Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Cool, Mann!

Reviewers eh? Don’t you just love ‘em? But seeing as I pontificate about all sorts of stuff here in this blog, I suppose I shouldn’t complain (as per the stones and glass houses principle). The person who reviewed my book for a local newspaper concluded that ‘...in short, it is more like a decent Manfred Mann album than a Sgt Pepper’. At the time I resented this appraisal but on reflection, it is rather a back-handed compliment.

OK, so Sgt Pepper is an historically crucial album which is musically inventive, blah blah blah. But how many people actually listen to it a lot? I don’t...but I have just purchased ‘A World of Mann – the best of Manfred Mann’ and what an interesting listen it has turned out to be.

It comprises a double CD collection which gathers together the 1960s Manfred Mann (the Paul Jones era) singles on disc one and the later 1970s Earthband configuration selections on disc two. Listening to disc one in all its blues/pop glory it is difficult not to get carried away by that peculiar 60s naivety as represented by ‘Do Wah Diddy’, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Mighty Quinn’. On moving to disc two, however it is amazing how Mann reinvented himself as a hairy earnest progrocker (well, hairier than normal) once the decade of innocence had ended.

Whilst the Earthband were undoubtedly a progrock band of their time, they were perhaps unique in that they wrote very little of their own songs but rather tended to reinterpret others’ material in their own style. Two regular providers of material for them were Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen whose American vignettes were given a very English progrock treatment. Unexpectedly, this seemed to work very well. It was the stuff they did write that let them down and remains the reason why they were never really fully integrated into the accepted progrockers club with Yes, Genesis, ELP and the rest.

Yet tunes such as Springsteen’s ‘Blinded by the Light’ and Dylan’s ‘Father of Day, Father of Night’ are classics of the genre, the former even giving them a respectable chart hit. My favourite, though, is Springsteen’s ‘Spirits in the Night’ from their ‘Nightingales and Bombers’ album where the incongruity of Bruce’s all-American tale of teen lust and debauchery set against the early 1970s Englishness of the arrangement just doesn’t seem to matter a jot. It’s powerful stuff.

I remember that copies of their 1974 album ‘The Good Earth’ came packaged with title deeds to a square foot of some Welsh hillside. I wonder how many people are still proud owners of a tiny plot of Welsh grass?

All things considered, I’m quite proud to be a Manfred Mann album!


Barbara(aka Layla) said...

I agree about their cover of Bruce's song! This was a good post...you ARE a review.

musicobsessive said...

Hi Barb. Thank you for your kind words. I might've known that a mention of the Boss would get you out of hiding :)

Jayne said...

'Pretty Flamingo' is my favourite Manfred Mann song, although I do love 54321, especially when watching the credits of Ready Steady Go - love those 60s music programmes. Next up would probably be 'My Name Is Jack'... I have a LP of Manfred Mann, just tried to google it to see which one (the cover is like newsprint) but cannot find it - anyway, it has 'With God On Our Side' - another one I liked, and I think that was a Dylon song, so this was interesting to read - I didn't realise they continually borrowed from Dylon and Springsteen!

And well done for being reviewed in the local paper - being Manfred Mann is pretty special!

musicobsessive said...

Hi Jayne! I'm not sure which album 'With God...' comes from either but it did appear on a 'Best Of' collection a few years back. (perhaps someone out there clutching a tatty copy of whatever it was will know?)

Anyway, seasons greetings and try to stay off the wine:)