You didn’t have to grow up in the 1960s to know “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” and “Quinn the Eskimo.” Film and classic rock radio have kept these hits alive. Both of these songs were from a pop group named Manfred Mann, named after the keyboard player. By the end of the 1960s, the Manfred Mann band was replaced by the more heavy-weight prog-rock version called Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.
Mann’s musical training and early career were in jazz, and the new band mixed Mann’s jazz chords and structure with the heavier blues-style of rock of the early 1970s. Quinn now has a different mojo rising.
Interestingly, the Earth Band’s most notable radio hits were cover versions of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen songs. “Spirits in the Night”, “For You” and “Blinded By the Light,” all songs written by Springsteen, from his first album.
South African Mann was a superb arranger, he turned Dylan and Springsteen American folk songs into mythical, rock-injected FM hits. Later in the decade, “You Angel You” written by Dylan, was another hit for the Earth Band. The Earth Band was very prolific, producing an album a year, with changing musicians as the decade wore on. The constant was bandleader and arranger Manfred Mann. The voice of the band also changed as lead vocalists came and went.
For me, the most interesting of the Earth Band’s albums was Angel Station, released in 1979. “You Angel You” was the bigger or the two charting singles, “Don’t Kill It, Carol” was the other. Mann brought in Anthony Moore to co-produce and lend a hand musically, as the band line up was in transition. Moore released a number of solo albums and performed as part of a group called Slapp Happy. Moore would later work with Pink Floyd, specifically he co-wrote “Learning to Fly” and “The Dogs of War” from A Momentary Lapse of Reason, “Wearing the Inside Out” from The Division Bell, and “Calling” from The Endless River. The collaboration with Moore on Angel Station was a fruitful one.
Angel Station might be the Earth Band’s most commercially accessible album, it certainly is a delight from top to bottom. The listener will hear a repeating motif among several of the songs, not really a theme or concept but a partial linkage. Musically, the Earth Band was an interesting mix of keyboard and guitar, with Angel Station no exception. The 1970s was the decade of the guitar, but in bands that leaned prog-rock, keyboards (synthesizers) often dominated. Mann does a nice job of using piano and other keyboard wizardry to vary the sound and not drown the listener in Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman excess. I love both those guys, but my point is Mann changes it up, to incorporate different types of instruments for a more polished, accessible sound.
Listening to this entire album again reminds me of the Alan Parsons Project of the late 1970s. Skillfully built and layered songs in the studio, weaving pop, rock, prog and other ingredients. Instruments come in and leave the song as needed, providing a mix that is very uncluttered. A dash of Pink Floyd for instrumental dynamics, and a bit of processed vocals to really give it a kick.
This record was big, but it should been huge. “You Angel You” is a thumping, driving Porsche of a song. You wouldn’t know that Dylan wrote it, the arrangement is off the charts. Dylan should shared his songwriting royalties with Mann.
On their next album, Chance (1980), the Earth Band has another Springsteen cover, a high octane version, with some lyrics even obtuse for the Boss. An interesting blend of prog-rock and power-pop, resulting in a delightful experience.
Interesting, the Earth Band’s early 1970s songwriting often gave you the impression of Styx, REO, Journey or King Crimson. Thick distorted guitar and moody synthesizer or Mellotron.
For almost fifty years, the Earth Band has been writing and recording, crisscrossing the world many times. In the 1980s, they continued their success with a little help from MTV and embellishing their sound with production techniques of the day and incorporating World Music in their fluid style. While the band members would change, Manfred Mann always kept it interesting.