AB1Great writing is not just found in novels, poetry, and screenwriting. It’s in all forms of communication like speeches and blog posts. Great writing is about getting your message vividly across – telling a story by painting a memorable picture in words. It’s captivating your audience so they expand that message in their mind and it sticks in like Macky’s knife.

Great writers use many devices. Descriptors. Metaphors and similes. Dialogue – sometimes with patois. Suggestion and innuendo. Beats. Pacing. Rhythm. Foreshadowing, shock, and tension building.

AB2I don’t know squat about songwriting, let alone music composition. I can barely play the radio, never mind making something intelligent come out of an instrument.

But I’m okay at writing and I can recognize great writing.

Last night I started humming the tune from Mack The Knife. I’m not sure what started it, but the dammed thing wouldn’t go away and I realized I knew few of the words. I had a limited understanding of the song – just that it was about some bad-ass with a blade and a good tune. I thought Frank Sinatra originally did it and was recently copied by Michael Buble.

AB4So I Googled it and, yes, both Sinatra and Buble sang it and so did Bobby Darin. A lot of other great singers did, too. Louis Armstrong. Bing Crosby. Ella Fizgerald and Peggy Lee. Of course Tony Bennett. And Liberace. Did you know Bill Haley & The Comets cut it? Roger Daltry and The Doors? Sting blew it away.

Simon Cowell was quoted calling it “The greatest song ever written“.

What’s so great about it? Who wrote this masterpiece? Here’s what Wikepedia says:

“Mack the Knife” or “The Ballad of Mack the Knife”, originally “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer”, is a song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht for their music drama Die Dreigroschenoper, or, as it is known in English, The Threepenny Opera. It premiered in Berlin in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm. The song has become a popular standard recorded by many artists, including a US number one hit for Bobby Darin.

AB3I played Bobby Darin’s version about ten times and followed the words, trying to analyze the greatness in this writing – in this story. It’s there. It’s there in every word. Every line. Every paragraph. Descriptors. Metaphors and similes. Dialogue – sometimes with patois. Suggestion and innuendo. Beats. Pacing. Rhythm. Foreshadowing, shock, and tension building.

By God, this is great writing.

Copy this link and paste it in another window to listen to Bobby Darin’s crooning while following the lyrics. Put on your headphones and enjoy a read/listen to some great storytelling.

Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And it shows them pearly white
Just a jackknife has old MacHeath, babe?
And he keeps it out of sight

You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, though wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s never, never a trace ‘a red

Now on a sidewalk, on a Sunday mornin’ 
Lies a body just oozin’ life
Some, someone’s sneakin’ ’round a corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

There’s a tugboat down by the river, don’t you know?
Where a cement bag, just a’drooppin’ on down
Oh, that cement is just its there for the weight, dear
Five’ll get you ten Old Macky’s back in town

D’ja hear ’bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin’ out all his hard earned cash
And now MacHeath spend just like a sailor
Could it be our boy’s done somethin’ rash?

Jenny Diver, yeah, yeah, Sukey Tawdry
Hello Miss Lotte Lenya and Lucy Brown
Oh that line forms, on the right, babe
Now, that Macky’s back in town

I said, Jenny Diver, whoa Sukey Tawdry
Look out Miss Lotte Lenya and Old Lucy Brown
Yes that line forms on the right, babe
Now, that Macky’s back in town
Look out, Old Macky is back

Mack The Knife is not just a great song.

It’s great writing telling a great story.

Listen to Bobby Darin’s Mack The Knife here:


    1. Garry Rodgers Post author

      Hi Sue! Your bang-on about everything pushing the story ahead. That’s a tough lesson when we writers want to go off on a sidetrack to explain or describe something that we like but doesn’t advance the story. (lowers head and pleads guilty)


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