Manfred Mann: Best Of The Fontana Years (1966-1969)
Manfred Mann began in the early/mid-60s as a second-tier British Invasion act, a blend of updated R&B not indistinct from their many peers. That version of the band, fronted by singer Paul Jones, is probably best remembered for the hit "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," though they had a few other notable songs as well, generally coming across like decent-enough cousins of early Kinks and Who. After a few years, Jones was replaced by Mike D'abo; we'll get to that era in a second. Following D'abo's 1969 departure, Mann renamed the act Manfred Mann Chapter Three, releasing a couple albums that were much more jazz and prog-oriented, comparable at times to the Soft Machine, but this iteration is largely forgotten (unjustly, as they had some interesting music). And then, of course, came the long-running Manfred Mann's Earth Band, which retained the prog sound and added some more straightforward hard rock. This band's cover of Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light" is of course an FM staple, but beyond that I can't say I'm much of a fan.
The iteration I love most is the D'abo era, when the band moved to Fontana records and evolved into a colorful British pop band with touches of light pre-psychedelia; shades of Something Else-era Kinks and Emotions-era Pretty Things abound. The big hit from the D'abo years was their cover of Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)," which to me remains the definitive version, sing-along chorus and wonderful tom-rolls. Nearly as great is the joyous "My Name Is Jack," one of those tremendous 60s pop songs that I've always thought should be a classic rock radio staple but somehow remains relatively unknown. And "Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr. James" captures the quaintness of the pre-psychedelic mid-60s UK scene.
Not many other songs quite rise to those levels, but there are some fine examples of under-appreciated British pop to be found. "Box Office Draw" and "Ha! Ha! Said The Clown" and "Fox On The Run" (not the Sweet song) are catchy, fun character studies that even Ray Davies would have to respect; "Everyday Another Hair Turns Gray" calls to mind the understated pop of early Bee Gees and Chad & Jeremy; while the title track from the soundtrack Up The Junction is a gorgeous piece of baroque psychedelia.
This version of the band managed one proper album (1968's odd Mighty Garvey, which weaves random dialog and comedy bits between songs) and one soundtrack, as well as a few great singles; but there are a number of fairly-comprehensive compilations from the era which do a better job of capturing the D'abo years. (The best of these, The Ascent of Mann, includes the stereo versions I prefer and is the most inclusive; but if you prefer mono, the other collections will do.)
Here's "The Mighty Quinn":