Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer
Two Of A Kind
Take a twenty-something singing heartthrob, pair him with a well-respected pop songwriter, and place them in the studio with one of the most beloved Big Band arrangers, and give them a handful of turn-of-the-century songs and standards. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and in most situations it certainly would be. But that was the magic of Bobby Darin—an early rock and roller who was willing to experiment with his music, often to great acclaim. The collaboration in question, with him pairing up with Johnny Mercer and the Billy May Orchestra, was released in 1961 as Two Of A Kind, and has recently been expanded courtesy of Omnivore.
There’s only one word that aptly describes Two Of A Kind: fun. The tunes are jaunty powerhouses of pure swing. This is an album of high-energy; of the thirteen songs offered here, only one, “Lonesome Polecat,”—taken from Mercer’s score to Seven Brides For Seven Brothers—might nominally be considered a slower tempo; that the song is hilarious, however, makes it fit in with the comedic nature of the rest of the record. And Two Of A Kind is nothing if not hilarious. There’s ribaldry to be had in “Who Takes Care Of The Caretaker’s Daughter,” “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll,” and “My Cutie’s Due At Two-To-Two Today,” and oh, what wonderful naughtiness it all is! Mercer and Darin’s singing is so wonderfully bright and joyous, Two Of A Kind is a record that gives thirty-six minutes of pure pop delight. (This reissue includes a slew of bonus tracks. While these are largely alternate takes, there are two unreleased numbers. “Cecelia” and “Lily of Laguna.” These two are lovely mid-tempo love songs that sound nice but don’t quite fit the overall tempo of the rest of the album; their inclusion here makes for a delightful listen, but their exclusion from the original album is also understandable.)
Darin, ever the musical risk-taker, considered this a notch in his vast discography, a calculated challenge to his audience; with his aplomb, he pulled it off. He would, follow up the album with Love Swings, an album of jazz standards, another fine experiment in jazz standards, but one that failed to connect with an audience. Two Of A Kind might be a bit of an obscurity in Darin’s vast career; that he’d die a little over a decade later at the too-young age of 37 meant that he never got the chance to follow up the collaboration. A shame, because the natural back-and-forth between the two musicians is a truly delightful musical experience.