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REPLAY

The Perfect Blendship

January 12, 1986|TERRY ATKINSON

This f eature spotlights noteworthy compilations and reissues. Artists: Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer.

Album: "Two of a Kind" (Atco).

History: Two of a kind? Rock-era teen idol Bobby Darin and urbane composer Johnny Mercer, writer of some of America's greatest popular classics? You bet--"like two pomegranates from off the same tree," as they sing on this scintillating 1961 album's title song. After the silliness of "Splish Splash" made him a rock 'n' roll star, Darin turned out to be perhaps the finest Sinatra-style vocalist of his era. His versions of "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea" are only the two best-known examples of his coolly brash way with swinging material. And Mercer, besides writing incredibly clever lyrics and/or music for songs like "Laura," "Moon River" and "Blues in the Night," was a singer who more than made up for an ordinary voice with terrific phrasing and feeling. According to Stanley Green's liner notes on this album--which has just been re-released with the original packaging--the collaboration was Darin's idea, and the emphasis would be on older, neglected corners of Tin Pan Alley. Darin died in 1973 at age 37, a victim of his lifelong heart ailment. Mercer was 66 when he died three years later.

Sound: One of a kind--that's "Two of a Kind." To find a match for its infectiously cheerful vocals, you'd have to go to the very top in this breezily swinging school--Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby. Over Billy May's robust yet light-footed arrangements, Darin and Mercer joke, banter, compliment and kid each other on four songs co-written by Mercer and nine by other composers. These nine are almost all tunes from 1900 to 1930--jaunty pieces like "Mississippi Mud" and "My Cutey's Due at Two-to-Two Today." On the barroom ballad "Ace in the Hole," Darin does a quick succession of lines and comments in the styles of W. C. Fields, Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin--all within about 30 seconds! The album's only fault is an emphasis on these campy numbers at the expense of Mercer material. That old Cole Porter song that goes "Friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship" isn't here, but the sentiment has seldom been so neatly demonstrated.

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