Do Wah Diddy Diddy
In 1963, Brill Building songwriters Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich wrote Da Doo Run Run, which was recorded by The Crystals. The title phrase was never intended to be a part of the song. It was meant as space filler until she and Barry could come up with a real line to follow the tune's opening lyric: I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still. "We got all the rest of the words and music together, but we couldn't find anything for this nonsense phrase," Greenwich said in 2005. "Believe me, it doesn't mean a thing." (1)
When the songwriting duo was asked to write a follow-up song for The Exciters who had just landed at # 4 on the chart with Tell Him, they developed another song in the same vein as Da Doo Run Run.
They wrote the first line of the song There she was just a walkin' down the street and filled in the second line with what Greenwich imagined a young girl skipping down a street would sing, Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do. Not exactly Shakespeare but a catchy enough hook that would stick in your mind.
The Exciters recorded the song and released it in early 1964. It reached a disappointing # 78 on the chart. Frustrated and blaming the poor showing on the label United Artists, Barry and Greenwich decided to record the song themselves as The Raindrops, who charted in 1963 with The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget. “We really believed in that song (Do Wah Diddy Diddy),” Ellie said. (2) The duo just finished recording it when word reached them that another band had already recorded and shipped the song. The group was Manfred Mann.
Michael Lubowitz was born in 1941 in Johannesburg and studied music at the Vienna State Academy in Austria and the Jullliard School of Music in New York. After a move to England in 1962, he met drummer Mike Hugg and guitarist Mike Vickers and they formed the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers playing in clubs in the south of England.
They signed a contract with HMV Records as Manfred Mann And The Manfreds and, as Manfred Mann, released a single Why Should We Not? With Lubowitz at the keyboards and calling himself Manfred Mann, the group added Tom McGuiness (bassist) and lead singer Paul Jones, and after three singles that failed to chart, the group scored a # 5 hit on British chart with 5-4-3-2-1, which was adopted as the theme song for the British pop music TV series Ready Steady Go.
L-R: Tom McGuinness, Paul Jones, Manfred Mann, Mike Hugg, Mike Vickers
Though the group wrote the theme song for the TV show, they looked for outside help for future hits. “We weren’t great songwriters and we knew we had to have great songs. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks all had wonderful, original songs, but we succeeded through a sense of judgment,” Mann stated. (3)
Luck and the extensive record collection by Jones led to their first worldwide hit. “We were working our way through my record collection,” Jones said. “I always had something that we ought to do. I loved the Exciters’ version of Do Wah Diddy Diddy. What a great song, and what a great euphemism for sexual dalliance.” (4)
Maybe it was a bit of jealousy as Greenwich wasn’t happy with the Brit’s success turning her girl group song to a male point of view. She eventually realized the benefits. "We thought, 'With the British Invasion, maybe this is a lucky charm, and it sure was," she said. (5)
Still, Greenwich later expressed one reservation about Manfred Mann’s hip remake: “I was an English major, and when he sang, ‘I knew we was falling in love‘ — I don’t think so!” she said in the Brill Building documentary The Teens Who Stole Pop Music.
Recorded on June 11, 1964, Do Wah Diddy Diddy debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 5. It peaked at #1 on October 17 where it perched for two weeks. (6)
The band kept the hits coming. They recorded and released their version of The Shirelles hit Sha La La in late 1964, which clocked in at # 12. After Mike D’Abo replaced Paul Jones in 1967, the group hit # 10 in 1968 with Mighty Quinn, a song penned by Bob Dylan. With a new formation of members calling themselves Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, the group hit # 1 again in 1977 with a song written by Bruce Springsteen called Blinded By The Light. The Earth Band dissolved in 1986. (7)
This live video performance of Do Wah Diddy Diddy has high quality audio synched to top-notch video.
1) Lewis, Randy, Ellie Greenwich dies at 68; co-wrote 'Da Doo Ron Ron,' 'Chapel of Love' and other '60s hits, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2009. Link
2) Bronson, Fred, The Billboard Book Of Number One Hits, Page 158.
3) Kutner, Jon, Leigh, Spencer, 1,000 UK Number One Hits,
4) Swanson, Dave, The Story of Manfred Mann's 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy', June 11, 2015. Link
6) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Hot 100 Charts, The Sixties
7) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Top Pop Singles, 1955-2002, Page 437.
© tonyfrank / National Portrait Gallery, London