Bobby Darin is an interesting character. He was one of, if not the first teen idol to break free of what was expected and forge his own musical path. He was also, like Paul Anka and Buddy Holly, very musically gifted for someone so young. His private life was also fascinating.
Born Walden Robert Cassotto on 14 May 1936 in East Harlem, New York, he was raised by his grandmother, but led to believe she was his mother. His birth mother, Nina, fell pregnant with him out of wedlock aged 17, so rather than the scandal get out, they decided his mother should pretend to be his sister instead. This pretence was kept up until Nina revealed the truth to him in 1968, when he was 32 years old. Cassotto was understandably devastated.
He had become interested in music at a young age, and was able to play the piano, drums and guitar by the time he was a teenager. He excelled at science, but decided to pursue an acting career, before changing his career path again when he met Don Kirshner, who later managed The Monkees, in 1955.
Around this time, he allegedly came upon his stage name when outside a Mandarin restaurant – the neon sign was faulty, leaving only ‘DARIN’ lit up.
Darin and Kirshner had met in a candy store. They decided to write advertising jingles and ditties, the first of which was appropriately named Bubblegum Pop. He joined the Brill Building team of songwriters, and wrote songs for Connie Francis. The partnership was unsuccessful (he was there the day Neil Sedaka presented her with her second hit, Stupid Cupid), but they grew close. Unfortunately for Darin, her father, who was looking after her struggling career, did not approve. Darin suggested they elope but she refused. She later said it was the biggest mistake of her life.
Around the time Darin and Kirshner went their separate ways, Darin was taken under the wing of Atlantic Records songwriter and co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. In 1958 he wrote Splish Splash in less than an hour, and it went on to sell over a million. Finally he was a star. In April 1959, he recorded another self-penned composition, Dream Lover, with Ertegun producing alongside another legendary music figure, Jerry Wexler. Neil Sedaka was also there on the piano.
Splish Splash had been simple, knockabout fun, but Dream Lover was a sophisticated teen-pop slice of yearning. Built upon a Latin rhythm, it was successfully designed to make young girls swoon, but with safe enough lyrics to keep potentially angry parents at bay. It’s reminiscent of Tab Hunter’s Young Love, but assured where Hunter’s performance was tentative. The double-meaning of the line ‘I want a dream lover so I don’t have to dream alone’ is inspired, and Darin’s voice is effectively anguished.
If someone was to ask me to name a song that sums up the 50s, Dream Lover would be one of the first I’d mention. This may be in part due to its use on an advert for Maltesers in the late 80s. Nostalgia for the 50s was of course very big back then, kickstarted as it was by the popularity of the Levis ads. My first exposure to Great Balls of Fire came from an advert for Edam, with the lyrics changed to ‘Goodness gracious great balls of cheese!’… bizarre, really, to turn a song of lust into an ode to cheese… I digress. One thing this blog has given me is a newfound respect for some of the artists that helped develop pop music in the 50s, and for this song, Bobby Darin deserves some of that acclaim. He’d be back later in the year with a very different sound.
Written by: Bobby Darin
Producer: Ahmet Ertegun
Weeks at number 1: 4 (3-30 July)
Journalist Julie Burchill – 3 July
Cricketer Charlie Parker – 11 July
28 July: Postcodes were introduced for the first time, in Norwich.
29 July: The Mental Health Act, the Obscene Publications Act and Legitimacy Act all became law.