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Main Category: Pop Rock
Also applicable: Rhythm & Blues
Starting Period: The Early Years
Also active in: The Psychedelic Years, The Artsy/Rootsy Years



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Year Of Release: 1964
Overall rating =

They may have five faces all right, but they don't even have five good songs.


Track listing: 1) Smokestack Lightning; 2) Don't Ask Me What I Say; 3) Sack 'O' Woe; 4) What You Gonna Do; 5) Hoochie Coochie Man; 6) I'm Your Kingpin; 7) Down The Road Apiece; 8) I've Got My Mojo Working; 9) It's Gonna Work Out Fine; 10) Mr. Anello; 11) Untie Me; 12) Bring It To Jerome; 13) Without You; 14) You've Got To Take It.

The early Sixties have yielded quite a good deal of great music. The early Sixties have also yielded quite a good deal of average music, coming from bands that weren't quite as inspired as the big names, or weren't quite as skilful and well-trained, or weren't quite as full of that elusive ghost we call "personality". But even so, most of the times - heck, every time I put on some second-hand timid debut from that epoch, be it from future winners like the Kinks or the Hollies or future losers like the Searchers or the Dave Clark Five, I still managed to have me a good time. After all, there's always a time for sheer genius and there's always a time for simply having some unassuming fun. And at times, I'm even more in the mood for hearing Alan Clarke do a silly number like 'Do You Love Me' or for Dave Clark pounding out the rhythm to 'Chaquita' than for worshipping at the shrine of 'All My Loving' or 'It's All Over Now'.

But one thing I can say for sure: there will never, ever, EVER be a time when I will be in the mood for hearing any single track from the debut album of Manfred Mann. And if all of my family were long dead and buried six feet underground, I could have sworn that on the grave of each and every one of them. And how more serious can you get?

The funny thing is, there's really no "objective" reason for me to get that riled up. Lots of people like early Manfred Mann. They were nice-looking guys, two of them wearing glasses. Not too "clean" - they loved R'n'B, after all, and made a clear choice in favour of that ole black man's music we respect so much. Rather professional and all. A little bit special in that they were keyboard-and-brass-oriented rather than guitar-oriented. Had a strong lead singer. Wrote much of their own material. What's not to like?

Everything. Everything about this album screams out "SUCK!". Taken in the context of a very large group of albums released at around the same time, fulfilling more or less the same purposes, and even containing extremely similar material, Five Faces end up lower than the lower rung. First things first: Paul Jones, from the start, comes across as a bad, bad, bad singer. Maybe he isn't guilty. After all, he carries the curse of all lead singers named Jones. (Meaning Tom Jones, in particular, and it's no ordinary coincidence that a certain young fellow named David Jones eventually changed his name to something relatively more appetizing, as well). But I don't really care - all I see is a mediocre guy who tries to sound menacing and ferocious, but fails because he's too afraid, or too incapable of being really menacing and ferocious; tries to sound caring and sentimental, but fails because he's too afraid, or too incapable of being truly caring and sentimental; and finally, tries to sound brawny and cocky, but fails because he's really a nice lad and he can't help but let everybody know this is really an act. And when you want to sound brawny, you do NOT let everybody know this is an act (unless you manage to get into highly self-ironic gear, which is also out of the question here).

Second things second: everything I've said about Paul Jones applies to the band taken as a whole. Say you wanna do 'Smokestack Lightning', for instance. How do you do 'Smokestack Lightning'? You can give it the voodoo approach, or you can give it the power approach. If you give it the voodoo approach, you have to care about the arrangement and production. There's gotta be lots of subtle, tasty guitar passages. The harmonica has to sound dangerous. The singer should rasp and be as black as possible. If you choose the power approach, you probably have to speed it up a bit - and be sure to make as much brutal noise as possible. Make the harmonica crash against the drums and the drums drown out the guitars. And the singer yell and howl on top of it all. Do I get this? No. Do I get that? Nadah. And what do I get? Soaring mediocrity. Guitarist sounds as if he's afraid to get electrocuted by his instrument. Singer sounds as if there's a big fat censor behind his back: "Overdo this here line, sonny, and your contract is FUCKED!". Harmonica sucks, too.

It's even more painful for me to mention their tepid version of Chuck Berry's 'Down The Road Apiece'. Slow, stupidly "poppified", completely devoid of any kind of excitement. Argle bargle. Compare it with the same song as performed by the Rolling Stones on their second (British) album only months after to feel all the difference. And I do mean ALL the difference. Even if you eliminate Keith Richards' insane guitar breaks, unquestionably the main attraction of the Stones' version, even if you disregard Jagger's obvious vocal superiority (Jones sounds like a carefully programmed computer vocalizer, evening out all the syllables to a nanosecond - clever, but not exactly rock'n'rollish in attitude), even then Ian Stewart's boogie piano alone will get first prize over Mann's perfunctory delivery.

I suppose that after these remarks, pouring more dirt over the really predictable choices like the band's take on 'Hoochie Coochie Man' will send all the dead horses on an anti-flogging demonstration. Even so, I can't really restrain myself from remarking that Paul Jones' supposedly "wild" cry 'All right, let's hear some guitar now!' before the instrumental break truly takes on an extra meaning. It's really like: 'YEAH! Let's FINALLY hear some guitar now! I've almost managed to forget how this instrument really sounds like, behind all the crappy harmonica shit!'. Not that it really helps. The band's resident guitar player, Mike Vickers, actually has the saxophone as his primary function, and he obviously prefers blowing over picking, except when he's picking, he still blows.

As for the band's "original" material, mostly credited to Jones with the other members mostly joining him on the instrumentals, mostly it's all based on rewriting mostly well-known compositions from mostly far more talented performers. Actually, the regular trick is to take something ready-made and make a few cosmetic changes. Not that it wasn't a regular practice with every beginning songwriter back then, but it can't be used as a particularly strong point in the band's favour, either. For instance, 'Don't Ask Me What I Say' takes the simplistic piano theme from Marvin Gaye's 'Can I Get A Witness' and marries it to a different, but inferior vocal melody. Even the album's best tune, 'I'm Your Kingpin', is essentially a sort of Jimmy Reed rip-off, a rather generic R'n'B stomper - granted, with an unexpected "fourth line resolution". The main thing, however, that makes it slightly exquisite is the oddball chimes solo after the first verse, easily the one and only truly 'original' contribution of Manfred Mann to the musical world from the depths of 1964. The rest is... passable.

Worst of the bunch, however, are the ballads: limp, shaky, feeble displays of sentimentality that don't even manage to sound convincingly sacchariney. The clumsy melody of 'Untie Me' tries to go for a kind of 'Not A Second Time' effect, with a similar piano melody, but it's not even a poor man's Beatles - it's something John Lennon could have written when he was 12. There's this couple of bars in the instrumental part where the piano and guitar lock in totally Beatlesque fashion, and I would recommend everybody to try and locate that passage, if only to confirm (or maybe disprove?) what my intuition tells me - that this is exactly where the border between genius and miserable imitation is supposed to be.

As a result, the humble couple of instrumentals found here is probably the only salvageable material, except that there's little reason to "salvage" it, either. Not that I'm saying Manfred Mann weren't fitting any niche with this kind of musical diarrhoea. They were: the niche that was supposed to appeal to those who wanted their R'n'B and their rock'n'roll, but were too conservative, too "correct" to take it in the manner offered by the likes of the Stones or the Animals. Predictably, I despise that niche. Predictably, I will now forget about this album's existence.

PS. For those interested in particularly untrivial departments of spiritual masochism, the recent CD reissue of the album includes both the mono and the stereo mixes. Considering that Five Faces, in strict accordance with the laws of Murphy, was one of the longest albums of its epoch (over 39 minutes!), the purchase is naturally guaranteed to satisfy one's BDSM instincts for an impressive time period.



Year Of Release: 1965
Overall rating =

What's better: Manfred Mann's Blues Band or Manfred Mann's Soul Band? Neither. The correct answer is: Manfred Mann Bubble Gum Band!


Track listing: 1) Since I Don't Have You; 2) You're For Me; 3) Look Away; 4) Abominable Snowman; 5) Watch Your Step; 6) Stormy Monday Blues; 7) I Really Do Believe; 8) Hi-Lili Hi-Lo; 9) Way You Do The Things You Do; 10) Bare Hug; 11) You Don't Know Me; 12) L.S.D.; 13) I'll Make It Up To You; [BONUS TRACKS:] 14) Love Like Yours; 15) She; 16) Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron; 17) I Can't Believe What You Say; 18) Poison Ivy; 19) My Little Red Book; 20) You Gave Me Somebody To Love; 21) Driva Man; 22) It's Getting Late; 23) Come Home Baby; 24) Sie; 25) Group Interview.

Some would probably think of Mann Made as a "disappointment", but don't listen to these some. They're all fruity Sixties nuts who probably like Paul Anka, too, and wouldn't recognize good taste if it came up to them sporting big flashy Tom Waits-style tattoos and hideous Keith Richards-like wrinkles and invited them to play air guitar to 'Friday On My Mind'. On the positive side, it would have saved these people the need to come up with a good reason for why exactly is Mann Made rated two points higher than Five Faces when both are, in fact, soaked and dubbed in the exact same category of bullshit aesthetics. Because, you know, people don't change so quickly, unless they're invited to work for the government.

Well, it's really hard to explain. The easiest thing would be to say that my hand was sort of taken over by an unidentified spiritual force and driven to the '9' key without being able to give it proper resistance. But such an approach doesn't exactly justify the very existence of this review. So let me first try to put it this way: Mann Made doesn't have nearly as many great songs (as done by other performers) reduced to the musical equivalent of a genetically modified rotten tomato (as done by Manfred Mann). 'Hoochie Coochie Man', 'Mojo', 'Smokestack Lightning', 'Down The Road Apiece' - every time I heard one of those on the band's debut, it made me curse the day I took the decision to go into the Sixties slightly deeper than necessary. Mann Made, on the other hand, de-sacralizes only one evergreen classic that I'm aware of: 'Stormy Monday Blues', and I was never a big fan of the song in the first place. Besides, it's a piece of slow blues that doesn't need a lot of rough, overwhelming energy to it, and comes across as forgettable rather than offensive (although some of the harmonica playing is mildly amusing).

The rest, this time around, is unevenly split between covers of contemporary soul material, instrumental jazzy workouts, and fluffy bubblegummy pop. Not much rock'n'roll or "driving R'n'B" - and that's good! You can't be clean and dirty at the same time, and Mann Made, to its honour, doesn't even begin trying to sound dirty. Unless, of course, you take into account that one of the songs is preposterously called 'L.S.D.' which probably set a precedent but presumably record companies in late 1965 were not yet aware of what these letters stand for, not to mention that the song itself has no relation to true LSD whatsoever; it is, in fact, merely a radical rewrite of 'You Don't Love Me', which the band is said to have "copied" from Sonny & Cher, although I, personally, have only heard the song in its classic Allman Brothers Band version. Silly trivia bit - the guitar/harmonica riff that carries the song was later, in a very obnoxious and audacious way, pasted by Dylan into his 'Obviously Five Believers', where Bob's integrity is only saved by the riff's being so blaringly at total odds with the rest of the tune that it gives the impression of carrying some concealed meaning. (Which it certainly does not. But that's the way it goes with Bob Dylan).

But let's get back to our black-music-loving-guys from the world dungeon of apartheid. Like I said (or hinted at), they really do soul music better than rock music. Not by a long shot, though. The singer is still Paul Jones, although he quit right after the album's release, if not prior to it, and he still sings like he's meaning to carry over some emotion instead of singing like he actually is carrying it over. Besides, it's not like he were singing tremendously tremendous material: just run-of-the-mill Motown-and-co. type of fodder, very ambitious but not very hook-filled or inspiring. Maybe you need to hear, for instance, 'Look Away' to see what I mean: two minutes and twenty seconds of upbeat bombast, nicely arranged, but completely lacking pizzazz.

The big improvements only arrive when it comes to instrumentals: the two vocal-less compositions on here are the only ones that give a brief hint at individuality. Positively inclined gentlemen occasionally spread the rumour that it was this kind of material that was truly the "big love" of the band, with everything else mostly just done for the money, and even if they're wrong, I would still like to think that they're right. 'The Abominable Snowman', for instance, has some nifty organ and chime solos (maybe it's the "winter-tone" of that instrument that explains the title?) and cleverly located brass riffs that don't let the tune degenerate into boring 12-bar blues. And 'Bare Hug' subtly presages Jethro Tull's 'Serenade To A Cuckoo' by a good three years, presenting us the same type of mid-tempo jazz instrumental with the flute taking a prominent position. (Granted, I'm talking something like that on a "rock" record - obviously Jethro Tull took their lessons from jazz great Roland Kirk, and presumably Manfred Mann weren't ignorant as to his talents either).

Apart from these, there's a couple songs on here that remind us of why Manfred Mann actually were commercially successful - songs that will appeal even (if not exclusively) to seven-year olds, stuff like 'Hi-Lili Hi-Lo', of a genre that I utterly detest ("nursery rhymes for adults") but performed in such a spotlessly clean and devoted manner that it's actually hard to resist their braindead catchiness. I also favour things like 'I Really Do Believe', which show that Manfred Mann (not counting their instrumental workouts) are really at their best when they try to pull a Dave Clark Five: something loud, cheerful, dumb, unpretentious, and based on a good hookline. With 'I Really Do Believe', you'll just have to sing along, if only because there's no good reason not to.

The DC5-ishness of the band really shines on the bonus tracks for the new CD edition, though, all of them contemporary single and EP material that was obviously more "market-poised" than selected album tracks and thus representing Manfred and his croonies at their most, well, call it 'attention-demanding' if you have to call it something. This is the true polygon for hooks galore, regardless of whether most of them fall into the bubblegum category or not (they do). 'A love like yours don't come knock-knock-knocking, knock-knocking every day!'. You know that? Me, I'll probably never forget it. 'SHE knows I'll never make her blue! SHE knows that I'll be true!'. Say, it only took these guys two years to learn their 'She Loves You'-style lessons. That one-phrase melody of 'Driva Man', meticulously screwing its point into your head until you're forever nailed to it? Abominable, but unforgettable. Their choice of covers? 'Poison Ivy'? Now there's a song that seems to have been written for bands like these! Burt Bacharach's 'My Little Red Book'? At least they got the riff better than Syd Barrett, who turned it into 'Interstellar Overdrive'.

The bonus tracks practically double the album length and are generally at least twice as interesting as the album itself, which, again, amply demonstrates that the best way to appreciate Manfred Mann is through a singles collection. I'm not sure exactly whether my overall rating of 9 applies to the classic 13-track version or to the revamped edition; probably somewhere in between, I'd say. It does seem a little weird that the band nearly collapsed after the album's release, with several crucial members leaving - there aren't really any signs of acute conflict of interests on these songs, but then again, maybe I'm missing something. In these days, it's not that easy to get an exhaustive scoop on the inner dealings in the court of the Manfred King in late 1965, anyway. I am a-guessin', though, that Paul Jones was tired of working in the band's shadow and yearned for a solo career. This happens to talented vocalists quite regularly - see Rod Stewart, for instance. (The question, of course, is whether Paul Jones' talent was enough for him to have a right to his own solo career, of course. But then again, even Roger Daltrey had one).



Year Of Release: 1966
Overall rating = 10

That's the trick - finally start writing original material.


Track listing: 1) Trouble And Tea; 2) Now And Then Thing; 3)Each Other's Company; 4) Box Office Draw; 5) Dealer Dealer; 6) Morning After The Party; 7) Another Kind Of Music; 8) As Long As I Have Lovin'; 9) Autumn Leaves; 10) Superstitious Guy; 11) You're My Girl.

More of the same tendency. The third album finds the band completely revamped, with such important members as Mike Vickers and Paul Jones out and new lead singer Mike D'Abo in (I personally have only known D'Abo previously as the performer of King Herod's part in the original Jesus Christ Superstar - well, there must have been a good reason they didn't entrust him with Judas!). Apparently there was a short period in 1966 when Jack Bruce himself filled in the vacant position of bass guitarist, but if I'm not mistaken, all of the songs captured on As Is already feature Klaus Voorman, his replacement once Jack made the wise decision to jump ship and immortalize himself with the Cream legacy instead.

Nevertheless, As Is was definitely the best Manfred Mann album so far. If Five Faces amply showed how much the band sucked at R'n'B while Mann Made obviously demonstrated that they weren't much better at soul music, As Is pretty much drops all the pretense and completely erases any borders that still existed between Manfred Mann The Commercially Successful Singles Band and Manfred Mann The Seriously Out Of Touch LP Ensemble. Quite true to its name, the album gives us eight compositions, ALL of them self-penned (mostly either by Mike D'Abo or drummer boy Mike Hugg, although Manfred himself does help on a couple of numbers), and practically each and every one of them a potential hit single. Okay, that doesn't necessarily mean a potential good hit single, but remember, when it's unpretentious hook-based pop we're talking about, it's almost always guaranteed to be listenable at the very least.

Predictably, the three exceptions to the rule all suck, and I presume they're only there to serve as a grim reminder of the band's troubled past. Offender number one is the archaic soul relic called 'As Long As I Have Lovin', which at least does an honorable job in that it makes me ashamed of having earlier turned my nose at Paul Jones; next to Mike D'Abo starring as black-faced Motown addict, Paul Jones could have been easily mistaken for Smokey Robinson at the least. Since the musical backbone of such numbers is always secondary to vocal performance, that's what we're supposed to witness - a painfully strained delivery from somebody who tries to compensate for the lack of technique or natural gift through "injections of passion". Well, when it comes to soul music, I'll take passionless technique over techniqueless passion, thank you very much.

Exception number two is the album's only instrumental jazz number (correction: instrumental elevator jazz number) 'Autumn Leaves', whose main point is to prove that yes, you can build a two-minute instrumental composition around an arrangement depending on chimes, chimes, a little bit of piano, and then some more chimes. Please leave this for the soundtrack to a cheesy romantic movie, Manfred, and finally take down that "Where Jazz And Rock Shake Hands!" banner off your pedigree. Finally, exception number three is the pseudo-"folk" ballad 'Now And Then Thing', sort of a cross between Today! era Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel, but ruined with an ultra-sweet, ultra-sickening vocal delivery. If my ears do not deceive me, Mann is introducing the Mellotron here, but unfortunately, all he does with it is faithfully emulate generic Hollywood orchestration. (Even the Moody Blues had the good sense to separate Mellotron use and generic Hollywood orchestration!).

Complaints having been voiced and all, let the good times roll now. The tastes and preferences of Mr Manfred Mann have always seemed a bit questionable to me, even way before he pioneered the art of covering Bruce Springsteen's material; that is why I have little reason to doubt that he really hired Mike D'Abo because he found that mystical little something in his singing that will probably forever remain hidden from me. (Then again, maybe he just liked that cool apostrophe in the name. Or maybe he had a fetish for everybody named 'Mike' - Vickers, Hugg, now this one). But if he did not gain a great vocalist that way, he at least gained a talented songwriter, and with Mike Hugg's capacities on the rise as well, the band finally starts turning out consistently good material.

It's derivative as hell, of course, but then again, so is the entire Nuggets collection. 'Trouble And Tea' opens the album on a riff openly stolen from 'Day Tripper', but that's really only to hook our attention: 'Hey, what ARE these guys doing plundering the best band ever? Oh wait a minute, this ain't that bad...'. Sure it isn't - it's a delightful pop single, with a memorable chorus nicely supported by a proto-Tull flute line. Just two minutes and twelve seconds, of course, but whoever said Manfred Mann songs need be any longer?

Some of the numbers continue milking the 'Tottenham sound' routine: big, loud, dumb, moronically catchy, and ultimately enjoyable and inoffensive, like, for instance, 'Each Other's Company', highlighted with unforgettable lyrical lines such as 'she's my love, she's my life, and soon she'll be my wife', as well as more Mellotron backing (Mann was probably so excited about discovering the instrument that he started shoving it everywhere, regardless of the actual needs). A couple of the songs seem intent to provide us with a Kinks-like "message": 'Box Office Draw' and 'Another Kind Of Music' all deal with the trials and tribulations of The Beginning Artist, torn between Love Of Art and Love Of Money. The former at least is a very nice folksy song. Oh, sorry, that's supposed to be a big "F" in "Folksy" out there, given how active The Overtly Important Instrument Called The Mandolin is out there.

On 'Dealer Dealer' they go for a harsher, more menacing sound, reminiscent of the Animals; catchy, funny, and at least I have to say that D'Abo is ever so slightly more convincing when he tries to pass for a rough R'n'B screamer than when he tries to pass for a slick honey-tongued soulster. But if you really want to find out the best kind of material this band is suitable for, you'll need to hear 'Morning After The Party', a rollickin' barroom blues tune, replete with electric piano, handclaps, drunk vocal harmonies, and every other requirement necessary for a solid "drunk brawl" composition. On a 1 to 10 scale of "convincibility", this is the only song on the album that gets a 9 from me.

The strangest number, then, is the last track ('You're My Girl'), which basically sounds like a potentially normal R'n'B composition that had the luck (unluck?) to be recorded exactly on the "morning after the party", if you know what I mean. Or maybe in the middle of a bad acid trip, although that might be too high an honour. The vocals are distant, somewhere out there, guesting among the stars rather than close to the speakers; the rhythm guitar is syncopated to absurdity, giving full reign to Voorman's bass; and once again, Manfred drags out the chimes to complete the "quizzical" look of the song. In the end, it all comes down to a big question mark, but if you ask me, a question mark is still way better than yet another soulful workout in the vein of 'As Long As I Have Lovin' (I'm Gonna Pretend That I Have Singin' Talent Too)', at least.

The "deluxe" CD edition that I'm reviewing presents the album in both mono and stereo mixes (bah - as if having Mike sing from two different sides makes life any better), as well as adds their hit-of-the-day for that period, Dylan's 'Just Like A Woman', mercilessly shorn of its introduction, second verse, bridge, instrumental section, arrangement, instrumentation, meaning, passion, vitality, mystique, importance, and most other reasons for existence. Still a good cover version, though.



Year Of Release: 1967
Overall rating = 11

Worth it only to know these guys were the first ever band to deconstruct "Satisfaction".

Best song: no idea. MACHINES if you count the bonus tracks

Track listing: 1) I Got You Babe; 2) Bare Hugg; 3) Spirit Feel; 4) Why Should We Not (take 5); 5) L.S.D.; 6) (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction; 7) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; 8) My Generation; 9) Mr.Anello (version 2); 10) Still I'm Sad; 11) Tengo Tango; 12) Brother Jack; 13) The Abominable Snowman; 14) Sack O' Woe; [BONUS TRACKS:] 15) Can't Believe It; 16) Did You Have To Do That; 17) Watermelon Man; 18) What Am I To Do; 19) Let's Go Get Stoned; 20) Tired Of Trying Bored With Lying Scared Of Dying; 21) I Put A Spell On You; 22) Machines; 23) She Needs Company (version 1); 24) Tennessee Waltz; 25) When Will I Be Loved; 26) That's All I Ever Want From You Baby.

Time to give yourself away! For three years now, we've been wondering about the exact location of the Soul of Manfred Mann. Blues covers? Too boring to contain a soul. R'n'B rave-ups? Too artificial to reflect a soul. Pop ditties? Too cutesy to possess any kind of soul older than twelve years. But now the answer is here: the soul of Mann lies in their instrumental reworkings of old classics.

Strictly speaking, Soul Of Mann is a collection rather than... rather than not a collection. It's a collection that collects all sorts of instrumental compositions. Some are old, going as far back as 1964 B.C. (don't you just love world music with a distinct Akkadian flavour?), some are newer, some look like they were recorded specially for the album (a minority). Since, however, the principle that puts them together is strictly objective and purely music-related, I might as well add a review. Particularly for two reasons: (a) this is easily the weirdest, and thus, the most interesting Mann album ever and (b) the recent CD reissue adds a whole bunch of bonus tracks, doubling the length of the album and containing quite a few minor gems, even if none of those are instrumentals.

Now, granted, I won't be stopping too much on discussing the instrumentals already present on Mann's former albums - such as 'Sack O' Woe' or 'The Abominable Snowman'. And I certainly won't be giving the band praise on how fluently and effectively they are conquering the instrumental jazz scene, because they're not. Leave that to Miles Davis. But that's not the point of Soul Of Mann. Not being able to leave a "serious" mark, these boys are instead goofing their silly heads off by taking respectable ideas and screwing them up in a royal manner. They probably didn't make much of it at the time, but the result is that on this album at least, Manfred Mann come across as proto-deconstructivists, practically presaging the era of the Residents!

If you find it hard to believe me, and I don't blame you, take a listen to their treatment of 'Satisfaction'. After just two bars of the classic fuzzy riff, the band suddenly dives into a lengthy lounge jazz passage that has little, if anything, to do with the Rolling Stones - then dive back into the fuzzy riff and out they go again. Then somewhere in the middle there's this wild percussive storm as the band goes 'hey hey hey, that's what I say' and crashes into jazz once more. Not that these sections actually fit together; they don't. The transitions are very crude, almost as if the fuzzy riff was a sample laid over the main jazz melody at a later date. But this is certainly forgivable for 1967; and if you ever cared about the Devo treatment of the song in its "symbolic" function (deconstruction of a popular tune as sort of a bridge between experimental elitism and mass success), you're certainly well advised to seek out the Manfred Mann version.

Even less recognizable is the Mann-ified version of 'My Generation'. Its insane tempo is preserved, to be sure... only transformed from proto-punk mode to bebop mode. Chaotic chimes replace the classic stutter of Roger Daltrey, and a simple brass "chorus" replaces the chanting of 'talkin' bout my generation', while the frantic jazz bassline dances around just as effectively as John Entwistle's used to do (no solo, though). Now I'm not totally sure about the exact recording dates of these tracks, but it might well be that they were laid down sometime in early/mid '66, during Jack Bruce's brief stunt in the band, which might explain not only the unusual bass dexterity, but also the very fact of recording, since in 1966 at least Bruce was obviously ten times as keen on experimentation as all the other Manfred Mann members put together. I might be mistaken, though. It's hard to check your Manfred Mann facts on the Internet today.

Of course, not all of the tunes are that much weirdified, but even when the main melody has been carefully preserved, the interpretation still remains interesting. Listen how them trumpets and saxes are strutting around on 'I Got You Babe' - and if you're alergic on Cher's (or Sonny's) voice, this just might be the right version for you. The oddly-recorded 'Still I'm Sad' will make a great melody for your mobile phone if you have that annoying tendency for using your mobile phone as a means to shock people for miles around. The keyboards almost predate friggin' MIDI music on that one, and, being well acquainted with the original - slow, gloomy, proto-goth - it always cracks me up how they neatly transform it into a speedy hilarious rave-up. Frank Zappa would be proud. And for one last thunderstroke, they even have two minutes of fun with 'Frere Jacques' (!!!), countrifying it by means of a naggin' harmonica.

The bonus tracks are, as usual, very uneven, but apparently they, too, mostly go back to that brief period in mid-'66 when Manfred Mann were almost frighteningly "consistent" as compared to every other limited period of their existence. Everything is still sung by Paul Jones, yet the out-of-touch blues and soul debaucheries of the past are all but gone, replaced by straightforward pop or moments of weirdness. One major exception is 'I Put A Spell On You', which I unexpectedly found myself liking. It's certainly a far cry from Screamin' Jay Hawkins' original or from the far more inspired classic Fogerty cover, but somehow, someway they managed to play it in the right key. Found the right amount of gloominess. Gave a surprisingly twanged edge to Jones' voice. Slapped on some vicious organ. In short, fell upon a brief moment where everything clicked.

But the real treat here, amidst all the innumerable bonuses, is a song called 'Machines'. Essentially, it's just another catchy pop tune, but in order to make the music match the title and lyrics, they set it to one of the most bizarre percussion tracks ever produced in that epoch. With no industrial music in sight and most of the Krautrock scene members still writing term papers on modern classical composers, it's quite hard to imagine just how they managed to get that kind of experimentalism into their five-year plan. It's not just the percussion, either: the bass and the organ also follow strict robotic patterns, creating quite a brutal atmosphere in the process, while Jones is screaming about how the machines 'keep my mind going'.

A true conundrum - next to which, simple, innocent bubblegum songs like 'She Needs Company' are completely neglectable, yet they are by no means offensive or poorly written. In fact, if you ask for my opinion, they're a step up from the unforgivable fluff of the 'Doo Wah Diddy' or 'Sha La La La' level: the lyrics are no more of a revelation, but where 'Doo Wah Diddy' was one hell of an explosive combination of utter aggressive dumbness with a complete lack of humour, these fluffy tufts, at the very least, aren't so keen on making you memorize every single line of each verse and chorus by the mere fact of being exposed to them. They're just... mildly cute. And some of them go beyond that. 'Watermelon Man', for instance. 'Tired Of Trying...' - rocks pretty good for a band that should normally be at the bottom of everybody's "most rock'n'rolliest" bands list. And there's more.

In a certain way, Soul Of Mann is the same for this band as Head would one year later be for the Monkees: a conscious attempt to prove one's validity as a "progressivist" artist. The album title is, of course, misguided: just as Head wasn't the kind of album that could at any time become typical for Nesmith, Jones, & Co., Soul Of Mann was more or less a one-of-a-kind attempt. But then I AM a sucker for "one-of-a-kind" attempts: even when they're obviously awful, they're at least interesting, and sometimes they can be a great chance for an otherwise totally mediocre band (like Manfred Mann!) to break out of the ordinary routine and try on an unpredictable face (like Manfred Mann! like the one on the album sleeve!). That's the case, dear sirs.



Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 10

Apparently they needed the shelter of a soundtrack to brave the waves of Trippiness?


Track listing: 1) Up The Junction (vocal); 2) Sing Songs of Love; 3) Walking Round; 4) Up The Junction (instumental); 5) Love Theme (instrumental); 6) Up The Junction (vocal & instrumental); 7) Just For Me; 8) Love Theme (instrumental); 9) Sheila's Dance; 10) Belgravia; 11) Wailing Horn; 12) I Need Your Love; 13) Up The Junction (vocal); [BONUS TRACK:] 14) Sleepy Hollow.

I have just finished reading a short description of the actual movie for which Manfred Mann wrote this music, and I already don't remember a single thing about it, except for brief outlines of something like a high class London girl moving out into the slum area to get her inner freedom and stuff. (There might have been a romance sub-plot involved, but then again, there might have not - you never can tell with them freaky late Sixties movie directors). There's always the possibility that I'm missing out on a masterpiece, of course, but we'll just have to live with that. The big thing to remember is that Up The Junction was somewhat of a cheap Bohemian/hippie-esque movie for the new generation, and out of all the people on the 1967 musical scene the producers had to turn to Manfred Mann for the soundtrack - this should probably tell you something about film quality. (For comparison, let us not forget that Antonioni got himself the Yardbirds for Blow Up, and whoever was the director of More got himself the Floyd - writing movie soundtracks was not at all beyond the great innovators of the epoch).

Amazingly enough, the music is pretty decent, though. Trying to conform to the movie's tone and attitude, Mann makes a short, wavering step towards Psychedelia, and, at the very least, he doesn't embarrass himself any more than all the hundreds and thousands of contemporary pop bands around the world who had to try out psychedelia because it fit the times rather than the state of their minds. In other words, he borrows the superficial cloak of psychedelic music - echoey production, "giddy" vocal harmonies, tricky song structures, an occasional exotic instrument or two - but doesn't even try to blow your mind in the commonly accepted sense of the expression. And a good thing this is, because an actively pot-smoking Manfred Mann would be even more of a zoological-garden-type sight than an iroquois-sporting Frank Zappa.

As a result, the songs on Up The Junction are quite wonderfully humble and adequate. And seriously scarce, too - in reality, there's only four self-sufficient compositions, with the rest represented by endless variations on the themes, short jazzy jams, and even an occasional minimalistic mood piece or so. Well, a soundtrack is a soundtrack, after all. 'Up The Junction' (the song) is the fullest and best of these, starting out like one of those lazy Saturday-afternoon melancholic ruminations of life before suddenly launching into the far more dynamic, quasi-martial chorus. There's nothing seemingly ironic about the attitude, but nothing fake-sounding either. Kinks-ish in tone, Sgt Pepper-like in execution, a solid exercise in wagon-jumping. Most impressive of all are the vocal harmony arrangements - something that Manfred Mann weren't really well versed in before; now, however, the sly South Africaner must have perceived that you're not to be taken seriously by the artsy crowd unless you've learnt to coordinate your pipes according to the Great Brian Wilson Textbook, and the gamble is paying off well.

The other three songs are excruciatingly short, not more than two and a half minutes each, but are nevertheless quite well rounded. 'Sing Songs Of Love' may be expendable, because there's a bit too much lovey-dovey idealism in it, and the 'sing songs of love, sing songs of love' chorus is puke-level naive unless you don't concentrate on it too much, in which case it makes up for pleasant background music. However, the folksy 'Walking Round' somehow ends up wrapping me around its finger - it begins like a slightly less dissonant Incredible String Band, then switches to its hyper-catchy merry-go-round chorus and finally is over almost in a flash, away and out before it actually runs out of its two basic ideas. Finally, 'Just For Me' must have been written after one too many spins of Pet Sounds, with the same kind of teen-religious atmosphere and harpsichord/chime patterns that are so typical of that album; and as much as the song lacks in inspiration and depth, it almost compensates for that with a lack of pretentiousness and friendliness and warmth of delivery.

It is not quite true to say, however, that Manfred Mann only ventured into psychedelia because they were pressed into it by the movie's subject matter (which they weren't - for all I know, they might as well have stuffed it with a bunch of Dave Clark Five covers, and it would still work). The most psychedelic song on the CD actually happens to be the contemporary single 'Sleepy Hollow', tacked onto the end as a bonus track and having nothing to do with the movie - but sounding as if it really belonged. The whole album has this hypnotic, sleepy vibe to it, and 'Sleepy Hollow' is merely the crowning gem in the coma temple. In a way, it's almost as if these guys did try smoking pot or popping acid once or twice, and, as it happens with those who aren't enthusiastic about their drugs 'n' alcohol, became convinced that a passive, tranquil, beady-eye state is the essence of psychedelia - no astral journeys through green and purple for this bunch of boring gentlemen, crawling inside their 'sleepy hollow' instead and too busy yawning and nodding their heads. Maybe that's why 'Sleepy Hollow' sounds so believable in the first place, with its seductive, trance-like vocals, paralysed flutes, idiot piano trills that never take off from one place, and guitar licks like dispassionate smoke rings circling round the head of the unfortunate pot-smoker-against-his-will.

The only times when the band breaks out of the winter sleep are the jazzy jams, but this is no Soul Of Mann and this time around they haven't bothered to add any kind of special icing to pieces like 'Sheila's Dance' or 'Belgravia', populated mostly by Mann's pianos and chimes doing the tappity-tap thing for love, luck, and camaraderie. They are quite upbeat and pleasant, perfectly fit for some late night jazz special of the "glass of red wine in one hand, remote control in the other one, good night and sleep tight" kind, but much less fit for the ages, if you get my meaning. The first instrumental reworking of 'Up The Junction' is interesting, as they speed the tune up, almost making a danceable romp out of a psychedelic slump, but it lasts for only one minute; the other two are unremarkable, and the gimmick of overdubbing vocal harmonies from the album's three tunes on top of each other does not result in anything positive. And their little avantgardist exercise, 'Wailing Horn', starting out as a jazzy drum solo and ending in one minute of uninterrupted organ feedback (or something) with a "wailing horn" on top, is simply pointless.

Despite all this, Up The Junction still remains one of Manfred Mann's most overall listenable experiences from the mid-Sixties. Nothing on here is geared towards commercial success, and not a single tune attempts to "rock out" or be "soulful". And if it's too short, well, maybe that's more of a blessing in the end than a problem.



Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating = 12

It's only pop'n'slop, but I like it.


Track listing: 1) Happy Families; 2) No Better No Worse; 3) Every Day Another Hair Turns Grey; 4) Country Dancing; 5) It's So Easy Falling; 6) Happy Families; 7) The Mighty Quinn; 8) Big Betty; 9) The Vicar's Daughter; 10) Each And Every Day; 11) Cubist Town; 12) Ha Ha Said The Clown; 13) Harry The One Man Band; 14) Happy Families.

Mike D'Abo is slowly, but steadily gaining respect in my eyes, although he might be just as steadily losing it in the eyes of those who believe him to have been diverting Manfred Mann's attention from the true vocation of this band - that is, to provide blues, jazz, and R'n'B haters with extra gratuitous ammunition. The absolute majority of the songs on Mighty Garvey is self-penned, and the best of these self penned songs all belong to the soon-to-be-Herod-one, even though Mike Hugg's contributions are also worth mentioning.

As you might have guessed, Mighty Garvey is all pure pop. No psychedelic overtones aside from the stylish clothes on the front, and no explicitly pronounced desire to venture in search of strange new sounds anywhere in sight. And, quite predictably, it just happens to be this here pop-loving-sucker-of-a-reviewer's favourite album from the band. See, as much as I detest Manfred Mann and everything they represent, I have no choice but to drop everything and give up when I'm offered with something as fabulously perfect as that 'Mighty Quinn' cover. I can laugh at 'Doo Wah Diddy' for the Mother Goose factor, and I can scoff at their early blues covers for the "Little Joel Spent Too Much Time Listening To Uncle Remus" factor, and, running ahead, I can shout and stomp on 'Blinded By The Light' for the "Treat Springsteen Like Meatloaf And Suck Worse Than Both" factor, but this one here, that's just perfection.

How did they pick that fabulous flute? How could they have tuned the drums that-a-way? How could they have that vocal, so cool and so hilariously 'intellectualised' so that you're almost ready to believe the pigeons and the Eskimos all make sense? How could they get the harmonies just right? Without a shadow of a doubt, this gotta rank up there with 'Mr Tambourine Man' as one of the most appropriate Dylan song reincarnations of all time. Yes, of course, 'Mr Tambourine Man' was a visionary masterpiece for both Bob and the Byrds while 'Mighty Quinn' is a jokey throwaway (no wonder Bob himself hesitated to include it on any of his records until the infamous experiment of Selfportrait gave him a chance to do so). But I daresay that if Shakespeare found it possible to think highly of comedy, so can the rest of us, and in Manfred Mann's hands, 'Mighty Quinn' becomes the 'Mr Tambourine Man' of all jokey throwaways.

And there's more to the album, much more. You gotta love it when the central gimmick consists of having one and the same song played in three different styles - the pompous big rock band style, the sleazy lounge jazz style, and then the semi-drunk family entertainment "country-shape Christmas" style. Provided, of course, that the song is catchy, self-consciously ironic and adequately delivered all three times, all of which 'Happy Families' just happens to be. God bless my soul, I have never witnessed Manfred Mann take themselves that unseriously on a record - and how sad it is that they could only strive for commercial success in the next decade by straightening out their faces until the jaws were sweeping the ground. But for now, the hilarious carnival spirit of 'Happy Families' rules all over the record and makes me suspect that the band was under a serious Harry Nilsson influence or something.

Which is not to say that the album itself is nothing but a piece of clownade, because neither were Nilsson's works. Stuck somewhere near the beginning, for instance, is 'Every Day Another Hair Turns Grey', a wonderful harpsichord-driven Brit-pop classic that I'm sure Ray Davies wouldn't have minded having in his repertoire in the unexpected case of his own songwell running dry. In fact, this is a rather conscious attempt to write a Kinks-style heartbreaking lonely character portrait (although the weeping Mellotrons are probably coming out of the Moody Blues' pockets), and quite a successful one. Sure, do a little bit of comparison and you'll see that the song would still lose because it lacks Ray's gently shaking, occasionally breaking voice, the epitome of humanity and genuine friendliness and everything that's at the same time cuddly and bitter, BUT then again, if you only seek for utter perfection, just how many different things do you expect to find?

And besides, I've only started, haven't I? Let's see now. 'No Better No Worse' is a melange of accordeons, flutes, pianos, Mellotrons, and interlocking vocal harmonies that proves one thing: psychedelia as a self-purpose has fled the field, but its technical achievements have been treasured and re-employed as enthralling art-pop requisites. 'Country Dancing' is, to my knowledge, the first pop tune that openly incorporates Gypsy motives - no, it's not strictly "Gypsy music", but it is a song about Gypsies containing Gypsy elements. Did the Beatles do that? Or Frank Zappa? Chalk one up for Manfred, please, especially since they're always in such desperate need of having some innovation in their CV. 'It's So Easy Falling', beginning like a fine slab of boomin' Spectoresque pop, soon enters a whirlwind of seducing 'round and round and round's - more of those psychedelic relics put to good use again. And 'Each And Every Day', although attempting to drive us back into the mine-trodden field of blue-eyed soul, is fully redeemed by featuring a delicious and highly memorable brass pattern.

The band only slightly exceeds its grasp when we're already knee-deep in the album's second side, so even if you get bored with a couple of those "relatively complex" numbers out there, it will hardly be able to ruin your day. Both 'Cubist Town' and 'Harry The One Man Band' are oddly multi-part combinations of cheery, feel-good anthemics with lonesome melancholy "me and a keyboard" balladry, and although I honestly enjoy the tunes, it sort of feels like they want me to shed tears at parts of them and I can't. But then maybe I'm reading too much into it and the real reason for dissatisfaction is I want more of that vigorous, rhythmic, heartlifting POP sound and they're daring to diversify the approach instead.

The genuine horror of it all is this: fourteen tunes on the album, and not a single duffer. Okay, 'The Vicar's Daughter' is kinda lame and, since we're namedropping and all, no match for Dusty Springfield's 'Son Of A Preacher Man'. But "kinda lame", in this particular context, only means the melody is pedestrian and the lyrics stupid - but maybe that was the original intention - but you know, there are much more worrying calamities in the world, too, like listening to Davy Jones singing 'I Wanna Be Free', for instance. A measly two minutes of pedestrian repose are nothing in the light of the general picture, and the general picture stands so that Mighty Garvey is, indeed, quite mighty.

Yet I'd still not rate it anything higher than a 12, for one simple reason: I'm able to see the perfection behind all this, but I can't discern the genius. Glancing through the long list of my 13's, I keep sighting the little blighter, but for Mighty Garvey, he's either not there at all, or maybe he's taken to the bottle for one little moment. And try as you may, you can't get away from the fact that the best song on the album is still a cover, and a cover is a cover: it wasn't Mike D'Abo or Mike Hugg who wrote those chords or thought of those lyrics. Nor can you deny the already mentioned prevalence of chameleonism - which, granted, isn't a bad thing per se, but only really works when you get to see the individual personality within the chameleon. In 1968, you could do that with the White Album, but hardly with Mighty Garvey. On the other hand, I might just have bad eyesight and miss the goddamn genius. If you see him, then, please point him my way.


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