No. 74: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, ‘Blinded By the Light’ – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
What does a British jazz-blues band know about life on the Jersey shore? Probably not much, but that didn’t stop Manfred Mann’s Earth Band from taking Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘Blinded By the Light’ to No. 1 in 1976 and onto our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list.
The Earth Band was formed in 1971 out of the ashes of the original Manfred Mann band, replacing the original’s garage rock with a more progressive sound that incorporated classical themes. But, like their first band, they weren’t very prolific songwriters, and often had to rely on other writers.
Since Mann frequently covered Bob Dylan (and had a Top 10 hit with ‘The Mighty Quinn’ in 1968), and Springsteen, one of the many “New Dylans” around, had just broken through with ‘Born To Run,’ it made sense that they record one of his songs. By coincidence, Springsteen had played Mann’s ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Sha La La’ in concert previously.
On VH-1’s ‘Storytellers’ in 2005, Springsteen broke down the mystery of the lyrics. The song was a “young musician’s tale, kind of a litany of adventures. It was rather on the autobiographical side” shot through a rhyming dictionary. The “madman drummer” and the “teenage diplomat” in the opening line, for example, were him and original E Street Band drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez. Along the way we hit church dances, meet campus radicals, FBI agents and several loose women, including “little Early-Pearly” who “came by in her curly wurly and asked me if I needed a ride.”
“Don’t overthink the whole thing,” Springsteen warns.
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band took the loose, folksy vibe of the original and gave it a harder edge, adding a lengthy guitar solo, Moog synthesizer and, for some reason, a snippet of the children’s piano lesson, ‘Chopsticks.’ Singer Chris Thompson skipped some verses entirely and, in the chorus, slurred the word “deuce” so that it sounded like “douche.” Springsteen claims this minor difference was the reason for the song’s success after his own recording stiffed as a single in 1973.
Mann’s version of ‘Blinded By the Light’ is the only time a Springsteen song hit No. 1. ‘Dancing in the Dark’ reached No. 2 in the summer of 1984, but was kept out by Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry.’
Watch Manfred Mann Perform ‘Blinded By the Light’