Having started in the 1960s with a British band that had such hits as "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "The Mighty Quinn", then moving on to Jazz Fusion withManfred Mann Chapter Three, Manfred's third band, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, is still alive and recording. In his 2003 biography, Klaus Voormann, former member of Manfred Mann and Beatles-associate, is alleged to have inspired the Earth Band's name by having suggested several times throughout the 1960s that Mann's soft pop style of those days had to become more "earthier" and rockier, not least of all because of the seemingly effeminate image of Mann's earlier band which had led to a number of close encounters with violence, particularly in Ireland.
The original line-up consisted of Mick Rogers (guitar, vocals), Manfred Mann (organ, synthesizer, vocals), Colin Pattenden (bass guitar) and Chris Slade (drums). In its very earliest stages, the band was simply billed as "Manfred Mann". This did not mean the band was a solo project, but rather a continuation of the earlier 1960s group Manfred Mann of which Mann was a member. This iteration of the group released their first single "Please Mrs. Henry" in 1971, released as "Manfred Mann". Their second single, Randy Newman's "Living Without You," was also released by Manfred Mann in Europe, but by Manfred Mann's Earth Band in the USA, where the track became a minor chart hit. Thereafter, "Manfred Mann's Earth Band" was the band name used on all releases.
The membership of the Earth Band was stable through 1976, during which time they released their first six albums.
The U.S. breakthrough for the band came in the third week of February 1977, when they charted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Bruce Springsteen's "Blinded by the Light" from the 1976 album The Roaring Silence. Before this hit, Guitarist/Vocalist Mick Rogers had earlier left the band (after the 'Nightingales And Bombers' album of 1975). Chris Thompson (Lead vocals, guitar) and Dave Flett (Lead guitar, backing vocals) had been quickly recruited to replace Rogers for 'The Roaring Silence' (Rogers contributed backing vocals to the album). While the Springsteen original of 'Blinded By The Light' from 1973's Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. has a folky, acoustic sound, the Earth Band's version is driving rock, combining Mann's Moog synthesizer and organ work with Flett's guitar.
The counterpoint at the end of the song, in which Manfred himself can be heard in a rare lead vocal singing opposite Thompson, was the feature that initially attracted him to the song. The band took advantage of the publicity and re-released another Springsteen song, "Spirit in the Night", which the band had coveredthe previous year on Nightingales & Bombers, originally with Rogers on vocals—although for some territories it was re-recorded for single release with a vocal from Thompson (this extra track appeared on the US version of 'The Roaring Silence' album).
The albums Nightingales & Bombers, The Roaring Silence, and Watch followed in sequence. Watch produced another hit single in "Davy's on the Road Again", and the albums were original despite the dependence on covers of other artists' songs. Nightingales and Bombers took its title from a World War II naturalist's recording of a nightingale singing in a garden as warplanes flew overhead; the recording appears in a track on the album (the US version included an extra track, a cover of Bob Dylan's; 'Quit Your Low Down Ways' sung by Mick Rogers) . The Roaring Silence featured a guest appearance by jazz saxophonist Barbara Thompson, and Watch included two stand-out recordings from the band's live performances of "Davy's on the Road Again" and "Mighty Quinn."
Drummer Chris Slade and Dave Flett left before 1979's Angel Station, Flett was replaced by guitarist Steve Waller, sharing the lead vocal duties with Thompson who was also intent on pursuing a solo career. Geoff Britton played Drums on the album but was soon replaced by John Lingwood due to illness.
1980's Chance showed a move towards a more electronic approach, and produced several cuts that were hits in the UK and/or saw significant airplay in both the US and UK. The songs "Lies (All Through The 80's) sung by Thompson," "Stranded," and "For You" (another Springsteen song sung by Thompson) still receive significant airplay over 25 years since their release. Trevor Rabin (also born in South Africa and at the time a session musician in London) guested on the album.
By the late '70s and early '80s Mann had become active in the international anti-apartheid movement and was banned from entering South Africa, the country in which he had been born. Undeterred, members of the band made journeys to South Africa to record African musicians for the album Somewhere in Afrika, pre-figuring Paul Simon's Graceland. The album included a cover of The Police's "Demolition Man" (sung by Steve Waller) and a version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," which remains in the band's set today.
In 1984, the band issued the non-LP single "Runner", a cover of song by Ian Thomas featuring Chris Thompson on lead vocal. It was a top 40 hit in both Canada and the US and was used during ABC's broadcasting of the 1984 Summer Olympics, and was briefly featured in the original version of the film; 'The Philadelphia Experiment'. It was their first hit since "Blinded By The Light" in early 1977 and was the band's final chart single. Post-1984, the band has not charted with newly-recorded material in the UK or in North America, although their newer releases have occasionally appeared on the album charts in several countries in continental Europe.
In 1986, Thompson exited the group, and Mick Rogers returned after an absence of a decade, both however appeared on the album; 'Criminal Tango' that year with Thompson featured lead vocalist, and Rogers lead guitarist/backing vocals,taking a lead vocal on 'Rescue'. . For 1987's Masque album, the band consisted solely of Mann, Rogers, and drummer John Lingwood. Shortly thereafter, the Earth Band name was retired for a number of years.