After being signed by a talent-hungry HMV Records and following one unsuccessful instrumental record, Manfred Mann made an impression with the non-charting EP, "Cock-A-Hoop". The prominent use of Jones' harmonica gave them a distinct sound and they soon became one of Britain's leading groups. Two of their singles were used as the theme music to the pioneering British television music program, Ready Steady Go!. Another early release called, "5-4-3-2-1" provided their breakthrough Top 10 hit in early 1964. By the Summer, the group registered a number one record on both sides of the Atlantic with the catchy "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", a cover of The Exciters' #78 Hot 100 hit earlier that year.
Over the next two years they charted regularly in the UK with memorable hits such as "Sha La La", "Come Tomorrow", "Oh No, Not My Baby" and Bob Dylan's "If You Got To Go, Go Now". Their non-single album cuts were mostly Jazz, Soul and R&B covers, not Pop tunes. In May 1966, they returned to the number one spot on the British charts with the sublime "Pretty Flamingo", which topped out at #29 in America. It was to prove the last major hit on which Paul Jones appeared. When Jones left the band in 1966 to pursue a solo career, he was replaced with former Band Of Angels singer Mike D'Abo, who won the final audition over Rod Stewart. Mike Vickers had previously departed for a lucrative career as a television composer, and was replaced by future Cream member, Jack Bruce on bass, allowing Tom McGuinness to move to lead guitar. Later, Henry Lowther (trumpet) and Lyn Dobson (saxophone) were added to the line-up, and Klaus Voorman replaced Jack Bruce on bass. D'Abo's debut with the group was another hit rendering of a Dylan song, "Just Like A Woman", their first for the Fontana label. He fitted in astonishingly well with the group, surprising many critics by maintaining their hit formula despite the departure of the charismatic Jones. Both "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. Jones" and "Ha! Ha! Said The Clown" were formidable Top 5 hits in Britain, but went largely un-noticed in the US.
Along with the American band, The Byrds, the group were generally regarded as the best interpreters of Bob Dylan's material, a view endorsed by the songwriter himself. This point was punctuated in 1968 when Manfred Mann registered their third number one hit with the striking reading of his "Mighty Quinn", their only US Top 10 single. While the band's follow-ups could barely make the national record charts in the States, they ended the '60s with a flurry of Top 10 hits in England, "My Name Is Jack", "Fox On The Run" and "Raggamuffin Man", before abdicating their Pop crown in favor of a heavier approach. In 1969 Manfred Mann finally disbanded his eponymous group for good. D'Abo went on to appear in US productions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, and later became a session musician, songwriter and BBC radio host.
Meanwhile, Mann formed a new Jazz-Rock group called Manfred Mann Chapter Three. They quickly evolved into the Manfred Mann's Earth Band, a synth-driven Rock 'n' Roll band which scored a US #1 hit in early 1977 with a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light", popularizing the then unknown singer-songwriter. For many years, the majority of original band members performed regularly as The Manfreds, because without Manfred Mann, they could not use the original name. In his place they recruited Benny Gallagher (bass/vocals) and ex-Family drummer Rob Townsend. Jones and D'Abo performed side by side sharing the spotlight, although Jones' ultimately more pushy personality made him the star of the show. Mann himself continued to perform and embarked on a career as a producer and songwriter. He also released recordings designated as solo projects, usually under the title Manfred Mann's Plain Music.
Eventually, Manfred Mann's Earth Band reunited and in 1996 their long awaited new album, "Soft Vengeance" was released. The group embarked on an extensive European tour that kept them on the road through the rest of 1996 and most of 1997. From this tour, many of the concerts were recorded for the definitive live album "Mann Alive", which was released in 1998. The band continued to tour extensively throughout Europe, taking in countries such as Russia and Greece in 2000.
Most of the band's albums have been re-issued in recent years and a 4-CD set called "Odds & Sods - Mis-takes & Out-takes" featuring many previously un-released versions was issued in August 2005. December 2006 saw the release of "Unearthed 1973-2005 The Best of Manfred Mann's Earth Band". In 2007, Manfred Mann's Earth Band made the Austrian charts with two dance tracks. The first was a remix of "Blinded by the Light", credited to Michael Mind featuring Manfred Mann's Earth Band and the second was a remix of "For You", credited to The Disco Boys featuring Manfred Mann's Earth Band. 2008 saw the release of a DVD called "Watch", which included bonus footage from a 1979 Austrian concert.
In 2009, vocalist Noel McCalla was replaced by Peter Cox, previously best known for his work with the English pop duo Go West. Cox left the band in 2011 to return to Go West. He was replaced by vocalist Robert Hart for a heavy 2012 touring schedule throughout Europe. The album, "Lone Arranger", which featured various guest musicians, including Kris Kristofferson, Till Bronner and Mick Rogers was released in the Fall of 2014. 2017 saw them touring Germany, Norway and Switzerland. In 2018 they still maintained a busy schedule of dates in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the UK.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Manfred Mann