"Mack the Knife" is a song that I have enjoyed since I was a kid. It wasn't until I was in graduate school, though, that I discovered where the inspiration for the song came from. And putting the lyrics in the perspective of their source sure did help me make sense of the song! So, without further ado, here's "Mack the Knife," the lyrics, and some fun facts about its source. Enjoy!

"Mack the Knife" Lyrics

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 … ah … out of sight.

Ya know when that shark bites, with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread
Fancy gloves, though, wears old MacHeath, babe
So there’s nevah, nevah a trace of red.

Now on the sidewalk … uuh, huh … whoo … sunny mornin’ … uuh, huh
Lies a body just oozin' life … eeek!
And someone’s sneakin' ‘round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

A-there's a tugboat … huh, huh, huh … down by the river don’tcha know
Where a cement bag’s just a'droopin' on down
Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear
Five'll get ya ten old Macky’s back in town.

Now, d'ja hear ‘bout Louie Miller? He disappeared, babe
After drawin' out all his hard-earned cash
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
Could it be our boy's done somethin' rash?

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

Aah … I said Jenny Diver … whoa … Sukey Tawdry
Look out to 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" Fun Facts

  • Mack the Knife is based on Macheath, an unsavory character from John Gay's 1728 work, The Beggar's Opera.
  • The Beggar's Opera is a satire of Italian opera, which was popular in the 18th century.
  • When it opened on January 29, 1728, the audience wasn't quite sure what to make of The Beggar's Opera. Like good literature, good opera had specific conventions that an audience expected to recognize. And as with good literature, language was one of the most important of those conventions. Until Gay's work, the operatic form had been confined to French, German, or Italian; an opera in English was unheard of. Even more important are the facts that Gay's opera was written for an audience of commoners, encompassed characters from the seedy side of life in London, and incorporated everyday speech instead of elevated language. Up to this point, all the really good operas dealt with heroic or mythic themes and were composed in elevated language meant to appeal to the aristocracy. Gay's work was quite revolutionary!
  • In spite of its lack of "proper" form, the audience went wild for The Beggar's Opera thanks to "sparkling dialogue, witty satire, and ingenious ballads set to well-loved familiar tunes" (R Bear). The audience of commoners could relate to the language, characters, and music of Gay's revolutionary opera because it was composed with them in mind.
  • Gay composed The Beggar's Opera in response to a to a question that Alexander Pope (who wrote one of my favorite poems, The Rape of the Lock) asked of Jonathan Swift (of Gulliver fame, but equally well known for his satire, A Modest Proposal). The question was, "What think you, of a Newgate pastoral among the thieves and whores there?"
  • Macheath, Mack the Knife, is a parody of one of the two most famous criminals in 18th century London, Jack Sheppard (hey, Lost fans -- this name should be familiar to you!).
  • The Beggar's Opera ran for a record-breaking 62 consecutive performances after its first opening. In 1920, the opera broke records again with a run of 1,463 performances.

Can you tell that I <3 research? Chalk it up to the fact that I teach writing for a living!

To see more Music Monday posts, go here. For Musical Monday posts, go here.

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11 Responses
  1. Liz Says:

    I'm new to this song. It's interesting, I learn something new everyday. TFS!

    Happy Monday.

    A Simple Life

    The Modern Mom

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I so love this song I had forgotten about it. Thank you so much for sharing :)

  3. Tekkaus Says:

    My this is something new! :D A very thoughtful and detailed Music Monday! Gosh, well written. So, today I have learnt something new from you. Thanks :D

  4. JL Says:

    Hi Carleen, thank you for commenting at my blog the other day. I'm new to this song but I enjoyed listening to it nevertheless. Thank you and keep up the good research and the music. I hope to be seeing you again for future Music Mondays. :)

  5. Rozella Says:

    You couldn't have chosen a better song. :) It is absolutely timeless. Great pick!

  6. RA Says:

    I have never heard this song before. Thank you for sharing :). Very interesting facts as well. Have a great week.

  7. Amy Says:

    I have never heard this before. It was a fun song to listen to. My little one danced to it. Have a great Monday.

  8. I am Harriet Says:

    love this no matter who is doing it. Great choice. Happy MM to you

  9. Says:

    I love hearing the stories behind the songs! Thanks for all the research that went into this, although I do think you had a little fun doing it. ;o)

  10. Diane Says:

    lol my boyfriend sings this all the time around the house.

    i love the look of your blog, btw, and all the work you put into this great post!

    thanks for playing!

  11. Unknown Says:

    Cute song I remember hearing it on a movie! TFS

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