244. Manfred Mann – Mighty Quinn (1968).

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Valentine’s Day, 1967, and Northampton, the county town of Northamptonshire, is designated as a New town. Prime Minister Harold Wilson hoped it would double in size and population by the year 1980. Ten days later, the scientific world was staggered by the announcement that the year before, astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish at the University of Cambridge had discovered a pulsar for the first time. Two days after that, fire broke out at Shrewsbury Mental Hospital, killing 21 patients.

Manfred Mann were at number 1 that fortnight, for the third and final time, with their best chart-topper, Mighty Quinn. The group’s line-up had changed since Pretty Flamingo in 1966 – Paul Jones had been keen to go solo for some time, and was finally replaced that July with former Band of Angels member and Jones lookalike Mike d’Abo. Bassist Jack Bruce had only been with the band briefly before leaving to form influential rock trio Cream with Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. His replacement was Klaus Voorman, who was close friends with the Beatles from their Hamburg days, and designer of the memorable sleeve of Revolver.

Around this time they left EMI to sign with Fontana Records, and their cover of Bob Dylan’s Just like a Woman made the top ten. As they moved further away from their jazz and R’n’B roots with new album As Is, their singles continued to do very well, with Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr James and Ha Ha Said the Clown both reaching the top five. The latter was their first release of 1967, but despite the early psychedelia of Pretty Flamingo, the year before, they failed to capitalise on the burgeoning hippy movement as they spent much of the time working on their soundtrack album to British film Up the Junction and Mighty Garvey, which turned out to be their final album.

Among the material was Mighty Quinn, another Bob Dylan cover. Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn) was originally a ragged folk-rock number recorded during the sessions with the Band that became known as The Basement Tapes – despite never making it to that album. It would be three years before a version by the song’s author would be released. However Manfred Mann got hold of the song that December, and correctly saw hit potential in the bizarre tale of Quinn the Eskimo, and decided to add suitably psychedelic colour to the bare bones Dylan presented.

Plenty of Dylan’s songs were lyrically obscure in this period, but this throwaway contained some of his most impenetrable words. It is believed to have been inspired by actor Anthony Quinn’s role as an eskimo in 1960 drama The Savage Innocents. Dylan has dismissed it as nothing more than a nursery rhyme, and there’s certainly a flavour of Yellow Submarine in there. Such was Dylan’s power back then, songs he tossed to one side could be made into number 1 singles by the right groups.

It’s fair to say the lyrics don’t really mean anything, and it would be tricky to create a story from them, but we can say that Quinn is some kind of saviour figure – ‘Everybody’s in despair, every girl and boy/But when Quinn the eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna jump for joy’. The final verse suggests the influence of drugs, as ‘Nobody can get no sleep, there’s someone on everyone’s toes/But when Quinn the eskimo gets here, everybody’s gonna wanna doze’. Is Quinn a drug dealer? Hard to say, but one thing I do know is my favourite line is ‘But jumping queues and making haste/Just ain’t my cup of meat’. The idea of Dylan sitting down for a nice cup of roast chicken really tickles me.

Analyse the lyrics all you like, but the reason Mighty Quinn was a number 1 was the killer chorus. It’s a real earworm, and Voorman’s rendtion of the main hook on a flute adds emphasis and a kooky charm. The stuttering drums from drummer Mike Hugg are also very effective. It’s very much a product of its time, but this psychedelic bubblegum pop can’t help raise a smile.

The video above features the band performing on the steps of a large country house, deliberately crap dancing and some nice far-out camera work.

Despite Mighty Quinn begin a resounding success on these shores and in the US, some members of Manfred Mann were growing increasingly disillusioned with how far they had strayed from their roots. D’Abo probably wasn’t among them, as he wrote Handbags and Gladrags for Chris Farlowe and co-wrote Build Me Up Buttercup for the Foundations that same year. After two more top ten singles in 1968 (My Name Is Jack and Fox on the Run) and one in 1969 (Ragamuffin Man), Manfred Mann split up.

Manfred Mann and Hugg were writing advertising jingles together already, and when their band split they formed experimental jazz rockers Manfred Mann Chapter Three as a reaction to the pop they had been churning out. They split in 1971, and Mann formed a new group under his name, which turned into Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, best known these days for their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Blinded by the Light, a top ten hit in 1977. They also released an inferior version of Mighty Quinn, so Mann must have been rather fond of that last number 1.

Guitarist Tom McGuinness formed McGuinness Flint with Hughie Flint, who had a Christmas number two in 1970 with When I’m Dead and Gone. Voorman was rumoured to be McCartney’s replacement on bass in a post-Beatles group. Although it never happened, he did work with Lennon, Harrison and Starr separately, most notably becoming a member of the Plastic Ono Band. He had a cameo in the ill-received live-action Popeye in 1980, and became the producer of German band Trio, who had a hit over here with Da Da Da in 1982.

Manfred Mann briefly reformed in 1983 to celebrate the Marquee Club’s 25th anniversary. Minus Mann, who had set to work with his Earth Band again, they got together again in 1991 for McGuinness’s 50th, and decided to carry on as the Manfreds. Featuring both vocalists, this group continue to this day.

Due to the sheer volume of great acts in the 60s, Manfred Mann are rarely mentioned as up there with the legends, but nonetheless they were an interesting, unique act. Too jazzy to stay a pop group, too pop to be true to their R’n’B roots, they perhaps deserve further investigation.

Written by: Bob Dylan

Producer: Mike Hurst

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 February)

Births:

Comic-book writer Warren Ellis – 16 February 

Deaths

Actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit – 17 February
Director Anthony Asquith – 20 February 

229. Petula Clark – This Is My Song (1967)

1376a1e3ee1b9238b057f177593f5136As winter 1967 drew to a close, Britain’s second Polaris nuclear submarine HMS Renown was launched at Birkenhead on 25 February. The following day, non-league footballer Tony Allden died in a freak accident. While playing for Birmingham-based Highgate United, he was struck by a bolt of lightning. Three other players were also hit, but somehow survived. The day after, Britain’s hopes for entry into the EEC were given support by the Dutch government.  1 March saw the opening of popular concert venue Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Ruling the singles chart, for the first time in six years, was one of the biggest female singers of the decade, Petula Clark. The music scene had changed several times over since Sailor was number 1, but Clark had soldiered on throughout. Her follow-ups, Romeo and My Friend the Sea, entered the top ten later that year. Being multilingual, she had hits in France with Ya Ya Twist and Chariot during 1962. Around this time she was also given the song Un Enfant by Jacques Brel – one of the few artists to have the honour.

By the time we reach 1964, she had moved into soundtracks, having moderate success with A Couteaux Tirés, in which she also starred, and was on This Is Your Life for the first of three appearances. At her home in France she recieved a visit from her composer Tony Hatch. Having recently been to New York, he played Clark some chords from an incomplete song he was working on. She was very keen, and said if he could come up with some lyrics as good as the melody, she’d record it. That song was Downtown. Her most famous track, a sophisticated slice of classic 1960s pop, was a hit all over the world, and reached number 1 in the US, but missed out on the Christmas number 1 here due to I Feel Fine by the Beatles.

She was now an established star in the US, but back at home she had varying degrees of success. However, My Love reached number four in 1965, and I Couldn’t Live Without Your Love was number six in 1966. As 1967 began, fortune smiled on Clark once more,

In 1966, legendary comedian Charlie Chaplin was making A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). Starring Marlon Brando, it was the final film that Chaplin, wrote, directed, produced and scored. However his plan to have Al Jolson singing This Is My Song had hit a snag. Jolson had died in 1950 – a fact Chaplin refused to believe until somebody showed him a photo of his gravestone. Who could replace him? Chaplin remembered that Clark had a house near him in Switzerland. Neither Clark nor Hatch wanted to record it. They understandably found the lyrics simplistic and old-fashioned. To be fair to Chaplin, this was deliberate. The movie was a throwback to the 30s, hence him wanting Jolson to record it. Hatch declined but Clark eventually relented, recording it in English, French, German and Italian. She had asked Chaplin to consider some new English lyrics, but he refused. To her horror, she discovered Pye Records were going to release it as a single. The last thing she expected was to reach number 1.

And nor can you blame her. Poor Clark, she didn’t like either of her number 1s, and neither do I, really. They’re nowhere near the quality of Downtown. Opening with what sound like mandolins, This Is My Song features, like so many other 60s number 1s, members of the Wrecking Crew as the band. Her twin vocals are strong, but combined they’re too warbly. The words are indeed forgettable – the intro rhymes ‘light’ with ‘bright’ and ‘blue’ with ‘you’. The whole thing sounds rather laboured, like nobody’s heart was really in it. It was dated then and is even more so now. It’s a curio really, rarely heard and only famous now because Chaplin was the writer. Also, am I the only person that hears a similarity between this and the 1982 Christmas number 1, Save Your Love?

Interestingly, Harry Secombe recorded a version at the same time, which reached number two in the charts, before Clark overtook him. He had to re-record his singing because he kept bursting into laughter at how bad the lyrics were.

In 1968 Clark and singer Harry Belafonte caused controversy by becoming the first black man and white woman to make physical contact on television, four days after the death of Martin Luther King. For further info, see Sailor further up the page. Also that year she moved back into acting, appearing in Finian’s Rainbow alongside Fred Astaire. She was nominated for a Golden Globe and was Astaire’s final on-screen partner. The following year she appeared alongside Peter O’Toole in Goodbye, Mr Chips. She also ended up singing backing vocals on John Lennon’s debut solo single. Clarke had visited him during a bed-in with Yoko Ono and before long she was among the singers on Plastic Ono Band’s Give Peace a Chance.

In the early-to-mid-70s she had considerable success with her music and TV appearances on both sides of the Atlantic, but by the middle of the decade she scaled back her career to concentrate on her family. Her children urged her to return to the stage, which she had avoided since 1954. In 1981 she starred as Maria Von Trapp in the West End production of The Sound of Music. She was so good in the role, the real-life Von Trapp proclaimed her to be the best version ever. Her theatre work continued throughout the 80s, along with an updated version of Downtown in 1988.

Ten years later Clark was made a CBE, and in 2000 she toured a one-woman show around the globe, performing songs and anecdotes. 2006 saw the transmission of a BBC Four documentary, Petula Clark: Blue Lady, and in 2013 she released the album Lost in You, featuring a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and yet another version of Downtown. Her latest English-language album was 2017’s Living for Today, and only last year she released the French-Canadian album Vu d’ici. Now 86, she shows no signs of slowing down.

Written by: Charlie Chaplin

Producer: Ernie Freeman

Weeks at number 1: 2 (16 February-1 March) 

Births:

Politician Ed Balls – 25 February

Designer Jonathan Ive – 27 February