"Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)"
Original Dylan version found on Self-Portrait (1970)
Manfred Mann, a British band steeped in beat and blues, made its bones on the charts with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," an Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry song that spent two weeks at #1 in the US in 1964. The group then became Dylan cover specialists, recording "With God On Our Side," "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and "Just Like A Woman."
Then came "Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)." The Night Owl's initial exposure to this Dylan composition was like, I suppose, the majority of listeners: this Manfred Mann cover climbed to the Top 10 back in February 1968. The catchy tune, a nursery rhyme that leans musically on (of all things) a flute hook, naturally caught the attention of this then nine year old listening to nascent AM rock and roll radio.
The genesis of "Quinn" is Dylan's famous sessions with The Band in Woodstock, New York back in 1967. That demo was not intended for release, but first surfaced on the bootleg Great White Wonder in 1969. A live take of the song - apparently from the Isle of Wight Festival - first appeared commercially on Self-Portrait (1970) and then once again on Greatest Hits Vol. II (1971). The second take from Woodstock was included on the seminal collection Biograph (1985). Ironically enough, when the bootleg finally reached the light of day on Columbia's double-disc The Basement Tapes (1975), "The Mighty Quinn" was not on the 24-track listing.
Dylan amusingly refers to "The Mighty Quinn" in a chapter of his memoir Chronicles (p. 187):
On the way back to the house [in New Orleans] I passed the local movie theater on Prytania Street, where The Mighty Quinn was showing. Years earlier I had written a song called "The Mighty Quinn" which was a hit in England, and I wondered what the movie was about. Eventually I'd sneak off and go there to see it. It was a mystery, suspense, Jamaican thriller with Denzel Washington as the mighty Xavier Quinn, a detective who solves crimes. Funny, that's just the way I imagined him when I wrote the song "The Mighty Quinn." Denzel Washington. He must have been a fan of mine . . . years later he would play the boxer Hurricane Carter, someone else I wrote a song about. I wondered if Denzel could play Woody Guthrie. In my dimension of reality, he certainly could have.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" (Self-Portrait, 1970)
Still Another Cover: Ramsey Lewis, "Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" (Maiden Voyage, 1968)