119) Manfred Mann – “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”

Manfred Mann was a Serious Jazz Combo.  Manfred Mann, however, was also a working band trying to make a living in the music business.  With the onset of the British Invasion, former blues, jazz and R&B purists were reaping the benefits of “selling out” with dignity. The Animals had managed to parlay their Geordie bluesmen personas into a stream of hit Brill Building singles without embarrassing themselves. The Rolling Stones were beginning to experiment with adding pop and folk influences to their Willie Dixon covers, inventing in the process a new generation of electric white-boy blues.

Manfred Mann, no less eager to score a hit, chose a somewhat different tack.  Rather than adapt their beloved jazz and blues for a pop audience in a thoughtful and creatively-fulfilling manner, they pandered to the lowest common denominator.  You wanted a pop record? Then they’d give you the most simplistic, patronizing pop record imaginable.  In doing so, they could indulge in the spoils of mainstream success while still maintaining an ironic distance. (If only they weren’t so subtle with those Trojan horse references in “5-4-3-2-1″!)

To top their #11 UK single “Hubble Bubble” and break into the American market, the band selected a fine but undistinguished near-hit by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, originally recorded by girl group The Exciters (“Tell Him”).  “Do Wah Diddy” is essentially a half-baked loaf cobbled together from the crumbs of other, better Barry-Greenwich compositions: a nonsense refrain (“Da Do Ron Ron”); a reference to imminent wedding bells (“Chapel of Love”); lyrics about love at first sight (“Be My Baby” et al.).   But when you’re expected to deliver a new song five days a week, they won’t all be winners.  So it was up to The Exciters to do all the heavy lifting on the original record, in particular lead singer Brenda Reid and her enthrallingly raw vocals.

But as covered by Manfred Mann, under the title “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” (the extra “diddy” stands for “condescension”), all the song’s weaknesses are laid bare.  Where “da do ron ron ron, da do ron ron” was as bright and emphatic as a trumpet’s blare, “do wah diddy diddy, dum diddy do” is just clumsy and puerile.  Meanwhile, Manfred Mann seems to be parodying the very concept of a pop-rock song, from the chintzy organ and plodding tempo to the overdone “whoa-oh-oh-oh” and forced dialect (“I knew we was falling in love”). The Exciters rescued the song through energy and commitment (and, incidentally, used proper grammar).  Manfred Mann’s version just drags.

What makes the record work, as much as it works at all, is its baseline of competence.  Manfred Mann was a band of accomplished musicians.  Barry and Greenwich wrote some of the most transcendent pop songs of the 20th Century.  The bridge, for all its lyrical crimes, is actually a pleasant bit of melody and a much-needed reprieve from the rest of the song’s abrasive schoolyard bounce. Still, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” is a cynical record made by people who should’ve known better.  Worse, its success confirms the most overused argument against the validity of pop music: it’s manufactured with no originality or genuine feeling.  It’s simply music written and performed to cash a paycheck and net a hit. 4

Hit #1 on October 17, 1964; total of 2 weeks at #1
119 of 991 #1’s reviewed; 12.01% through the Hot 100

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2 Comments

Filed under 04, 1964

2 responses to “119) Manfred Mann – “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”

  1. wichita lineman

    I’m very fond of the Exciters’ version – the drums soundtrack the beatnik guy “popping his fingers and shuffling his feet”, and the introduction of castanets add Brenda to the sassy strut down the street. In spite of similar talk of “wedding bells” it’s much more knowing than Da Doo Ron Ron and stands up in its own right.

    Otherwise, well, yes. Is this the first ironic number one? (Does Alley Oop count? At least it was meant to be funny) It’s awful. The organ sound, from the off, sounds sarcastic, and stupid. There were lots of jobbing beat groups around – pop was a job rather than a calling for almost all the Merseybeat acts – but Manfred Mann mix the workman-like with a hatred of pop, somehow cocking a snook at pop-loving kids while skipping self-loathing, and scoring a transatlantic number one in the process. Bastards.

  2. GeorgeL

    Agree with you Wichita Lineman – the Exciters’ version is great! It has taken me decades to realize that this is a really lame record (we “was” falling in love?)! MM would go back to the Girl Group well one more time with “Sha La La” (an old Shirelles song). I really liked some of MM’s Earth Band’s early 70s stuff (“Living Without You” “Please Mrs. Henry”)

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