The opening song of Bobby Darin’s 1967 album Sings Doctor Dolittle was entitled “At the Crossroads.” The Leslie Bricusse song, introduced by Samantha Eggar (dubbed by Diana Lee) in the big-screen musical, expressed the viewpoint of a young woman constrained by the time in which she lived, wanting more. The tune was quickly adopted and refashioned by singers from Petula Clark in a slow-burning, stoic and determined version, to Sammy Davis, Jr. in exuberantly hyper-charged “Yes I Can!” mode. But Darin interpreted the anthem quietly, reflectively, and wistfully – even adding a subtle folk-rock edge with the use of guitars. Within a year of the release of the album, the entertainer would truly find himself at the crossroads. Devastated by the assassination of his friend Robert F. Kennedy, shaken by family revelations, and affected by the turmoil of the day, Bobby sought to shed the showbiz trappings to which he’d become accustomed and discover his true self. He grew a moustache, tossed out his toupee, and moved from Beverly Hills to Big Sur. Out was his tuxedo; in was simple denim. But the changes weren’t merely superficial. He wasn’t interested in crooning “Mack the Knife” any longer, and instead put pen to paper for a remarkable series of folk-rock songs inspired by current events and injustices. With his Atlantic Records contract concluded, he formed the independent Direction Records and released two extraordinary, socially-conscious LPs in this vein.
Demon Music Group’s Edsel imprint had previously issued Darin’s Direction material on compact disc, but now Demon is returning Born Walden Robert Cassotto (1968) and Commitment (1969, credited to “Bob Darin”) to vinyl in a brand-new box set also containing the vinyl debut of Rare Darin, the collection rounding up his Direction odds and ends. The Direction Albums, due on July 12, is a lavish celebration of Bobby Darin’s most personal and original music, presented on three 180-gram LPs and housed in a sturdy, rigid slipcase. This set marks the first time the seminal Direction albums have ever been reissued on vinyl in their original gatefold sleeves.
The warm, world-weary voice on Born Walden Robert Cassotto was familiar, but the subject matter certainly wasn’t. The opening track posed a number of pointed questions, including “How do you kill the ocean? How do you make it dry?” to “How do you kill the country? How does she disappear?” and “How do you kill an idea?” In one succinct track, the prescient artist touched on everything from saving the environment to distrust of the law to the importance of free thinking. Elsewhere on the LP, he took on capitalism (“Jingle Jangle Jungle”), explored a ripped-from-the-headlines story about three skeletons found on an Arkansas prison farm (“Long Line Rider”), delved into his own emotional and musical shift (“Change”), and examined loss of faith (“Sunday”). The settings weren’t brassy pop, but rather influenced by folk, country, soul, and rock. Studio experimentation was in effect, such as a backward piano on “Sunday.” Heady, unflinching, and cathartic, Darin had stripped his own music and sound of any perceived artifice, and rebirthed himself.
Commitment continued on the same, sure path, even going one step further with its credit to Bob Darin – just two letters away from a certain, Minnesota-born troubadour whose work the artist had long championed. “Me and Mr. Hohner” might have shocked with its drug references and countercultural bent, going as far as to ironically reference “The Star-Spangled Banner” in its arrangement. While Darin wasn’t clear about the identity of the “Sugar Man,” one wouldn’t be surprised if he was peddling illicit substances. (The upbeat music, oddly, hints at Fontella Bass’ R&B hit “Rescue Me.”) Musically, Commitment was more expansive than its predecessor, and lyrically, Darin name-dropped Papa John Phillips and Tiny Tim in another batch of timely compositions. “Distractions (Part I)” laconically depicted a day in the life (“Now I’m relaxing in a trailer in between shows/I’d like to know what the late news knows/But they’re running the same war they had on last evening…”) with a heavy dose of irony. There were flashes of beauty in the easily loping “Sausalito” (Darin even whistles on the track!) but the worldview was clear. As the closing track “Light Blue” opined over a taut, funky rhythm track, “Light blue/Getting darker everyday/Light blue/Adding deeper tones of gray.” Bobby Darin couldn’t see the world in black-and-white anymore, and he would have to do a great deal of soul-searching before he returned to the familiar showbiz tropes.
The third LP of The Direction Albums, Rare Darin boasts ten tracks from the Direction period including a quartet of non-LP singles (“Baby May,” “Sweet Reasons,” “Maybe We Can Get It Together,” and “Rx-Pyro (Prescription: Fire”), two outtakes (“City Life,” “Route 58”), and four tracks from Darin’s May 13-18, 1969 stand at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour including his future standard “Simple Song of Freedom.” The latter is the most enduring composition from his Direction period and one of the all-time great “protest” songs. These remain the only tracks commercially released from the Troubadour engagement.
Following the period chronicled on Demon’s box, Darin took another unexpected turn. Just days after his May 12, 1970 appearance at an anti-war rally at Los Angeles’ City Hall, Darin was onstage at Las Vegas’ new Landmark Hotel and Casino, singing with renewed vigor of that shark with the pearly white teeth. His convictions and social conscience remained strong, but to the public, the “old” Bobby Darin was back. Reconciling these aspects of his life and work, he signed with Motown Records to start the final chapter of his musical career – a period of continued creativity and inspiration chronicled on Second Disc Records and Real Gone Music’s releases Another Song on My Mind: The Motown Years and Go Ahead and Back Up: The Lost Motown Masters. He even returned to the realm of social commentary on songs like “Average People” and “We’re Getting There.”
The Direction Albums features sleevenotes by Alan Robinson and faithful, lavish packaging for each one of its three albums. A fascinating snapshot of one of music’s great artists in intensely personal singer-songwriter mode and a must-have for Darin collector, this box is due from Demon on July 12. You’ll find pre-order links for Amazon below (though only the U.K. store is currently accepting pre-orders) and the complete track listing below!
LP 1: Born Walden Robert Cassotto (Direction 1936, 1968)
- Jingle Jangle Jungle
- The Proper Gander
- Long Line Rider
- I Can See The Wind
- In Memoriam
LP 2: Commitment (Direction 1937, 1969)
- Me And Mr. Hohner
- Sausalito (The Governor’s Song)
- Song For A Dollar
- The Harvest
- Distractions (Part 1)
- Water Color Canvas
- Hey Magic Man
- Light Blue
LP 3: Rare Darin (previously compiled on Edsel EDSS 1015, 2007)
- Baby May (Direction single 4001-A, 1969)
- Sweet Reasons (Direction single 4001-B, 1969)
- Maybe We Can Get It Together (Direction single 4002-A, 1970)
- Rx-Pyro (Prescription: Fire) (Direction single 4002-B, 1970)
- City Life (Outtake)
- Route 58 (Outtake)
- Distractions (Part 1) [Live at The Troubadour 1969]
- Long Line Rider [Live at The Troubadour 1969]
- Simple Song Of Freedom [Live at The Troubadour 1969]
- Monologue; Questions [Live at The Troubadour 1969]