A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post detailing how badly 2015, the year in which Elvis Presley would have turned 80, had been handled by both his record label and the Presley Estate. The only major release was centred around a gimmick rather than the great music that Elvis made during his lifetime, and that great music was largely ignored for the entire year. In 2016, Bobby Darin would have turned 80, but what should we be allowed to expect?
Less than a decade ago, all but three or four of Bobby Darin’s original albums were available on CD. Now, as 2015 draws to a close, less than half a dozen are available as physical product in America. Not even That’s All or This is Darin are available from Bobby’s own label, although public domain copies can be imported infrom Europe. In Europe, the situation is somewhat better thanks to Warner’s release of ten of the ATCO albums spread over two 5CD boxed sets. But, after the ATCO period, the situation is just as bad as it is in America.
“How did this happen?” is a question that many Darin fans are no doubt asking. From the mid-1990s, Bobby’s star was once again in the ascendency, with well-advertised compilations of issues of unreleased material appearing with great regularity. And then, without warning, it stopped. I say “without warning” but that isn’t strictly true. There were signs that those behind Bobby-related releases were cutting corners or, perhaps, just getting a bit bored. Aces Back to Back was released with quite some fanfare (even a single to promote it), but was in reality a hodge-podge of performances that didn’t gel together and about which we were told absolutely nothing in the poorly-conceived booklet. The 2006 DVD Seeing is Believing contained some great performances but seemed to be edited together by someone using Windows Moviemaker, and with no thought as to which performance should go where. After that, it was not only a further seven years before a release containing “new” Bobby Darin material, but during that time there was not even the appearance of an official compilation to celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday.
The consequences of all this is that Bobby, despite being highly thought of by critics and having an extremely loyal fan-base, is now struggling to be remembered by the general public beyond half a dozen key songs. Alas, that is what being forgotten about by your label and, seemingly, Estate does for your popularity. 2016 is the year that can change all of that. Not only would it have been Bobby’s 80th birthday, but it is also the 60th anniversary of his first recordings for Decca. Whether we can actually expect anything from record companies and/or the Darin Estate to mark these occasions in style, and to get Bobby Darin talked about and noticed once again, is very much up for debate.
One would like to think that, at the very least, there could be a compilation put together of Bobby’s hits and signature songs that could be advertised on TV, radio and the internet. This might contain nothing new, but at least it would get Bobby’s name out there again. But what else could we, or should we, expect? Frankly, going by the last few years, perhaps we should set our expectations low and hope to be surprised. The Bobby Darin Show series from 1973 was decimated when released on DVD. Yes, an apology of sorts was issued by the Estate a month after the release, but one would assume they would have seen the planned DVDs and the packaging they criticise some time before release date and could have had things improved or changed if they really wanted to. It is, after all, The Bobby Darin Testamentary Trust that is credited on the DVD cover. Moreover, it took some twelve years from the discovery of the so-called Milk Shows to their arrival on CD. Another sign we should perhaps not hold out breath for a special release next year. We have been told for some time that a project is in the works containing the previously unreleased Manhattan in my Heart and Weeping Willow, but there appears to be no sign of such a project as yet. Also, in the May 2014 apology about the television series DVD, we were told about a remastering and restoration of the final concert-style episode of Bobby’s TV series that would be released – and, more than eighteen months later, there’s been no sign of that either.
Could we possibly dare to hope that a set of rarities might appear to celebrate Bobby’s 80th? There are, for example, a number of items that have never appeared on CD – such as the studio recording of Swing Low Sweet Chariot and the songs from the 1972 album that were not released as singles. And how about the title song from That Darn Cat, a song Bobby recorded for the Disney film but which was never released on record. A four-song live set from Australia in 1959 was released on a bootleg a couple of decades ago, but has yet to be released officially – and neither has the Something Special LP, which was the soundtrack to the BBC TV special recorded in 1966. What’s more, I Don’t Know How to Love Her, recorded at Motown in the early 1970s, was heard on a BBC radio show a year or so ago but remains unreleased – as do a number of other tracks recorded during the same period that are still in the vault (and some of which have been heard). Can we not assume that there are more songs on tape from The Troubadour in 1969 than the four released so far? And how about at least the audio of some of the songs excised from the TV show DVD and from the Bobby Darin Amusement Company series that came before it?
A release of Bobby Darin “discoveries” might not set the world afire but, with a decent compilation of Bobby’s greatest moments to accompany it, at least Bobby’s popularity/recognition might once again start to rise – and this without even entering the realms of producing an in-depth documentary, or a book of unreleased photographs and other documents, or perhaps a collection of Bobby’s guest appearances on TV variety shows.
Many will, no doubt, say that none of this will ever happen – and they are probably correct – but it is also time for Darin fans to start asking the question of why none of this will happen, even if the answers might well complicate the situation even more. No matter how talented the star, if their work is largely unavailable and their legacy rarely brought back into the public eye, that star will, alas, shine less brightly than it needs to outside of the fandom. Fans do what they can to stop that from happening, but it also perhaps time to start demanding more from the powers that be that can and should be making a difference. Here’s hoping that 2016 will bring about changes in how Bobby is handled that means these questions don’t need to be asked and that these demands don’t need to be raised. But, I confess, I’m not hopeful.