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Producer Nick Venet Recalls The Story Behind Bobby Darin's 'Beyond The Sea'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEYOND THE SEA")

DAVIES: If you're taking your kids to the movies this weekend, you'll probably hear this song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEYOND THE SEA")

ROBBIE WILLIAMS: (Singing) Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me my lover stands on golden sands and watches the ships that go sailing. Somewhere beyond the sea...

DAVIES: This version by Robbie Williams was done for the closing credits of the Pixar film "Finding Nemo." "Beyond The Sea" is also featured in the sequel "Finding Dory," which our film critic David Edelstein will review in a few minutes. It's been recorded by many singers but the most popular version is the 1959 hit by Bobby Darin. We thought we'd spend a few minutes hearing about Darin from the late Nick Venet, who was Darin's close friend and producer. Here's an excerpt of the interview Terry Gross recorded with Venet in 1996.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

How did you meet Bobby Darin?

NICK VENET: We were both in our teens, I guess, and we were working at the Brill Building in New York. The Brill Building was the music mecca of pop music, I guess, at that time. And it was centrally located. And we met a lot of people, like Burt Bacharach had an office there. Leiber and Stoller had an office there. And Darin and I rented a broom closet and converted it into an office (laughter). And we just wanted a place to put our names on the door.

And he wrote songs and I tried to put records together. The word producer had - was not being used at that time. And we actually met in the elevator at the Brill Building and - several times. And we ate in the same restaurant around the corner. And we just became friends and - a group of us really. And we started hanging out and using the broom closet as a place to meet. And we kept the piano in there and a place to write and play demos.

GROSS: Now, I want to play the demo of another early hit that he had, "Dream Lover." And - wow, this demo's great. His singing on it is so good, and it's much more stripped-down. It's very stripped-down, so it's different from the very produced hit recording of this song. And tell me the story behind this demo.

VENET: Well, he felt that if the song didn't make it with people, if they really didn't get the message with just him and the guitar - by the way, the guitarist is Fred Neil. At that time, Fred had written a song called "Candy Man" for Roy Orbison and he also wrote wrote "Everybody's Talkin'" for the Schlesinger film "Midnight Cowboy." He wanted to try something which wasn't being done at that time.

Everything was very - in that period of time, everything was cute and pretty. And he wanted to do something that was not cute, not pretty but worked on another level. And he made the demo at the session with just Fred playing the guitar. Then later on, everybody asked him to add more, add more. And he did and he went on and of course it was a hit. Either version will make it for me, too. But that version's real special because it's just Bobby and the guitar. And he sings it as well as he sang anything else.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAM LOVER")

BOBBY DARIN: "Dream Lover," take five. (Singing) Every night I hope and pray a dream lover will come my way, a girl to hold in my arms and know the magic of her charms 'cause I need a girl to call my all. I want a dream lover so I don't have to dream alone.

GROSS: Although he started off with rock 'n' roll hits, he seemed to know early on that he wanted to sing standards and probably end up in Vegas. Now, a lot of rock 'n' rollers in the late '50s and early '60s were groomed to play Vegas but often against their will. But the feeling was rock 'n' roll is a fad, and unless you learn how to play Vegas, you'll be out of a career by the time you're in your 20s. Was it...

VENET: Well, you're correct.

GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.

VENET: That particular time period - you know, we were still coming out of the late '40s. The influence in the '50s was from the adults in the late '40s. And singing was legitimate and you had to play in a club and you had to play Vegas and those venues or you weren't a success. And if you didn't learn to play those places, you would end up doing one-nighters with 20 other acts that had one hit on various disc jockey shows in small towns. And a lot of the rock 'n' rollers could not do the pop situation and a lot of them could. And the transition was tough for some. There was Paul Anka who made the transition. And there was very few of them really. And Darin made the great transition.

GROSS: You know, for a lot of people in rock 'n' roll - listeners and performers - Vegas symbolized everything that was square and unsavory about show business. Why did Bobby Darin want that?

VENET: Well, Darin thought that he could actually bridge the gap and bring his audience - and the word teenagers is the word they use, people under the age of 25. He could actually bring them up to where they too would appreciate Sinatra. They'd appreciate Tony Bennett. They'd appreciate pop music. And he tried to cross it. He tried to keep the rhythm and the tempo for dancing situations and for the excitement. And later on, when you get into "Mack The Knife," you'll see he did it.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "Mack The Knife" as recorded by Bobby Darin in late 1958.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MACK THE KNIFE")

DARIN: (Singing) Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear. And it shows them pearly whites. 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, oh, wears old Macheath, babe, so there's never never a trace of red.

Now, on the sidewalk, oh, sunny morning lies a body just oozing life. And someone's sneaking 'round the corner. Could that someone be Mack the Knife? There's a tugboat down by the river, don't you know, where a cement bag's just drooping on down. Oh, that cement is just - it's there for the weight, dear. Five'll get you 10 old Macky's back in town. Now, did you hear about Louie Miller? He disappeared...

GROSS: He died of a heart condition. How long was he aware that he had a heart condition? Did he always know that?

VENET: Yes, he did. He knew that from when he was a small kid, when he was in his - when he was 8 or 9 years old he understood that. He also understood he wasn't going to make it to 21 and then he - then the new diagnosis said 30. We're the exact age - and he passed away at 36-37. He outlived the sentences they gave him of how long he was going to live. But he also knew that he had pressed his luck. We did a lot of gambling. We loved Las Vegas, and he used to say I'm playing it like it lays. Towards the end there he used to say, boy, I'm pressing my luck, but I'm going to double up. And that was his phrase all the time. He said we'll go in the studio. I'm going to double up and see if I can do an album while I still have the energy. He was wearing down towards the end.

GROSS: I'd like to close with a song, and I'm going to let you pick this one. I'd like you to pick and to introduce a song that you particularly love or that has special significance for you.

VENET: I'd like to play "Beyond The Sea."

GROSS: And why do you want to choose this?

VENET: Darin would go up to Pfeiffer Beach all the time and Big Sur. And that's where he did his best thinking towards the end. And he would whistle "Beyond The Sea" on the beach and I'd walk, oh, a quarter of a mile behind him because he'd want me to see how the sound sounded when the wind brought it back. He was still planning on recording a new version of "Beyond The Sea" at Pfeiffer Beach. It just means a lot.

DAVIES: Our interview with Nick Venet was recorded in 1996. Venet died in 1998. He was 61.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEYOND THE SEA")

DARIN: (Singing) Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me my lover stands on golden sands and watches the ships that go sailing. Somewhere beyond the sea she's there watching for me. If I could fly like birds on high then straight to her arms I'd go sailing. It's far beyond the stars. It's near beyond the moon. I'll know beyond a doubt my heart will lead me there soon. We'll meet beyond the shore. We'll kiss just like before. Happy we'll be beyond the sea and never again I'll go sailing.

DAVIES: Coming up, "Finding Dory." Our film critic David Edelstein has a review. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.