Thursday, 28 March 2013

Remake/Remodel #1: Manfred Mann does Springsteen

This is the first of a new ongoing series of posts about covers - remakes, or remodels of songs first written and/or performed by other artists.

First off the bat is South-African born keyboard player Manfred Mann.

Manfred Mann started making a name for himself in the London Jazz scene in the early 1960s, but he formed a pop group and was swept up in the whole British Invasion of the 1960s.

That was all good except, as a jazz performer, he was more used to improvising, or spontaneously creating his music, not actually consciously composing it. The Beatles changed the game and wrote their own hits. Other groups were soon expected to do the same.

Manfred's band did a lot of covers. They were probably most famous for doing Bob Dylan covers, and over the last 50 years of music recordings, he's recorded stacks of Dylan songs. Indeed, Mr Dylan himself has said (in the 1960s sometime) that of all the bands that have recorded his songs, he likes Manfred Mann's the best.

The original pop band went through two incarnations before folding in late 1968. He then formed an avant garde jazz rock band called Manfred Mann Chapter Three for two low selling LPs of original material, before reincarnating once again in a more streamlined Jazz/Progressive Rock quartet called Manfred Mann's Earth Band in 1971. Earth Band is arguably Manfred's most successful incarnation and musically the most satisfying, in my view. They again recorded many Dylan tunes, scattered throughout their voluminous discography.

However, in 1976 they raised the ire of Springsteen fans when they had a hit with "Blinded By The Light". Bruce Springsteen had had a major hit the year before with "Born To Run", but there were a number of fans who were there from the get-go, with some treasuring the first Springsteen album with almost God-like renown. Those who love the "Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J." album hated Earth Band's cover with a passion.

It would probably disturb them to know that the Earth Band actually recorded three of the nine tracks on Bruce's debut. Only "Blinded By The Light" was a hit, and it was a radical recasting of the original to the point where the two versions hardly resemble each other.

The other tracks they attempted were "Spirits in the Night", which they did twice with two different vocalists (the first version with Mick Rogers singing was better) and "For You". The two versions of "Spirits" are identical except for the vocal track and they are very similar to the original. However, it was more rhythmically regimented and lacked the boozy swing of the original.

"For You", on the other hand, slows down the tempo and tightens the arrangement significantly, making more powerful and forceful than the original. Bruce's version, to my ears, sounds like a band playing too fast for its own abilities and that they are falling over themselves trying to keep up. Earth Band's version focuses on the power of the lyric and backs it up with a crunching rhythm that is goose-bump-inducing.

See for yourself and tell me which one you prefer. Here below is the original of "For You" by Bruce Springsteen, and the Earth Band remake.

For me, as much as I liked the original, the remake is my favourite.

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