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….)
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.
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.’