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