You knew that Alabama Song and Mack The Knife were composed by the same two guys, didn't you? Sure they were! Why, any German opera fan could tell you that!
No, don't be confused, it's really quite simple. The song you know as Mack The Knife was done by Bobby Darin at Fulton Studios, New York, 1956; that's the one that made the Billboard Hot 100. That was a cover of Louis Armstrong's version, which made the Hit Parade in 1956. But Armstrong got the song from The Threepenny Opera, where it was translated into English by Marc Blitzstein in 1954. The original German version of this opera is Die Dreigroschenoper, and the original German title of Mack The Knife is Die Moritat von Mackie Messer, premiering in Berlin in 1928. This opera was written by the team of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. German opera!
A couple of years later, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht also wrote Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, another opera which had a group of prostitutes in the first act singing Alabama Song... in English, even though the opera premiered in Leipzig, Germany, in 1930. But the song itself was actually incorporated from an earlier work, a small-scale scenic cantata called simply Mahagonny, in 1927. Anyway, Alabama Song is the song covered by Jim Morrison in 1967. Since it was originally in English, there was no need to translate it; however, as it was originally sung by females, there was a need to change a line from "Show us the way to the next pretty boy" to "Show me the way to the next little girl."
There. Memorize all that and spout it out at the bar the next time either one blares out of the jukebox. You'll get laid like a rug.
In fact, Mack The Knife has a history going back even further, all the way to the year 1728, and we're waiting to see if historians uncover a link going back to the Old Testament. But if we told you that Macheath, the character Mack the Knife was based on, was a character in a play titled The Beggar's Opera by John Gay (1685-1732), which was watched by none other than George Washington himself, and about the spiderweb of cultural ties and connections to Robin Hood (similar type of swashbuckler), Bob Dylan (his song Sweetheart Like You), Sir Robert Walpole (originally a satire of him), and Steve Martin (parodied the song in the third season opener of Saturday Night Live), your suspension of disbelief would probably be shattered and you'd lose all faith in our credibility.
Then you'd miss the part where The Doors covered Mack The Knife on the album Live In Stockholm.
Anyway, while Alabama Song doesn't have much to say about Alabama per se, it has also echoed out from its origin point to embed tendrils in diverse cultures. It was covered by David Bowie, for instance, who is a Brecht fan. It's also popped up in a medley by Bette Midler in 1977, Marilyn Manson at a live show in Berlin in 2003, Serbian rock band Elektricni Orgazam in 1982, German punk band Abwarts in 1980, British jazz musician Mike Westbrook in live shows throughout the 1970s, and Japanese band eX-Girl in 1999.
So, what is this, an Illuminati conspiracy?
Why is Germany so interested in the US state of Alabama? How did German opera spread out and infiltrate every single nook and cranny (don't forget the McDonald's commercial which sang "Big Mac tonight" back in the 1980s!) of the world's popular cultures? How did these two spooky little songs, one a rather bawdy drinking song and the other a disturbing ballad about a serial killer, come to be so popular in America when their original meaning was completely lost?
Whatever you do, don't play them backwards for clues. And remember, we never talked about this.
The themes of materialism, despair, and illicit pleasures from the operetta this was taken from would be revisited often by The Doors. The song took on a more literal meaning over the years as Jim Morrison's drug and alcohol problems became public knowledge.