An unusual song by an unusual band. Manfred Mann was the keyboard player in Manfred Mann, but it wasn’t his name. Confused yet?
Mann’s real name was Manfred Lubowitz. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa on 21 October 1940, the aspiring jazz pianist moved to the UK in 1961 and took the name Manfred Manne in tribute to the jazz drummer Shelley Manne. He soon dropped the ‘e’.
In 1962 Mann met percussionist Mike Hugg at Butlin’s in Clacton, and they formed a house band that included Graham Bond. Mann and Hugg decided to form a new group known as The Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, with the aim of combining jazz with the new R’n’B sound that was becoming popular. The line-up quickly grew, but they struggled to find a singer until they met Paul Jones.
Jones, originally Paul Pond, had previously performed duets as ‘PP Jones’ with Elmo Lewis. Lewis was in fact Brian Jones. At one point Jones and Keith Richards had asked Jones to be the singer in a new group but he turned them down.
By the end of 1962 the group was known as Manfred Mann & the Manfreds, and were a five-piece which also included Mike Vickers on guitar, saxophone and flute, and Dave Richmond on bass.
The quintet signed with EMI in March 1963 and were assigned to the His Master’s Voice label to work with producer John Burgess, who had produced Adam Faith’s two number 1s, What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960).
Burgess thought they had potential but insisted they make their name snappier and despite Mann’s reluctance, they became Manfred Mann.
The group’s first few singles didn’t chart, but their profile received a huge boost when they were asked to come up with a new theme tune for the ITV music series Ready, Steady, Go! The result, 5-4-3-2-1, rocketed up the charts to number five. Richmond left the band shortly afterwards to be replaced by Jones’ friend Tom McGuinness.
A few singles later, the band opted to cover married couple Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s Do-Wah-Diddy, which had been released in 1963 by US vocal group The Exciters. Together with Phil Spector, they had helped define the girl group sound of the early 60s, and Do-Wah-Diddy was considered a sequel to Da Doo Ron Ron, which had been a huge success for the Crystals. Manfred Man opted to rename their version Do Wah Diddy Diddy, for some reason. It was an odd song choice for a jazz and R’n’B group, but one that paid off well.
Do Wah Diddy Diddy is a strange but memorable mix of bizarre lyrics, sung earnestly by Jones in his best bluesy voice, with an incredibly catchy tune that has stood it in good stead over the years. It suffers next to the recent batch of classic number 1s, but it’s better than some would say, mainly because the tune is one hell of an earworm. Never expect the British public to deny a good song just because the lyrics are gibberish. Comedian Peter Kay certainly has a point about those opening lines though:
‘There she was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Snappin’ her fingers and shufflin’ her feet, singin’ “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”
Taken literally, that’s a very strange image, isn’t it? Yet it’s taken as read that the song is simply about a guy who’s turned on by a girl on the street. Critics point out that Jones’ vocal is out of place in what is essentially a fun track, but I’d argue such passion makes it clear what he’s really singing about. So all in all, no classic, but I can see why it’s stood the test of time.
The success of Do Wah Diddy Diddy meant Manfred Mann moved further away from their original sound for their single releases, covering other girl groups for their 45s and tucking the jazz and R’n’B away on their albums. Two more number 1s would appear over the next few years.
Written by: Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich
Producer: John Burgess
Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 August)
13 August: Peter Anthony Allen at Walton Prison, Liverpool and Gwynne Owen Evans at Strangeways Prison, Manchester were hanged for the murder of John Alan West on 7 April. They were the last executions to take place in the UK.
22 August: Football TV programme Match of the Day began broadcasting on BBC Two, making it the longest-running show of its kind in the world.