244. ‘Mighty Quinn’, by Manfred Mann

Our next #1 single starts with what sound suspiciously like pan-pipes. I leave that there as a word of warning. (It’s not actually pan-pipes, it’s a flute, but the tone has been set….)

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Mighty Quinn, by Manfred Mann (their 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th February 1968

Come on without, Come on within, You’ll not see nothing like the Mighty Quinn… It’s a swaying chorus that greets us as the song proper gets underway. A chorus that I knew, without ever really having listened to the song in full. A chorus that begs a question – just who is the Mighty Quinn?

He is, naturally, an Eskimo. What else? To give the song its’ full title – ‘Quinn the Eskimo.’ And when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, Everybody’s gonna jump with joy… And why will Quinn’s arrival be greeted with such jubilation? To be honest, I’m now on listen number three and I’m still not sure.

The verses have a verve and swagger to them, that really really reminds of something else that I just can’t quite put my finger on. It’s very frustrating. Anyway… Everybody’s building ships and boats, Some are building monuments, Others are jotting down notes… It seems like a comment on modernity, and the fact that something is missing from modern life. Nobody can get no sleep, There’s someone on everyone’s toes, But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, Everybody’s gonna want a dose… Or is it ‘a doze’, as in a nap? Either way, this is pretty abstract stuff.

Boiled down, it seems like Quinn is some kind of Messiah figure, who’s going to calm everyone down and chill everyone out (as well as gathering all the pigeons around him…) Bob Dylan – for yes, ‘tis he who wrote this – has claimed that the song is nothing more than a nursery rhyme. But that’s what the writers of strange and obscure lyrics always say, isn’t it? His version is much more folky and laid-back, and wouldn’t be released until several years after Manfred Mann’s.

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I’m not sure what to make of this one. On the one hand it is interesting. There can’t have been many #1 singles about Eskimos. On the other it just doesn’t quite work for me. It’s Dylan’s 2nd chart-topper as a songwriter and it is certainly not anywhere near the level of his previous one, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’.

And what of Manfred Mann? They sign off on their chart-topping account, having hit the top spot with three very different records. The Beat-pop swing of ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, the sweet ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and now this. A #1 in ’64, ’66 and now ’68. A band for even-numbered years. A 2nd-tier, perhaps slightly underrated sixties band? They were soon to become Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, and to go pretty heavy on the prog-rock. They’ve kept ‘The Mighty Quinn’ as part of their concerts, and apparently live versions can go on for a good ten minutes… I’m not sure if that sounds brilliant, or terrifying…

To be honest, my first exposure to this record was probably miles away from Manfred Mann and the 1960s pop charts. Irish football fans used to sing a version of this song for their big striker, Niall Quinn. The nickname stuck to such an extent that he even named his autobiography – you guessed it – ‘The Mighty Quinn.’

214. ‘Pretty Flamingo’, by Manfred Mann

After our Dusty Springfield extravaganza last time out, we’re back with something a little more routine. A little more of its time. Guitars, drums and a husky-voiced man.

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Pretty Flamingo, by Manfred Mann (their 2nd of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 5th – 26th May 1966

It’s got an intro that has always reminded me of Bob Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, in the way that the bass and the drums roll in, after a couple of guitar chords. It’s a song that I’ve known for quite a while, a perennial of the ‘Best of The Sixties’ tapes and CDs that accompanied long car journeys with my family. And it’s a song I’ve always liked: it’s sunny, breezy, poppy… A song that gives you a pleasant two and a half minutes; but that doesn’t linger too long afterwards.

Manfred Mann have grown up since ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ gave them their first chart-topper nearly two years back. It’s a more mature sound, more laidback and a tiny bit trippy. And, though I described singer Paul Jones’s voice as husky in the intro – it’s not a regular kind of husky. It’s nasally, and a bit rough. An acquired taste. The opening line hits you: On our block, All of the guys call her flamingo… This was one of Jones’s final recordings with the Mann’s – he would leave a couple of months later.

And actually, thinking about it more closely, is calling a girl a ‘flamingo’ that much of a compliment? It kind of suggests you have scrawny legs and a big beak… Or, rather, according to the lyric, it’s: ‘Cos her hair glows like the sun, And her eyes can light the skies… I’m still not convinced. When she walks, She moves so fine, Like a flamingo… (Flamingos are lanky and walk with an old man stoop. I doubt the songwriter had ever actually seen a flamingo…)

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All lyrical inconsistencies are forgiven, however, when we get to the bridge, which has a hook to die for: When she walks by, She brightens up the neighbourhood… And then we have what sounds like a flute solo, and some sha-la-las to wrap up, because it’s that kind of record. I also like the ‘Ha!’ after the If he just could… line, which suggests that deep down Jones knows it ain’t never happening with Ms Flamingo.

It’s a fun song, a cute song, a song that needs but a short post like this to do it justice. This was the middle disc in Manfred Mann’s chart-topping run, and I like that they straddled the swinging sixties with their #1s: one in 1964, one in ’66, and one to come in ’68. They’re not a name that instantly springs to mind when you think of ‘Biggest Acts of the 60s’, but perhaps they should be. Enjoy!

175. ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, by Manfred Mann

‘Pop Music’… an ultra-generic term, but hey… What’s the first thing that pops (gettit?) into your head when you hear that term? Feel-good, catchy hits. Bubble-gum and bright colours. Popular songs that sell loads of copies. And yet, many, if not most, pop songs are more complex than that. Look at the songs to have hit #1 in 1964, and you’ll find a lot of bittersweet emotion: ‘Needles and Pins’, ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’, ‘A World Without Love’, two songs titled ‘It’s Over’ and ‘It’s All Over Now’. Plus a song about a boy driven to ruin in a gambling den-slash-whorehouse. Only one – ‘Glad All Over’ – could potentially have filled all the ‘feel-good, catchy, bubblegum’ criteria this year so far. Make that two, now.

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Do Wah Diddy Diddy, by Manfred Mann (their 1st of three #1s)

2 weeks, from 13th – 27th August 1964

There she was, Just a-walkin’ down the street, Singin’… Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo…! I forgot to add one more requirement to the ‘Pop Music’ manifesto – a memorable hook. And has there ever been a more memorable hook than Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo? Add it to the wopbopaloomas, the ramalamadingdongs and the zig-ah-zig-ahs of pop lore. As usual, I took a pre-post listen to this song, and tried to jot down some notes. But I found I didn’t write very much. I was too busy enjoying what is a great little pop song.

We come to a goofy call-and-response section: She looked good… (looked good…) She looked fine…( looked fine…) And I nearly lost my mind… And then it’s the bridge – another great bridge in an era of absolutely superb middle-eights. Woah-oh-woah, I knew we were falling in lo-o-o-ve… coupled with a twangy, rock ‘n’ roll throwback guitar. And we finish with, of course, a happy ending: with the loved-up couple together every single day, singing… You know exactly what they were singing: Do wah diddy diddy…

Musically, we can still hear the slow disintegration of the Merseybeat sound, now with organs, and maracas, and deep, bouncy, almost synthetic sounding drums. We’re approaching what I would think is peak-sixties, and this is a very sixties-sounding disc. And I’m looking at what I’ve written so far, and thinking it’s a pretty short post for a pretty high-quality song… But at the same time, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ is pretty close to pop perfection; and pop don’t need no analysing. That’s not really what pop music is for.

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Plus, Manfred Mann will be chart staples for the entirety of the 1960s, managing what many of their Beat contemporaries couldn’t – to adapt their sound and score hits (including two more chart-toppers) all the way through to 1969. So I can’t even pad this post out with a career round-up.

This record made them the first non-Liverpudlian/Mancunian US chart-toppers during the British Invasion of 1964. In actual fact, though, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ was a cover. US girl group The Exciters had had a minor hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with it earlier in the year. Give that version a listen here. It’s a sign of the song’s strength, I’d say, that it works just as well in the hands of a female vocal group as it does in the hands of a raucous Beat-combo, and sounds as if it was originally written for them both. A stone-cold pop classic.