Friday, 4 March 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #2: "Messin'" - Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Messin'

Here we have a genuine obscurity.

The tale of Manfred Mann's career is a long and convoluted one, so I'll abbreviate it.

He starts playing Jazz in small clubs in England in the early 1960s, gradually moves towards a pop direction and gets signed to a record deal in the wake of the Beatles. has 3 years of hits for EMI then switches to Fontana records for more hits from 1967. He gets sick of playing pop and goes back to a tough, dissonant jazz-rock direction under the name of Manfred Mann Chapter Three for two LPs, then forms Manfred Mann's Earth Band in 1971 and goes global again with a Prog-Rock sound. Phew!

Manfred never really gets his due from the critics. His 60s pop stuff was lightweight fluff; the Chapter Three period was not as technically proficient as King Crimson or Miles Davis; and Earth Band was seen as too "pop". Personally I think more to the point was that he didn't write his own material, or at least not much of it. He's more remembered as an interpreter of other peoples' songs, more than a writer. His cover choices are usually well considered and usually (but not always) expertly arranged, even if he did choose a few dodgy settings on his Moog and get the occasional awful sound from it.

Messin' probably got lost in a flurry of activity in the early 1970s for the band, churning out their first 4 LPs within 6-9 months of each other. It's extremely hard to find a first pressing in good condition these days, and if you do you'll pay over $100 for it.

I found my copy at my school fete when I was in 5th grade. I paid 50 cents for it. I bought it because I recognised the name "Manfred Mann" even though I had no idea what the music would be like. One of the labels had this weird swirl on it, and the opening track was 10 minutes long. I'd never heard of such a thing! A 10 minute song? This has to be heard to be believed!

At the time, the biggest thing to hit my little musical universe was "Brothers In Arms" by Dire Straits. Sure it had long, jamming songs and top notch guitar work, but the "Messin'" LP blew Knopffler and his crew out of the water.

The 10 minute title track, slow burning to begin with, ends with a massive climax. Track 2, "Buddah", again slow to take off, has some beautiful guitar work all through it, climaxing with a wicked drum solo.

"Cloudy Eyes" and "Sadjoy" are beautiful instrumentals with soaring lead guitar lines. "Get Your Rocks Off", a Dylan cover from "The Basement Tapes" is a nice chugging rocker.

Track 6 is where the wheels start getting wobbly. How Manfred thought he could record a version of Chain's "Black and Blue" and think he could improve on it is beyond me. It's an ok attempt, but I'd recommend saving 7 minutes of your life and tracking down the original. This track (due to publishing problems, I guess) didn't appear on the US Copy of the LP (which was retitled "Get Your Rocks Off") - it was replaced with a John Prine cover entitled "Pretty Good". It basically lives up to its title, nothing more.

Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Get Your Rocks Off

The final track "Mardi Gras Day" is more throwaway than anything, making the album a bit uneven overall.

Sure, "Glorified Magnified", "Nightingales and Bombers" and "The Good Earth" are better LPs, but I'll never forget hearing side 1 of this album for the first time and having little 10 year old mind blown. Music at the time (this was 1986 after all) just didn't sound anything like this! It sure as hell didn't sound like the "Do Wah Diddy Diddy"-Manfred Mann stuff that my Dad had in his collection. And it was miles removed from the Neil Diamond records he used to play! "Messin'" had such a major impact on me then. To this day I still love playing the lead guitar part of "Cloudy Eyes" on guitar.

Included below is the full album plus "Pretty Good" from the US version as a bonus track. Sit back and enjoy the ride...

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