interesting, but 'm not really all that fond of it.

I heard a piano solo on a jazz station one day while driving home. It was played very slowly, hesitantly – almost as if the piano were a music box that was winding down. Parts of it were played in a minor scale. By the time I got home, I was ready to drive the car into an oncoming train.

Instead, I called the radio station to see who the genius behind the arrangement was. I should have known: George Shearing.

koeeoaddi, I’m glad that someone else remembers the Stever Martin version with the appropriate gestures. I try to recreate that from time to time, but Martin is the master!

My favorite is by a band called Trees Of Mystery that used to play in the SF area. It’s off their only, self-published album, Mooks on Parade.

Me too, for the same reason. And the dissonance is what makes it work, IMHO.