Manfred Mann - The Ultimate Cover Band?

Cover bands dot the world's landscape like trees.  One could say, just as they do about trees, that without cover bands, there would be no air for music fans to breathe.  One wouldn't have to say that.  Or think it.  But one could.  Possibly the most famous cover band of all-time is Manfred Mann, led by that fella who eventually formed Manfred Mann's Earth Band.  Both groups recorded songs written by others and had big, no, HUGE hits.  Has anyone ever done this well covering others?

Manfred Mann - The Ultimate Cover Band?

Let's start with Manfred Mann's first hit.  It was 1964 when the group covered a song originally recorded by a little-known group called The Exciters.  The song?  "Do Wah Diddy Diddy."  You know it.  Here 'tis.

The song was a #1 hit in the United States and the U.K. (Manfred Mann's roots were in Great Britain).  It's great to listen to the vocal.  You can tell at times that lead singer Paul Jones had trouble getting the words out of his mouth.  His lyrics almost lagged at times.  The thing is, it works.  And you barely notice it.

This is the version that pop culture has continued to love.  Take a look at what happened to the song in the movie Stripes, which came out in 1981.

In 1967, the group recorded a then-unknown Bob Dylan song called "Quinn The Eskimo (Mighty Quinn)."  They changed the title to "The Mighty Quinn" and had another #1 hit in the U.K. (it reached #10 in the United States).  Here 'tis:

It should be noted that Manfred Mann had a #2 UK hit earlier in their career with two other Dylan tunes, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," back in 1965, and "With God On Our Side."

In addition, the group also scored a #3 UK hit with a song by American group The Shirelles called "Sha La La" and an album of standards (which means cover tunes) called The Five Faces Of Manfred Mann.  See the pattern? But wait.  There's more!

Before the original Manfred Mann group broke up, they covered other previously recorded songs, with not as much success, by artists like Tommy Roe (of "Dizzy" fame - yes, you may know it) and Randy Newman (yes, that Randy Newman).

The original group split up in 1969.  That was the end.

Or was it?

Manfred Mann, a keyboardist, formed a new group shortly thereafter called Manfred Mann's Earth Band.  The hits just kept on coming.

The group's second single was another Randy Newman tune called "Living Without You."  This is what it sounds like.

Do you hear the sound changing a bit?  Keep that in mind as we go.

Springsteen.

The music of Bruce Springsteen set off an incredibly successful run of songs for Manfred Mann's Earth Band, starting in 1976 with their version of Springsteen's 1973 song, "Blinded By The Light."  Here are both versions for you to compare:

Here's the long version of the song, which separates it even farther from Springsteen's.  (Is that Will Farrell on drums?)  That is Manfred Mann on keyboards, if you're curious what the actual guy looks like.

"Blinded By The Light" was a #1 hit in the U.S.  It became the group's biggest, and arguably most enduring song (don't forget "Do Wah Diddy Diddy").

To be fair, Manfred Mann/Manfred Mann's Earth Band was also writing, recording, and releasing original material.  Some of the songs had done well in England, mainly for the original incarnation of the group.  But it was their cover material that was breaking through and really selling the concert tickets and paying the bills.

Another Springsteen song, "Spirit In The Night," followed up on the massive success of "Blinded By The Light."  In fact, "Spirit.." had been released first as a single and flopped.  Because "Blinded..." had been such a big hit, "Spirit In The Night" was re-released as a single with a newly recorded lead vocal.  It reached #40.  Here now, children, are a live, 1975-era Bruce Springsteen version of the song and Manfred Mann's hit version of "Spirit In The Night."

In 1980, Manfred Mann's Earth Band dipped their bucket into the Springsteen well again and recorded & released a third song from Bruce Springsteen's first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.  The song was "For You," another non-hit for Springsteen.  Again, Springsteen's arrangement is more acoustically based; if he was going to be a singer/songwriter (which CBS Records thought might happen), this would be a hard-rockin' song.  Today, it's one of Springsteen's more dated songs from an album that, while solid for what it is, wouldn't have a counterpoint until Nebraska, which would come out two years after Manfred Man's cover of "For You."

The MM Earth Band 

Surprisingly, Manfred Mann's version of the song was not a hit.  If you give it a listen, it's better than their cover of "Spirit In The Night;" more reminiscent of what they did with "Blinded By The Light," with heavier guitar, more instrumental breaks, more uses of dynamics, and stronger reliance on vocal harmonies, synthesizer and keyboards.

The song wasn't a big Top 40 hit, but it did get quite a bit of Rock radio airplay, more than "Sprit In The Night" (but definitely not as much as "Blinded By The Light").  These three cover songs alone probably guaranteed a stream of revenue for members of the group to receive for the rest of their lives.  Springsteen, whether he liked these versions or not, certainly enjoyed the publishing money that came in.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band is still around today.  You know their concerts include the Springsteen tunes (from which the band receives revenue from ticket sales and Springsteen receives revenue for the public performance of songs he's written).  There's a 2005 recording around of the group performing "The Mighty Quinn," so Dylan is still getting money as well.  Meanwhile, every time you hear "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," does the artist formerly know as Puff Daddy (who's now called Diddy) make any money?  Only if you buy an song of his now because the title "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" reminds you to.

What do you think of the Manfred Mann strategy?  From '65 to '80, covering songs previously recorded by other artists sold millions of albums and possibly a million concert tickets and t-shirts and other merchandise.  Since 1980, the group still tours, with their most requested songs probably being the trio written by Bruce Springsteen.  If you had the ability to re-arrange somebody else's song and put your own stamp on it, then do that again and again, would you do it?  Do you think a Manfred Mann strategy could work today?

Dave Philp is Assistant Professor of Music Management at William Paterson University and Chief Organizer Guy of YouChoose, a live events music fundraising and social media company that has raised many, many thousands of dollars for non-profit causes. Join the good fight and help change your corner of the world by visiting YouChoose now: http://myyouchoose.com/. To sign up for our email newsletter, click HERE. Mmkay?