“Blinded by the Light” – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (Words/music: Bruce Springsteen, available on The Roaring Silence, Warner Brothers 1976)
During his VH-1 Storytellers’ performance, Bruce Springsteen introduced “Blinded by the Light” as his only number one song and noted the irony that it was someone else’s performance that made it a hit. While I (certainly of a pro-Springsteen bias, so take that for what you will) prefer the original from Springsteen’s debut record Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., Manfred Mann’s version remains the more popular one. Springsteen semi-jokingly attributes the cover’s success to Mann’s skewering of the “deuce” coup to sound more like “douche.” It’s interesting, because I think one area where the cover improves on the original comes in Mann’s clearer vocal delivery. The young Boss was still trying hard to be Bob Dylan, and perhaps dipped a little too much into his rhyming dictionary. Mann’s version makes these lyrics, which are generally nonsensical to begin with, somewhat clearer, which is the only reason that makes me believe that his pronunciation of “deuce” was intentional.
With these dense lyrics, both songs rely on the music to carry the weight. Springsteen’s version feels incredibly loose, letting the beat swing and the saxophone dance around the stage; even though it’s not one of my favorite Springsteen lyrics, it’s clear that he was having fun leading his band. Mann’s cover reverses this, going for a machine-like gloss. Swirling synthesizers replace the strums and saxophones as Mann’s band shifts speeds, playing with a half-time feel in the verse and resuming the beat to move into the chorus. It’s these rhythmic touches that build and release tension over the song’s seven minutes, even playing with the listener’s expectations by dropping down to only a hi-hat and synthesizer (which I hope he paid royalties to Pete Townshend for, since it sounds right out of his arsenal) for the chorus when we might expect it to crescendo to a climax. Ultimately, it comes down to personal taste, and even if I prefer the original, there are elements of the cover that I enjoy as well. Most of all, I’m amused to see how one song lends itself to two diverse versions. I’d be interested to know what Manfred Mann heard in Springsteen’s original that led him to arrange the song the way he arranged it.