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Manfred Mann: Classic Masters

Will Harris

Manfred Mann

Classic Masters

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2002-07-30
UK Release Date: Available as import

The Classic Masters series from EMI/Capitol can be, in some cases, an excellent way of producing a best-of collection for an artist with very few albums to their credit and, generally, even fewer hits. In virtually every case where the artist already has an existing greatest-hits disc, however, the Classic Masters disc for said artist really has no reason to exist, except to maybe sucker a few completists into making sure they really do have everything that artist has ever released.

It's true for Corey Hart, it's true for the Motels, and, by God, it's true for Manfred Mann as well.

So let us take a moment and examine Manfred Mann's Classic Masters disc from the point of view of content.

It opens, as any good compilation of the band's early years should, with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy". It's a song that everyone and their mother have heard a thousand times over . . . but, of course, that's because it's a classic. Still, it wasn't the band's first significant hit in the UK; that honor goes to "5-4-3-2-1" (also included here), which came about when the band was asked to write a new theme song for the British pop music show, Ready, Steady, Go!

"Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La", which followed "5-4-3-2-1" in success, were actually covers of songs by girl groups: the Exciters and the Shirelles, respectively. "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" topped the charts in the US, and "Sha La La" followed it into the top 20; "Come Tomorrow" and "Pretty Flamingo" were lesser hits for the group. (A cover of Bob Dylan's "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" was also a big hit for the band in the UK.)

Although Love produced the more memorable version of the Bacharach/David composition "My Little Red Book", it was Manfred Mann's version that received Burt's seal of approval, which is why it appears on Rhino Records' box set retrospective of Bacharach material . . . and why Love is nowhere to be seen.

It's interesting to note that, on this disc, the only songs that the band had any hand in composing, "5-4-3-2-1" and "The One in the Middle", are extremely self-promoting, reference the band's name within the lyrics.

Of the collection's twelve tracks, only one, "Sticks and Stones", has never been released in the States before. It even says it in the liner notes: "Previously unissued in the US." This, EMI/Capitol would surely argue, is the big selling point for Manfred Mann fans to buy the Classic Masters disc. The only problem is that, even though the song may never have been issued in the US, it's pretty easy to come by on various UK compilations of the band's material. As such, it's a safe bet that the kind of people who'd buy a disc by a band just to get one song are also the kind of people who'd plunk down the money for one of those pre-existing import compilations, which means they probably already have it by now.

Honestly, there are half a dozen more comprehensive anthologies of the band's work out there, perhaps more, and many of them hover at approximately the same price as this Classic Masters disc. In fact, EMI themselves put out a disc in 1992 entitled The Best of Manfred Mann: The Definitive Collection, with 25 tracks plus an 11-minute interview with the band.

The Manfred Mann story continued well beyond their days with EMI/Capitol, of course, and the band's sound expanded far beyond the blues-based rock of the early years. If you're looking for a few companion pieces to Classic Masters, your best bets will be Chapter Two: The Best of the Fontana Years, which includes "The Mighty Quinn"), and 1999's The Best of Manfred Mann's Earth Band (which has "Blinded By The Light").

If you don't have any Manfred Mann in your collection at all and you spot this Classic Masters disc on sale somewhere for a nice price, you could certainly do worse. Just don't forget that, equally, you could do a whole lot better . . . and you wouldn't even have to leave the EMI/Capitol catalog of releases to do it.

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