At first glance, this looks like a very enticing collection, and in many ways it is: 53 songs covering a lot of the highlights and rarities in the band's history from 1963 through 1969. There are a few flaws, however, some of them minor and others potentially major, depending upon one's interests. For starters, it doesn't follow strict chronological order, opening with their biggest international hit, "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," from the summer of 1964, and then proceeding backward through October of 1963 and "Cock-A-Hoop" to July of 1963 and their jazzy debut, "Why Should We Not." That's not a huge problem; though for anyone who isn't familiar with the history, it's going to require a little sorting out. The EMI hits are all there on disc one, along with a few good album tracks, some superb B-sides, and compelling EP tracks ("With God on Our Side," "There's No Living Without Your Loving"). On the other hand, it's not as though most of that material isn't out somewhere already, and serious fans may feel cheated, in the sense that Raven could have (theoretically) raided EMI's vaults for an incredibly solid double-disc set of completely classic Manfred Mann up through mid-1966. They also might have then avoided the six Paul Jones solo tracks that close disc one, which, despite their chronological relationship to the group work, are the kind of commercial pop that doesn't mesh with anything here and does nothing but break the mood of this disc.
Disc two is devoted to the Mike d'Abo version of the band, which recorded successfully for Mercury Records but was never as musically ambitious as the earlier incarnation of the group; there's some good music among the 15 tracks on disc two, including rare B-sides and album cuts, such as "Box Office Draw" and "I Wanna Be Rich," as well as huge hits like "Quinn the Eskimo" and "Just Like a Woman," and it holds up well enough, though it's thoroughly less fascinating than the EMI material that preceded it. The last eight songs on the disc are drawn from various solo post-Manfred Mann projects by the individual members, including Mike d'Abo ("Little Miss Understood," "Belinda," "Free As a Bird"), Mike Hugg ("Blue Suede Shoes Again,") Mike Vickers ("On the Brink"), Manfred Mann and Mike Hugg ("Ski-Full of Fitness Theme"), and Tom McGuinness ("When I'm Dead and Gone," "Malt and Barley Blues," "Happy Birthday Ruthy Baby"). These tracks are more enlightening musically than the Manfreds' later tracks, and the Tom McGuinness material (all recordings by McGuinness - Flint) is good, solid, earthy rock & roll. The notes by McGuinness are extraordinarily detailed and revealing, in terms of correcting misconceptions and giving a humorous insider's perspective on the band.