Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Songs 196 & 197 - It's TWOsday!

Song #196 of 9999                                                  Song #197 of 9999

Title: Blinded by the Light                                        Title: Blinded by the Light     
Artist: Bruce Springsteen                                         Artist: Manfred Mann's Earth Band
Year: 1973                                                               Year: 1976
Album: Greetings From Asbury Park                       Album: The Roaring Silence

I sometimes find that hearing a cover song before I hear the original makes it impossible for me to truly appreciate the original. At the very least, it takes a while for me to bring fresh ears to the original artist's version. 

Unless you were a true blue Bruce Springsteen fan prior to 1976, you almost assuredly heard Manfred Mann's Earth Band's glossy cover of "Blinded by the Light" first. I remember this song from my pre-teen years for its pulsating organ intro and intense synth patches. I can also remember being struck by how fast the lyrics went by in this time B.R. (Before Rap). Although I didn't really understand the brilliance of the beat poet lyric until I heard Springsteen's casual, rhythmically loose delivery, I could appreciate the funky rhymes. Listening back to the MMEB version 35 years after its release, I like it but I find the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink inclusion of "Chopsticks" and the vocal layering at the end (which I thought was cool as a kid) a little irritating.

I can't say when I first heard the Springsteen version—I was probably in college at least—but I remember it was around the same time I realized he had written the Patti Smith great "Because the Night." I climbed on the Springsteen bandwagon late and, interestingly, the reason I like his "Blinded by the Light" (and the reason I like his early records in general) is the very reason I didn't like him as a kid: the lyric phrasing. I initially found all of these words being stuffed into small spaces to be awkward and off-putting. But somehow, with age I guess, I learned to appreciate just how terrific he is at doing this. He's able to make this conversational style sound effortless in the same way Sinatra is able to make a phrase really swing. It's a unique talent and a high mastery of rhythm that not many pop stars possess (again, B.R.).

So anyway, I like both versions now for different reasons. Which one do you like?


  1. Just to let the cat out of the bag, I was born the year that MMEB released their version, and I didn't actually get to hear theirs until I was in my teenage years on classic rock radio. I was familiar with the band by then - I'd bought a 2nd hand vinyl copy of their early LP "Messin'" (titled "Get Your Rocks Off" in the States, with a slightly amended track listing) for 50 cents when I was 10 and it blew my mind. I slowly purchased other Earth Band vinyl albums, my second was "The Roaring Silence" and again, fell in love with it, especially Track 1, which is shown above (track 2 sucked, so it was a bit of an anti-climax or a record really).

    Of course, my first exposure to Springsteen was with "Born In The USA" being the massive album it was. Of course, purchasing "The Roaring Silence" showed me it was a Springsteen song, so I was curious to know what it was like. I had two uncles who were both massive Springsteen fans, particularly of the first LP. They both decried MMEB's take on the piece and implored me to go and seek out the original. I did that in 1995 and I was mortified - I thought it was awful! I have since grown to appreciate it, but the culture shock of hearing the Asbury Park LP is something I'll never forget.

    Trivia: Earth band recorded three (that I know of) songs from Springsteen's first album - this one, "For You" and "Spirits In The Night" which they recorded twice - one with their original singer in 1975 and then with Chris Thompson in 1976, where they erased the original vocal track and replaced it with one by Chris. I quite like their versions, but the better version of "Spirits..." goes to Bruce. It's a great, loose groovy jam where MMEB add a rigid, stilted groove. "For You" by Bruce is rushed and breathless (probably to mimic the rush of an emergency ward) but MMEB add a lot of space in their arrangement, letting the words of the story breathe, which I quite like...

    Thanks FBF. Great post.

  2. Thanks for the detailed response. I don't think I was quite as repulsed as you upon first hearing the Springsteen version, but I knew I didn't like it. Since then, I've drifted away from progressive rock music as densely orchestrated as the Manfred Mann version so it's kind of natural for me to gravitate toward the original. Actually, I'm surprised at how dated the Springsteen version sounds, though. I think the Born to Run LP still sounds fresh today but Asbury Park really sounds like it's from 1973. Weird. Anyway, I actually think I like them both equally--how's that for a cop-out?

  3. Agree - Born to Run is kinda timeless inasmuch as it sounds like nothing else that was around at the time, therefore it wasn't tied to any of the trends of the day either. It's interesting that you say you have moved away from the heavy arrangements of Manfred Mann because Born to Run is heavily arranged and orchestrated - especially the title track. I think out of the 8 songs on that album the title track is my least favourite, i guess because it is the one that has been overplayed. I much prefer Thunder Road, but then you may be of quite the opposite view for exactly the same reason...