Beginning a hot streak for mentalist bubblegum hits: I always think of this one as a children’s song, because I heard it when I was 7 or 8 and thought it was enchanting, mysterious and funny. As a grown-up I was surprised to learn it was a Bob Dylan number – of course Dylan’s own version isn’t so surprising, as the man always did a roaring trade in shaggy-dog stories. I shouldn’t be surprised either that it makes the transition to pop so well – the Basement Tape songs strike me as an attempt to make aspects of folk (tradition, allusion, intimacy) and pop (hooks, disposability, surface impact) fold into one another in a more interesting way than just doing shiny covers of old tunes. (They’re also an attempt to have some fun on holiday, of course).
This is Manfred Mann’s best number one, free of the overplayed sneering of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” – maybe this nonsense struck more of a chord with them than that nonsense did, or they were suckered into thinking that this nonsense wasn’t, but they sound like they’re enjoying the party at least. What makes the record good though are the flute breaks and the rolling, staggering rhythm, which well suits the freewheeling invention of the lyric.