Thursday, May 17, 2007

“Doo Wah Diddy” / Manfred Mann

MAY IS BRITISH INVASION MONTH!

What WERE those lyrics? I couldn’t believe this song when I first it on the radio in mid-1964. Two measures of crunchy guitars and whomping drums, then it screeches to a halt for Paul Jones’ slovenly blues vocal to blurt out: “There she was, just a-walking down the street / Singing ‘Doo-wah-diddy, diddy-dum, diddy-doo’ / Tapping her fingers and a-shuffling her feet / Singing ‘Doo-wah-diddy, diddy-dum, diddy-doo.’” The back-up vocals chime in for the “Doo-wah diddies,” sounding raucous and sloppy, with jittery organ chords underneath. Whoever these Manfred Mann guys were, I could not deny the rawness and energy of this track, and its rocking sense of humor. I had to run right out and buy the single.

My favorite part is how it goes a cappella for that seesaw call and response between the back-ups and the lead: “She looked good / [Looked good] / She looked fine / [Looked fine] / She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind,” not to mention that jungle pounding on the drums every time the back-ups do their bit. Even better is the third version of this chorus: “Well I’m here / [I’m hers] / She’s mine / [She’s mine] / I’m hers, she’s mine, wedding bells are gonna chime.” Who cares if the rhymes are simple-minded? Jones sounds like he’s squirming with happiness, and it’s pretty hard not to get infected with that delirious joy.

Well, there is a narrative. In the second verse, he tell us, “Before I knew it, she was walking next to me” (singing doo-wah diddy etc., naturally), “holding my hand, just as natural as can be.” No long drawn-out courtship here; there’s a sexual revolution in progress, and this couple sees no reason to take things slow. “We walked on / [Walked on] / To my door / [My door] / We walked on to my door and we kissed a little more.” And in the third verse, “Now we’re together nearly every single day.” She’s still singing doo-wah-diddy constantly, but apparently it doesn’t get on his nerves. It MUST be love.

A primitive electric guitar riffs leads off the bridge, but what it’s really about is Paul Jones’ voice, howling and diving all over the joint: “Oh-oh oh-oo I knew we was falling in love / yes I did, so I told her all the things I was dreaming of.” And what things IS he dreaming of? Oh, come on, you know. (Actually I didn’t, not in 1964, but that didn’t stop me from getting the subtext.)

Very few British bands of that era had the musical range of Manfred Mann; these guys could go from jazz to blues to bossa nova without a hitch. But they were shrewd enough to launch themselves with a stripped-down rocker – not only that, but a stripped-down rocker with an unforgettable hook. It worked. It worked so well that they made their follow-up single the equally bouncy “Sha-La-La,” where once again, the guy gets the girl right away. (“Sha-la-la, say you love me too / Sha-la-la my love is true / We’ll spend our lives together / We’ll be happy forever.”) I bought that one too.

I had no idea there were TWO musicians in Manfred Mann who wore glasses (Tom McGuinness and Manfred Mann himself). I had no idea that Klaus Voormann (a.k.a. the guy who drew the Revolver cover) would later join Manfred Mann. All I knew was that these were two great singles. I still can’t hear them without being transported back to 1964. Need a time machine? Try Manfred Mann.

Doo-Wah-Diddy sample

9 comments:

Richard Sambrook said...

The Manfreds were great Holly. 54321 was their big hit in the UK. But they could do fantastic R&B covers too - like You don't Know Me, Stormy Monday, Since I DOnt have You....Try their early album Mann Made.

Ton said...

Well, Doo Wah Diddy may be a great British Invasion icon of a song, but the (american) original is far better. It's by The Exciters, the only girlgroup with a man in their midst. A great Greenwich/Barry tune with a touch of pre-dated Spectora and a lot of handclaps. So the 'she' in the song is in fact a 'he' in the orginal version sung by leadsinger Brenda Reid. Puts the whole thing in a totally different perspective.
Manfred Mann was not the only one who kept his eye on the Leiber/Stoller/Greenwhich/Barry recordlabel Red Bird, for which the Exciters recorded. So did the Moodies, who did a mediocre (but hitwise very succesful) version of Bessie Banks impressive 'Go Now'. IMHO.

Holly A Hughes said...

I know the Exciters' "Tell Him", another excellent track. I now know that Barry/Greenwich wrote a lot of great tunes back then -- it's ironic to me that I had to hear them first from British bands, but there's the 60s for you.

"Sha La La" was lifted from an American girl group, the Shirelles; MM also did a verison of Goffin/King's "Oh No Not My Baby," which had been recorded by Maxine Brown and also Kim Weston. Personally I like the way these guys do all these songs, but maybe it's a question of which versions I grew up with.

Holly A Hughes said...

Richard, wasn't 5-4-3-2-1 the theme for Tops of The Pops? I'm sure that gives UK listeners a powerful extra dimension to that song.

I love the way the Manfreds do "I Put A Spell on You" as well, though for me the Alan Price Set version is the definitive one.

g12 said...

no, 54321 was the theme tune to Ready Steady Go! - TOTP lasted a lot longer.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, American Bandstand lasted a lot longer than Shindig over here -- but I know which one I feel more nostalgic about!!

Richard Sambrook said...

Ready Steady Go - 54321 with film of bobsleighing if I remember correctly?

Iñakink said...

Yeah, Manfred Mann are great. I have to admit that unlike you I didn't like this song when I first heard it. It took me a bit longer to appreciate it, but now I do and I think it's brilliant.

Ron Kane said...

Please please please - try and hear the Manfreds (Mk II) albums, like "As Is" and "The Mighty Garvey"!