Double Take: 'Blinded by the Light', by Bruce Springsteen / Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Robert Webb on cover versions
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The Independent Culture

Bruce Springsteen's inaugural album, Greetings from Asbury Park N.J., first made rock'n'roll's front list in 1973, bolstered by record-company claims that Bruce was the new Dylan. Track one on side one is "Blinded by the Light", in which he sketches out a musical theme revisited in the more robust "Born to Run" a couple of years later.

Lyrically, it's as meaningless as pop gets, this side of "Do Wah Diddy Diddy". From the opening couplet, the syllables conspire to confound: "Madman drummers, bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat/ In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat." The lines spill over with ambiguous references to calliopes and curly-wurlies, skullcaps and Scotland Yard. "I was kind of writing anything that came into my mind. That was my style," Springsteen later commented. "I'd write on the bus, I'd write on the subway. It was real kind of stream of consciousness. I was just trying to find a bunch of words that rhymed."

An early champion of the New Jersey rhymer was Allan Clarke of The Hollies. "I discovered Bruce Springsteen a long time before anyone else," he claimed. "I had a set of song demos, and on it were 'Born to Run' and also 'Blinded by the Light'." Clarke recorded a few Springsteen numbers, but it was left to Manfred Mann and his Earth Band to give the Boss his first No1 and establish this neglected nonsense-verse as a progressive-rock classic.

Cut loose like a deuce, Mann follows Springsteen down the crazy paving. A mini-Moog takes charge of Clarence Clemons's saxophone riffs; verses and chorus are transposed, and, at one point, he even quotes from the two-finger piano jingle "Chopsticks".

"I've taken out words; I haven't been very honest to the original at all. I think that's quite important," Mann said.

"Blinded by the Light" was included on the Earth Band's seventh album, The Roaring Silence, and was a hit in 1976, on the heels of their cover of another Asbury Park song, "Spirits in the Night". At the time, Mann was not sure what Springsteen made of it all: "I gather he finds it quite interesting what we've done... I don't know whether he likes it."