A few days ago I played you a song by The Shadows that had been stuck in my head. (“F.B.I.”)
Soon after that, my friend Maurice, who runs the very reputable I’m In Love With That Song blog, told me that he adores the guitar playing of The Shadows’ Hank Marvin. (The phrase “guitar hero” was used.)
Maurice also said that his favourite Shadows song was “Man Of Mystery”, which not-so-coincidentally is the very piece of music that Mr. Maurice Man uses in the background of his podcast promos.
Young Maurice suggested that I post “Man Of Mystery” and analyse it the way I do for my Educating Peter posts.
I must admit that I’m awfully pleased someone actually asked me to get all nitpicky with a song. Usually, somebody says something along the lines of: “I’d like you to play a song on your blog – but don’t tear it to shreds. I don’t want you sullying my cherished thoughts about that wonderful song with your nitpickiness” etc.
But Maurice did ask, and I consider it an honour and a privilege, not to mention my solemn duty, to pester the song. (Note to self: Why say “not to mention…” when you just went ahead and mentioned it anyway, Peter? Hmm?)
Before I got stuck into dissecting “Man Of Mystery” I listened to it all the way through to remind myself of how it all went. (I haven’t heard it in a while.) And then I listened to it again. (It’s horrendously catchy.) Now that I’d refreshed my non-existent memory, I thought “This is great”. I also thought the song galloped along.
(Lexicographical trivia: I wanted to use the word “lollop” instead of “gallop” in the previous paragraph, because I haven’t used “lollop” in a long, long time and I think it’s a great-sounding word. Unfortunately for me, “lollop” means “Move in an ungainly way in a series of clumsy paces or bounds”, and that certainly does not apply to “Man Of Mystery”, which moves in a very gainly way.)
And now for an in-depth – and decidedly unhelpful – look at Maurice’s favourite Shadows song:
The Shadows – “Man Of Mystery” (1960)
Or, if you’re a ’60s purist:
The Shadows – “Man Of Mystery” (mono) (1960)
All my comments are based on the stereo version of the song. (That’s the one I listened to.)
0:00-0:02 – A discordant two-note chord and we’re off. Twang!
0:02-0:04 – That bizarro chord is followed by four low E notes.
0:04-0:07 – That two-note chord again, but instead of a lone guitar playing those four low notes we have the band playing it as a build-up to the main tune.
0:07-0:34 – The main tune, and after just one listen I had it firmly implanted in my brain. That’s not going to leave in a hurry.
The thing I love about the main tune is that is built on a music technique that’s one of my favourites in all of music – the drone.
I’ve banged on about drones before, but if you’re not familiar with the term, a drone is when a melody is repeated but the notes underneath it (i.e., the low notes) change. In other (and simpler) words, a melody stays the same while the bass notes change. If that didn’t make much sense, I have a decent example of a drone that I posted on my birthday in 2011.
Anyway, I think the “Man Of Mystery” melody is a magnificent one. It’s spooky, great, and spooky. Love it. And I love the cha-cha drumming (which is reminiscent of Ringo’s drumming for “I Feel Fine”).
By the way, I adore the little whammy bar bend at 0:33 just before the band stops at the end of the first run-through of the main tune.
0:34-0:48 – The main tune, part 2. There’s not much I don’t love about this song.
Now here’s where some nitpicking comes in…
As I was listening intently to Hank Marvin’s playing, I noticed what may be a few mistakes in this part of the song.
At 0:37 Hank plays what I think is an incomplete note. If you want to be exact (I know I do), it’s at 0:37.878. To me it’s a mistake because he doesn’t quite finish the note he’s playing in the melody line there.
Another dud note is at 0:43.862. Hank definitely plays a mistake here. He hits the string, but misses the note he’s meant to play, and it ends up sounding like “bllllrrrrr”. (I was going to be crude and describe it as “a goose fart”, but that’s terribly uncouth, and I would never be uncouth when talking about a guitarist as magnificent as Hank Marvin.)
Hank plays another
goose fart weird note at 0:44.928. It’s the same sound, so I’m guessing he did the same thing he did before, whatever it was.
Another bit of weirdness occurs from 0:45.819-0:46.590, when it sounds as if the guitar note he was playing simply stops. I found it odd considering how Hank is usually in complete control of his guitar playing.
But I loved the (deliberate) sound Hank makes immediately after the silence. From 0:46-0:48 his guitar lets out a noise that sounds exactly like an extremely unhappy cat.
0:48-1:13 – After a fabulous little drum fill (0:47-0:48) we’re back to the first main tune.
There’s not much to report in the “What’s Hank Doing Now” caper, so I’d like to point out the sterling acoustic guitar support in the right channel that has been playing throughout the song marvellously. The rhythm guitarist playing it (Bruce Welch) is playing the chords very smoothly, and not getting in the way of Hank’s Twang-o-matic playing. He’s playing so discreetly that he’s not calling attention to himself at all. He’s just letting Hank get on with defining The Shadows’ signature sound. But the more I listen to that acoustic guitar in the right channel, the more I love it.
Mistake Alert: There’s a quick guitar lick from 1:06.759-1:07.617, but Hank garbles it the middle, at 1:07.167.
1:13-1:16 – I love – no, I LOVE – that riff. It’s so… slinky.
1:16-1:23 – Hank goes wild here. (Well, as wild as any bespectacled and besuited British guitarist in 1960 could.)
1:23-1:30 – Hank goes even more wild here, playing defiantly wrong chords. And throughout all of this, Bruce is playing his acoustic rhythm guitar superbly.
1:30-2:03 – And then everybody goes back to playing the main tune as if nothing unusual happened. (It did – Hank went wild.)
I’d like to mention one more mistake: at 1:46.823 Hank mis-hits a string. (It goes “plink” instead of “twang”).
It’s just occurred to me that I’ve mentioned all of the musicians in the song except for the bass player, Jet Harris. He provides solid support throughout the song, except for a wrong note at 1:52.660. (But he was good everywhere else.)
At 1:56 the song ends with the unhappy cat. Excellent. (Not because a cat might be unhappy, but because the sound is a wonderfully bizarre one to end a song on.)
OK. That’s my response to the song out of the way. Now it’s time for…
“Man Of Mystery” was written by Michael Carr (pseudonym of British composer Maurice Alfred Cohen), and was used as the theme tune for the British TV crime thriller series, the Edgar Wallace Mysteries. There were two versions of the theme:
Oh, and according to AllMusic.com, The Shadows recorded “Man Of Mystery” in the Abbey Road studios at midnight. So sayeth AllMusic:
The band heightened the air of mystery by recording the song at midnight at a time when the Abbey Road studios were normally, conscientiously locked up at ten pm (the age of all-night Beatles sessions was still years off in the future). The studio’s owners, EMI, were horrified by the group’s unconventional request, but were amply repaid when the single soared to number five in Britain in November 1960.
Well, there was something I never knew. (Along with all the other things about this song that I didn’t know.)
Thanks for suggesting “Man Of Mystery”, Maurice. I had a great time giving the song a proper listen.