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Jul 06

MANFRED MANN – “Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)”

FT + Popular37 comments • 8,361 views

#244, 17th February 1968

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.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Jack Fear on 26 Jul 2006 #

    You just *had* to work “freewheeling” in there, dincha.

  2. 2
    Doctor Casino on 27 Jul 2006 #

    How funny, I was just listening to this song earlier today. It’s wonderful, of course, and has a HUGENESS all out of proportion to its arrangement (it’s the way the drums crash back in on the first line of the chorus, and the high harmony behind the lead vocal) which probably explains why nobody can believe it’s Dylan when they find out. I could really do without the ad-libby “We’re singin’ a song! Here he comes now!” additions towards the end though…

    I wonder – how many other number ones have really featured such pure nonsense as lyrics? Not “Doo Wah Diddy” type nonsense – but pure rambling Dylanism? Did this glide by on people reading it as “deep, maaan” – Quinn as Christ figure, drug dealer (“everybody gonna wanna dose”)? It’s a heck of a tune with a great hook, but hands up, does anybody relate to this song?

  3. 3
    Tom on 27 Jul 2006 #

    I would guess at the time a lot of people tried to ‘work it out’ – Dylan had been a recluse for over a year, so dispatches from him were hardly common. The Wikipedia page for the song touches on a couple of possible ‘explanations’ before owning up to the Anthony Quinn connection.

  4. 4
    Chris Brown on 27 Jul 2006 #

    I remember (not from the time, obviously) someone stretching the eskimo/snow analogy. I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard the Dylan version myself.
    It strikes me that John Lennon’s part of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ is cribbed from this, although he’d surely have had a copy of the Basement Tapes.

    Perhaps this is a sort of precursor to Manfred Mann’s Earthband and their motley selection of covers. Better than anything they did, though.

  5. 5
    Intothefireuk on 28 Jul 2006 #

    I too recall this as a child friendly hit. Just like Ha Ha Said The Clown before it and My Name Is Jack after it the Mann seem to have stumbled upon a rich seam of mildly psychedelic nursery rhymes with flute to the fore (a later element of prog). Soon to be ‘enhanced’ and extended instrumentally by the Earthband (I think Blinded By The Light is just as good if not better). Bring back nonsense lyrics !

  6. 6
    Erithian on 28 Jul 2006 #

    And Blinded By The Light, if you didn’t know, was a cover of a Springsteen song from his early “New Dylan” phase – which brings us full circle!

  7. 7
    Doctor Mod on 31 Jul 2006 #

    Hey there! See what happens when I go away for six weeks! The new site is fabulous, and it looks as if I have a lot to catch up on. I’ll try to make some responses in the coming days.

    I like the added visuals. I’d never have made the connection regarding “Quinn”–I’m surprised I’d never heard of this film as my family rather liked that sort of thing–otherwise.

    I’m trying to recall if I ever heard anyone claim any sort of meaning for this song–can’t recall ever figuring it out. (I thought the line was “everybody’s gonna wanta doze”–guess I was quite innocent then, really.) But it was great fun, and one of my favorite Manfreds recordings before the Earthband era, which I think, in retrospect, was really the best period for the band–even if few of the originals remained by then.

    Looking back at the psychedelic era now, I think the lack of any determinate meaning was part of the appeal–and how many of us who spent hours trying to impose some sort of meaning on these lyrics didn’t end up studying literature at the university as a result. And now the middle-aged English professor (c’est moi) looks at these lyrics and thinks it really doesn’t matter–in this case, that heavy-handed thing called meaning was probably beside the point all along.

  8. 8
    alex on 2 Aug 2006 #

    c.f. Susan Sontag ‘Against Interpretation’… I was reading about this yesterday preparing for a lecture and it really made me want to read it again. In fact I will try and find it at the back of the cupboard in my office RIGHT NOW!

  9. 9
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 2 Aug 2006 #

    i hope your lecture is on MANFRED MANN alex

  10. 10
    alex on 2 Aug 2006 #

    if only.

  11. 11
    Brian on 2 Aug 2006 #

    ‘ There she was just talking to her peeps”

    singing…..

  12. 12
    Doctor Casino on 3 Aug 2006 #

    I actually have no idea whether it’s “dose” or “doze” – “doze” always made sense to me (“nobody can get no sleep”), but then I got into this surprisingly long argument with my lover at the time. She insisted it had to be “dose,” basically because she thought it was cooler that way. I resisted, but quietly changed my mind years later, since, so long as I’m reading too much into a goofy Eskimo song, I may as well go all the way, right? It was the sixties!

  13. 13
    Doctor Mod on 3 Aug 2006 #

    Susan Songtag? Indeed! I verily believe this is the first time SHE has been mentioned on this blog. (I’m afraid I had too large a “dose” of Susan Sontag thanks to an ex-lover who worshiped her.) By and large, I’m entirely in favour of interpretation–the more the merrier. We can all interpret this song as much and in as many ways as we want, and we’ll never find the meaning. (Bet Dylan can’t remember what it means.) And that is all well and good, because we can just keep on interpreting it all over again and contradict ourselves if we want to and that’s the joy of interpretation for interpretation’s sake. WOO-HOO!

    My latest interpretation of the song is that it really is about that Anthony Quinn film after all.

    Which is, perhaps, the reason for building all those ships and boats. A good way to leave those Arctic climes behind.

  14. 14
    koganbot on 13 Aug 2006 #

    I’m just curious: have any of you seen the Quinn film? I saw the beginning about 25 years ago on TV but then had to go somewhere. Seeing as it was directed by Nicholas Ray, I doubt that it had a whole lot of jumping for joy.

  15. 15
    blount on 14 Aug 2006 #

    yeah the nicholas ray credit jumped out at me too – this + that jacket on freewheelin = dylan clearly a ray fan

  16. 16

    […] Qui la storia completa in una serie di post con un bizzarr riferimento a Susan Sontag sulla liceità e i limi dell’interpretazione. Grazie a Michele Murino (www.maggiefarm.com) per avermi chiarito che anche i Crazy Boy (ma chi diavolo erano ? ) hanno inciso “L’esquimese.” […]

  17. 17

    […] Qui la storia completa in una serie di post, con un bizzarro riferimento a Susan Sontag sulla liceità e i limiti delle interpretazioni. Grazie a Michele Murino (www.maggiefarm.com) per avermi chiarito che anche i Crazy Boy (ma chi diavolo erano ? ) hanno inciso “L’esquimese.” […]

  18. 18
    shoogie on 27 Sep 2006 #

    Obviously Quinn is a drug dealer. For example according to the lyrics:

    “I like to do just like the rest, I like my sugar sweet.But guarding fumes and making haste,It ain’t my cup of meat.”

    Means he likes getting high like everyone else but hiding the pot fumes so that no one smells it out in an open space or else just splitting when the cops come around isn’t the way he rolls. Also:

    “Just tell me where it hurts yuh, honey,
    And I’ll tell you who to call.
    Nobody can get no sleep,
    There’s someone on ev’ryone’s toes
    But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here,
    Ev’rybody’s gonna wanna doze.”

    Obviously means whatever kind of high suits your fancy he’ll tell you who to call [he knows where to get anything you want]. And No one can sleep before Quinn gets there! Of course not! did you ever try to sleep coming down off coke or acid and people get really irritable when they’re coming down!

    But when Quinn gets there everybody’s gonna wanna doze?? He’s got the downers! Haha its hilarious that people think this is a cute little kids song.

  19. 19
    blount on 27 Sep 2006 #

    um, obviously quinn is an ESKIMO!

  20. 20
    shoogie on 28 Sep 2006 #

    whatevah!

  21. 21
    joel on 30 Oct 2006 #

    Did Manfred Mann release Quinn the eskimo on an album or just on 45?

  22. 22
    Marcello Carlin on 30 Oct 2006 #

    It appears on their 1968 album Mighty Garvey!. 28 tracks, and a particularly undervalued example of British psych-pop.

  23. 23
    Doctor Casino on 28 May 2007 #

    But guarding fumes and making haste

    You’re almost certainly taking the piss with this one, and if so I applaud that – but just in case there’s any confusion, the line is “But jumping queues…”

  24. 24
    jfsebastian on 21 Dec 2007 #

    I’ve just been watching Milos Forman’s “Taking Off” (1971) and a character within the film uses the phrase “the Mighty Quinn” in an unambiguous and direct reference to the consumption of LSD.
    Nothing about Eskimos.

  25. 25
    Hit Mann on 23 Oct 2008 #

    I wonder if The Manfred Mann has done a different
    version to US market? More like a bubblegum version.
    I have heard this version, and I`m positive that it
    is made by The Manfred Mann, but I haven`t found that
    version from their `Best of` – collections.
    Anybody knows about this?

  26. 26
    Mark G on 24 Oct 2008 #

    Gary Puckett & The Union Gap also recorded this song in 1968. The Brothers and the Sisters recorded a gospel version. A live version by the Grateful Dead was released in 2000 on Dick’s Picks, Volume 17, from a 1991 performance in Boston. Another live version by Phish was released in 1999 on Hampton Comes Alive, which was recorded on November 20 & 21, 1998 in Hampton, Virginia.

  27. 27
    Hit Mann on 27 May 2009 #

    Does anybody know about the BBC `Top of The Pops` radio show version
    of `The Mighty Quinn` made by The Manfred Mann? I have heard it, it
    is the best, but I `haven`t found out how to get it.

  28. 28
    Jesse F on 28 Jun 2009 #

    This sounds exactly like Cornershop!

  29. 29
    Dan R on 8 Sep 2009 #

    I wish it had been Lady Madonna, but this was the number 1 when I was born. It’s never seemed to me one of Dylan’s better songs, coldly riddling, rather than allusive and mercurial. He could write these songs in minutes and, if you listen to the most extended bootlegs of the Basement Tapes, he did.

  30. 30
    Waldo on 6 Nov 2009 #

    Much preferred “Ha Ha Said The Clown” and “My Name Is Jack” (which it is!) but Quinn the Inuit, as we must now call him in order to prevent a visit from PC Plod and a nicking for hate crimes, was a more than adequate kiddie singalong. It eventually became clear to me that the mighty one was just another seller of the dream who does his rounds just like the winkle man. And everybody jumps for joy. And all the pigeons run to him. But who cares? This is typical Bobby Zimmerman sustenance served up very skillfully by the Manfreds and sung heartily by children like me and by young adults of the Del Boy generation.

  31. 31
    lonepilgrim on 6 Nov 2009 #

    Listening to this the other day made me wonder if it was bob trying to do something like Yellow Submarine – a jaunty shaggy dog story (as Tom quite rightly calls it) I remember singing along to both songs as a child – and not worrying what the lyrics meant. I still don’t care.

    According to Wikipedia Inuits are a subset of Eskimos, so no need to worry Waldo

  32. 32
    Waldo on 7 Nov 2009 #

    lonepilgrim, I am grateful.

  33. 33
    Sam on 13 Sep 2010 #

    Another hit that caught the imagination of the terraces – Leicester City fans adapted it in tribute to Mike Stringfellow, ‘the Mighty String’.

  34. 34
    Billy Smart on 21 Mar 2011 #

    One of the Manfreds’ greatest singles;

    http://drunkennessofthingsbeingvarious.blogspot.com/2011/03/manfred-mann-semi-detached-suburban-mr.html

  35. 35
    hectorthebat on 7 May 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 18
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 721
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  36. 36
    flahr on 13 Oct 2016 #

    This seems like the appropriate place to mark today’s exciting pop news (either here or “It’s All In The Game”). Seems well-deserved to me.

    Murakami should fake a health scare to make them give it him next year.

  37. 37
    enitharmon on 18 Oct 2016 #

    Flahr: I’m late to the party here (I’ve spent most of the last week either in the belly of an armadillo, stripping a drunken willow or catching up on sleep) but Mr Tambourine Man would be the place, surely?

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