By Steven M. Housman
Music And Passion
Barry Manilow Performs For An “Evening Under The Stars”
Four years ago I wrote a piece on Barry Manilow that profiled his illustrious career. At that time, he was riding the success of a greatest hits package titled Ultimate Manilow, which covered 20 of his greatest chart achievements. It was his highest debuting album of his career, entering the Billboard charts at #3. The success of the album took the industry by surprise, but no one was more surprised than Manilow himself. At the time, he confessed in an interview that he was “shocked and delighted.” Three months ago Barry released his latest album, The Greatest Songs of the Fifties, which debuted at #1, superceding all of his previous chart achievements and is on its way to becoming Barry’s best-selling album ever! The idea for the album was presented to him by record mogul Clive Davis, the man that saw stars in his eyes upon hearing Manilow back in the early 70’s. As a matter of fact, Davis was so sure about Barry’s talents, he was the very first artist to be signed to his new label, Arista Records. Since that time, Barry Manilow has become the #1 Adult Contemporary Artist of all time. About two years ago, Manilow was anxious to retire from touring and was actually organizing his Farewell Tour. “Unlike Cher, I meant it,” he said persistently. He was then approached by the people at the Las Vegas Hilton, who offered him a very lucrative contract to perform exclusively in the showroom that was most famous for headliners such as Elvis and Sinatra. The money was incidental the fact that he could stay in one place and be close enough to go home each night to his beloved Palm Springs was more than enough to convince the veteran showman to sign on the dotted line. At the Hilton, Barry is performing and selling out five shows a week, including two on Saturday evening. He’s enjoying the engagement so thoroughly that he recently agreed to extend his contract through 2008. His latest DVD, Manilow: Music and Passion Live from Las Vegas, debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts a couple of weeks ago and he is still “shocked and delighted” over the enormity of his resurgence. Between his Las Vegas shows and his numerous television appearances, he barely had the time to stop and answer my questions. But he did. He’s very aware of how important his upcoming performance is for the benefit “Evening Under The Stars,” and felt that this interview would assist getting the word out to as many people as possible. In this Q&A I was pleasantly surprised by his modesty, genuinely surprised by his candidness about fellow performers and entertainers, including American Idol judge and record mogul, Simon Cowell, and marvelously surprised by an exclusive scoop about an upcoming project between Barbra Streisand and himself. I got the “answers to all answers I could find!” Four years ago, I ended my profile on Barry by saying “I’ve been fortunate to have met and conduct interviews with some very impressive show folk. One voice that still eludes me is Barry Manilow’s. I would be honored. Perhaps somewhere down the road.” Well, I finally reached that destination.
First of all, congratulations on your latest album, The Greatest Songs Of The Fifties. Did the immense success exceed even your wildest expectations?
Yes. I think it even shocked Clive Davis, president of Arista, my record label, whose idea it was. I think it has become so popular because the public is starved for a good melody and lyric. The fifties had some great songs. Clive came backstage at the Hilton where I’m performing. He told me he had an idea that could be a hit for me and handed me a list of songs that came out of the 50’s. At first I just didn’t get it. But when I got home and started playing and singing some of them, I began to like them. I really finally understood what he was hearing when the orchestra began to play back my arrangements in the recording studio. They sounded so beautiful and, believe it or not, fresh, that I realized what he had been hearing.
Out of all the great songs to come out of that era, how did you narrow it down to the ones you chose to record?
We began with around 70 songs. When I began to work on them, it was pretty obvious which songs I was going to sound good singing and which ones I wouldn’t. For instance, “Get A Job” didn’t work. And neither did “Sh-Boom.” But “Beyond The Sea” sounded great.
Are you the type of artist that records more songs than will end up on an album? If so, can you tell me what songs didn’t make it on the album and why?
Edith Piaf’s “If You Love Me, Really Love Me” didn’t make it. Although it’s a beauty, it was just too dramatic. “Mr. Sandman” didn’t make it. Too cute.
I understand you’re already preparing material for The Greatest Songs Of The Sixties Is that accurate?
Yep. I’m already done with all the arrangements. I’m having fun with this one because the 60’s were the decade that I began to listen to music. The Beatles, Bacharach, Motown, Jimmy Webb. Great writers and great songs.
Do you ever perform a song you’re thinking of recording to get an audience reaction, or do you just trust your instincts?
Before the 50’s CD was released, I tried out “Unchained Melody” on my audience in Vegas. They went nuts. NUTS! I said to myself, ‘Whoa, I might be on to something with this!’
You had this huge resurgence beginning with The Ultimate Manilow a few years ago, then Vegas, and now this album. What do you make of the public’s response to you and your music in the past 5 years?
What took them so long?!!! It makes me grateful to all the people that stood by me during those hard years.
What recording artists influenced you as a child growing up in Brooklyn?
Not many singers. Arrangers and writers turned my musical motor on. Arrangers like Nelson Riddle, David Rose, Roger Edens. Jazz musicians like Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan. Performers like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Writers like Gershwin, Loesser, Styne, Sondheim. You’ll notice I haven’t included any pop artists. I never listened to pop music until I was on the radio! And when I turned the radio on to see if they were playing “Mandy,” I heard “Kung-Fu Fighting, “Disco Duck” and “Boogie Oogie Oogie!” I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, these people NEED me!’
Please tell me how you decided to make Vegas a permanent destination for the next couple of years?
At the end of last year I went on my “Final Farewell Tour,” and unlike Cher, I meant it! I was done living out of suitcases, waiting for late airplanes, living on bad room service. I had been doing that for 30 years. I wanted my life back. So I decided to stop touring. But the Hilton called and asked me if I’d put together a show for them. That meant that I could still perform, work with my wonderful band, and stay in one place. And since it’s so close to Palm Springs, I could stay home! So I agreed to give it a try. I’m glad I did. It’s a fantastic gig.
Out of your vast catalogue of hits, what are your favorite songs to perform and why?
“One Voice” because I wrote it in a dream, really! “Could It Be Magic,” because it was the first “pop” song I wrote (even though it ran seven minutes long!!) and “Copacabana,” because of the incredibly clever lyrics written by Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman.
You’ve also had enormous success producing several other artists over the years, most notably, Bette Midler’s first couple of records and her latest songbooks. How did you and Bette decide to collaborate together again after so many years?
I woke up one morning with a dream that I produced a tribute to Rosemary Clooney for Bette. We both knew her and loved her. I called Bette after not having worked with her for decades and told her of my dream. She said, “Let’s go!”
I recall seeing you on Phil Donahue back in the 80’s and you mentioned you’d like to work with Barbra Streisand one day. That happened a few years ago with the duet you recorded. What was that experience like?
Fantastic! It was like an out-of-body experience for me. To hear her perfect voice sing a song I wrote was heaven. When it came time for me to sing I just stood there. I said, ‘What do ya need me for?! Keep singing!’
I know many of Barbra Streisand’s fans would love for you to produce an entire album for her. Is that something you’d like to do?
It may happen sooner than anyone thinks.
Are there any other artists you’d like to produce an album for that you haven’t yet? If so, who’s on your wish list?
I’d like to produce Michael Feinstein, Celine Dion and Shelby Lynn.
I understand when you’re not in Vegas, Palm Springs is your permanent residence. Why is Palm Springs so special for you?
Peace. Quiet. Beautiful. Kind people. I wish the world was like this.
Speaking of Palm Springs, why was performing at this year’s “Evening Under The Stars” a priority for you? Especially with the hectic schedule you keep.
I was told that last year’s entertainment was problematic. I didn’t want the organization to be in any trouble because they do such wonderful work for so many needy people. I hoped that if I committed to performing this year it might get them back on their feet again.
You are very generous and have supported many charities over the years, as well as giving your support to the youth of America. That was evident on your American Idol stint a few weeks ago. What was that like?
I really loved it. These kids have to be good to win. They’re so young and so inexperienced. I hoped that I could help them learn some techniques that I use.
Are Simon, Paula and Randy as supportive as they can be to those kids or would you like to see Simon go a bit easier on them?
I’d like to see him go easier on them, but that’s who he is. Very smart, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, direct, great sense of what the public will respond to. He’s always been great to me.
I could go on asking you questions forever you’ve had a remarkable career and it’s just getting better all the time. Any words you’d like to say to your Fanilows before we wrap this up?
A huge thank you to all of them for allowing me to continue to do what I love to do.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. I look forward to seeing you perform in Vegas and in Palm Springs at “Evening Under The Stars.”
Look For Barry's New Album, The Greatest Songs Of The Sixties in stores October 31, 2006.
This article first appeared in the BottomLine Magazine in Palm Springs, CA.
© 2006 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.