Manfred Mann's Earth Band is a British progressive rock group formed in 1971 by Manfred Mann.
History[edit source | edit]Edit
Formation[edit source | edit]Edit
Having started in the 1960s with a British band that had such hits as "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "The Mighty Quinn", then moving on to Jazz Fusion with Manfred Mann Chapter Three, Manfred's third band, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, is still alive and recording. In his 2003 biography, Klaus Voormann, former member of Manfred Mann and Beatles-associate, is alleged to have inspired the Earth Band's name by having suggested several times throughout the 1960s that Mann's soft pop style of those days had to become more "earthier" and rockier, not least of all because of the seemingly effeminate image of Mann's earlier band which had led to a number of close encounters with violence, particularly in Ireland.
The original line-up consisted of Mick Rogers (guitar, vocals), Manfred Mann (organ, synthesizer, vocals), Colin Pattenden (bass guitar) and Chris Slade (drums). In its very earliest stages, the band was simply billed as "Manfred Mann". This did not mean the band was a solo project, but rather a continuation of the earlier 1960s group Manfred Mann of which Mann was a member. This iteration of the group released their first single "Please Mrs. Henry" in 1971, released as "Manfred Mann". Their second single, Randy Newman's "Living Without You," was also released by Manfred Mann in Europe, but by Manfred Mann's Earth Band in the USA, where the track became a minor chart hit. Thereafter, "Manfred Mann's Earth Band" was the band name used on all releases.
The membership of the Earth Band was stable through 1976, during which time they released their first six albums.
Themes[edit source | edit]Edit
The Earth Band combines the stylistic approach of progressive rock with Mann's jazz-influenced Moog synthesizer playing and keen ear for melody. Beside producing own material, a staple of the band's music and live performances from the beginning has been also relying on covers of songs by other modern pop/rock artists, notably Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, in MMEB's progressive rock style.
Mann's interest in English 20th century classical music saw him adapt Gustav Holst's Planets Suite, garnering an unlikely UK hit with a version of the "Jupiter" movement, with lyrics added, entitled Joybringer (included on the 1973 album Solar Fire). Another classical reference was Questions on the 1976 album The Roaring Silence that is based upon the main theme of Franz Schubert's Impromptu in G flat Major. Another classical reference on Solar Fire is in Earth, the Circle, Pt. 1, which uses melody from Claude Debussy's Jimbo's Lullaby.
The title song to 1973's Messin' (written by Mike Hugg and originally recorded by 'Chapter Three' on their unissued third album) , as well as most of the album The Good Earth tapped into ecological concerns, a recurring theme in Mann's music in later years, with The Good Earth giving away a free gift of a piece of land in Wales with each album sold. Like other progrock acts, beside treating environmental issues the band also issued concept albums on space and sci-fi themes (particularly Solar Fire, a minor resurgence of which was seen in the songs "Launching Place" off The Good Earth, and "Starbird", based upon Igor Stravinski's ballet The Firebird, on The Roaring Silence) and a number of their songs featured religious or biblical imagery ("Prayer" on the band's debut album, "Buddah" on Messin', Dylan's "Father of Day, Father of Night" and "In the Beginning, Darkness" on Solar Fire, "The Road to Babylon" and "This Side of Paradise" on The Roaring Silence, "Resurrection" on Angel Station).
Social criticism was tackled throughout the 1970s ("Black and Blue" on Messin' dealt particularly with slavery, and "Chicago Institute" on Watch with mental institutions and science as a mean of social control) a trend which grew throughout the 1980s, with songs such as Lies (through the 80s) on technological progress vs. social setbacks on Chance, and with Mann's growing involvement with the anti-apartheid movement which spawned the 1982 album Somewhere in Afrika. Mann's intention for acknowledgement of oppressed ethnics also influenced the 1992 album Plains Music working with traditional North-American natives material.
Breakthrough.[edit source | edit]Edit
The U.S. breakthrough for the band came in the third week of February 1977, when they charted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light" from the 1976 album The Roaring Silence. Before this hit, Guitarist/Vocalist Mick Rogers had earlier left the band (after the 'Nightingales And Bombers' album of 1975). Chris Thompson (Lead vocals, guitar) and Dave Flett (Lead guitar, backing vocals) had been quickly recruited to replace Rogers for 'The Roaring Silence' (Rogers contributed backing vocals to the album). While the Springsteen original of 'Blinded By The Light' from 1973's Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. has a folky, acoustic sound, the Earth Band's version is driving rock, combining Mann's Moog synthesizer and organ work with Flett's guitar.
The counterpoint at the end of the song, in which Manfred himself can be heard in a rare lead vocal singing opposite Thompson, was the feature that initially attracted him to the song. The band took advantage of the publicity and re-released another Springsteen song, "Spirit in the Night", which the band had covered the previous year on Nightingales & Bombers, originally with Rogers on vocals—although for some territories it was re-recorded for single release with a vocal from Thompson (this extra track appeared on the US version of 'The Roaring Silence' album).
The albums Nightingales & Bombers, The Roaring Silence, and Watch followed in sequence. Watch produced another hit single in "Davy's on the Road Again", and the albums were original despite the dependence on covers of other artists' songs. Nightingales and Bombers took its title from a World War II naturalist's recording of a nightingale singing in a garden as warplanes flew overhead; the recording appears in a track on the album (the US version included an extra track, a cover of Bob Dylan's; 'Quit Your Low Down Ways' sung by Mick Rogers) . The Roaring Silence featured a guest appearance by jazz saxophonist Barbara Thompson, and Watch included two stand-out recordings from the band's live performances of "Davy's on the Road Again" and "Mighty Quinn."
The 1980s[edit source | edit]Edit
Drummer Chris Slade and Dave Flett left before 1979's Angel Station, Flett was replaced by guitarist Steve Waller, sharing the lead vocal duties with Thompson who was also intent on pursuing a solo career. Geoff Britton played Drums on the album but was soon replaced by John Lingwood due to illness.
1980's Chance showed a move towards a more electronic approach, and produced several cuts that were hits in the UK and/or saw significant airplay in both the US and UK. The songs "Lies (All Through The 80's) sung by Thompson," "Stranded," and "For You" (another Springsteen song sung by Thompson) still receive significant airplay over 25 years since their release. Trevor Rabin (also born in South Africa and at the time a session musician in London) guested on the album.
By the late '70s and early '80s Mann had become active in the international anti-apartheid movement and was banned from entering South Africa, the country in which he had been born. Undeterred, members of the band made journeys to South Africa to record African musicians for the album Somewhere in Afrika, pre-figuring Paul Simon's Graceland. The album included a cover of The Police's "Demolition Man" (sung by Steve Waller) and a version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," which remains in the band's set today.
In 1984, the band issued the non-LP single "Runner", a cover of song by Ian Thomas featuring Chris Thompson on lead vocal. It was a top 40 hit in both Canada and the US and was used during ABC's broadcasting of the 1984 Summer Olympics, and was briefly featured in the original version of the film; 'The Philadelphia Experiment'. It was their first hit since "Blinded By The Light" in early 1977 and was the band's final chart single. Post-1984, the band has not charted with newly-recorded material in the UK or in North America, although their newer releases have occasionally appeared on the album charts in several countries in continental Europe.
In 1986, Thompson exited the group, and Mick Rogers returned after an absence of a decade, both however appeared on the album; 'Criminal Tango' that year with Thompson featured lead vocalist, and Rogers lead guitarist/backing vocals,taking a lead vocal on 'Rescue'. . For 1987's Masque album, the band consisted solely of Mann, Rogers, and drummer John Lingwood. Shortly thereafter, the Earth Band name was retired for a number of years.
Recent years[edit source | edit]Edit
Manfred Mann's Earth Band was revived in the early 1990s, and has continued recording, covering tracks by artists as varied as Paul Weller, Robert Cray, Del Amitri, and The Lovin' Spoonful. Mann released a solo project, Plains Music, based on Native American music, and his album 2006 includes collaborations with the German rapper Thomas D and tracks featuring the music of, amongst others, the Super Furry Animals. The Earth Band has had a fluctuating line-up, with Mann the only constant, but they remain active in live performances in Europe, with a line up that currently includes both Manfred Mann and Mick Rogers.
Most of the band's albums have been re-released in recent years and a 4-CD set (Odds & Sods - Mis-takes & Out-takes) featuring many previously unissued versions of tracks was released in August 2005. This includes material from the unreleased (and thought to be lost) Manfred Mann Chapter III Volume 3 album and the first Earth Band album, Stepping Sideways. The fourth CD in the package includes both unreleased studio material and live performances.
December 2006 saw the release of the best-of DVD Unearthed 1973-2005 The Best of Manfred Mann's Earth Band. This features twenty tracks ranging from three recorded in Sweden in 1973 ("Father of Day," "Captain Bobby Stout," and "Black & Blue"), to a 2005 performance of "Mighty Quinn." Also included are animations used during the band's live performances of the late 1970s and early 1980s and promo films including two tracks from the Plains Music album.
In 2007, two separate dance remixes of Bruce Springsteen songs as performed by Manfred Mann's Earth Band entered the Austrian Charts. The first was a remix of "Blinded by the Light", which was credited to Michael Mind featuring Manfred Mann's Earth Band. The second was a remix of "For You", credited to The Disco Boys featuring Manfred Mann's Earth Band. The 1983 Budapest concert, released at the time was made available in DVD format with footage from the show available for the first time - this includes tracks not previously available. 2008 saw the release of the 'Watch' DVD which includes as a bonus footage from a 1979 Austrian concert.
In 2009, vocalist Noel McCalla was replaced by Peter Cox previously best known for his work with Go West. Peter Cox left the band in 2011 due to his extensive commitments with his group Go West. He was replaced by Robert Hart.