September 2002
By Steven M. Housman

Maybe ‘The Old Songs’ Will Bring Back The Old Times…

On a recent drive back to LA from a great weekend excursion in the desert, I was listening to one of the Palm Springs stations when something occurred to me. From the time I arrived in this desert oasis until the time I departed four days later, I was inundated with 70’s music. Whether it be the grocery store, the mall, or even my car radio, there it was. Don’t misunderstand me, I love 70’s music, so this was not a problem. I found myself playing “Name That Tune” in my own head. It was astonishing how many songs I knew from the opening notes before the lyrics even began. What I noticed mostly was the number of Barry Manilow songs that were played. I know I’ll get gags and rolled eyes because of this, but I love Barry Manilow’s music, and I realized it to a greater extent on this particular weekend. I suspect more people do enjoy Manilow than would rather admit it. He is probably, without a doubt, the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. I started remembering the first time I heard his music, and how it was “cool” to ridicule it. Why? He was far better than most middle-of-the-road artists that were turning out “music” of that era. And you have to give him credit; he did arrange and “write the songs.” Ironically, “I Write The Songs” was one of the very few songs he didn’t compose.
Last December, Barry performed several concerts at the new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. At that time, a 29 year-old woman who is a trainer at my gym told me of her love and fascination she and her 30 year-old boyfriend had for Manilow. Since she is aware of my occupation, she asked me if I was going to attend one of the concerts. She was soooo excited that he was playing there, and even more excited that he was performing on her birthday. She went on to say, “this is going to be one of the best birthday’s I’ve ever had.” I thought she was a bit over exuberant, but who am I to say? I remember counting the days to the Streisand concert back in ’94! The point that I’m making is that I’m constantly surprised at the wide array of Manilow’s audience. Whether it is young, old, gay, straight, black or white, his music transcends throughout.

On February 12, 2002 Arista Records released Ultimate Manilow, 20 of Barry’s greatest chart achievements. In the February 23, 2002 issue of Billboard, Ultimate Manilow debuted at Number 3 on the Billboard 200, becoming his highest debuting album in over twenty-three years. Now, seven months later, “Ultimate” still remains at the top half of the chart, selling millions. No one, not even the record execs could have predicted the enormous success of this disc. Manilow himself told an LA newspaper back then that he was “shocked and delighted.”

Last year, after a twenty-eight year run, Manilow left Arista Records for Concord Records and released the critically acclaimed Here At The Mayflower. In 1974, Barry was the first artist signed to Clive Davis’ new Arista label. Clive already had the platinum touch working at Columbia with such artists as Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand. As we all know, Clive Davis can make anyone a star. And IF you have talent, he will make you a superstar. Just look at the artists that followed Manilow under Davis’ eye; Annie Lennox (with and without the Eurythmics), Lisa Stansfield, and Whitney Houston to name a few. He even breathed life back into the careers of Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Dionne Warwick and most notably Carlos Santana, when all other labels considered them has-beens. Now, with his newly formed J Records, five-time Grammy winner, 21 year-old Alicia Keys has Clive to sing her praises to. With or without Davis, Manilow’s talent was ready and perfectly timed. So without further adieu, Barry Manilow, this is your life, or better yet, “This One’s For You.”

Born Barry Alan Pincus on June 17, 1946 in Brooklyn, New York, Barry studied at New York’s Juilliard School and became the musical director for the WCBS-TV series Callback. Manilow then worked at New York’s Continental Baths bathhouse/nightclub as Bette Midler’s accompanist in 1972 and later produced her first two albums, The Divine Miss M and Bette Midler. Both immediately hit the Top 10 and were certified platinum. He continued to work writing jingles for Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, State Farm Insurance, Band-Aids and McDonald’s (“You Deserve A Break Today,” which he also sang). Manilow is one of the all-time top Adult Contemporary vocalists of the twentieth and now twenty-first century.

Barry Manilow first entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on November 16, 1974 with “Mandy,” a song originally recorded and written by American-born, London-based Scott English, who charted with the song as “Brandy” in 1972. “Brandy” peaked at Number 91 and had only a two-week stay on the chart. Two years later, Manilow had a huge success with the song, thanks to his vocals and his unique arrangement, and took his debut single to Number 1. Twenty-five Top 40 songs followed, including “Could It Be Magic,” “Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again,” “Looks Like We Made It,” “Can’t Smile Without You” and the disco song that was in everyone’s head’s and on everyone’s lips in the summer of ’78, “Copacabana.” After the “Copa” success, Barry followed with “Ready To Take A Chance Again,” the theme from the Goldie Hawn-Chevy Chase film Foul Play. He went on scoring million sellers such as “Somewhere In The Night,” “Ships,” “I Made It Through The Rain,” “The Old Songs,” “Somewhere Down The Road,” and even scored the highest pop version of the song “Memory” from the Broadway Musical Cats, landing at Number 39 in 1983. “Memory” had been recorded by dozens of artists but only managed to chart twice. The other version that broke the chart was Streisand’s, which placed at Number 52 in 1982.

Not one to sit on his hit-making laurels, in 1984 Manilow decided to take a chance on one of his greatest passions, to make a jazz album. He called upon some of the greats to sing along with him on this venture. Sarah Vaughn and Mel Torme were just two of many jazz icons to grace the album. The result was 2:00 AM Paradise Café and was recognized as one of the finest albums of the year, reaching gold status.

After the immense popularity and success of “Paradise Café,” Manilow grew more impatient with just “the hits” and decided to experiment further. He ended up turning even the nastiest of critics opinions around with such gold albums as 1987’s Swing Street, which he recorded with Kid Creole and the Coconuts. In 1991, he released Showstoppers, and in 1994 he released Singin’ With The Big Bands, once again reaching gold status and delighting the critics.

When I attended a Barry Manilow concert in the summer of 1998, I was amazed that he was still the showman that I first witnessed twenty years prior. I even brought (or persuaded) some folks to join me. They all left the concert with a different opinion of him; they admitted they thought he was great. Of course, I’m not one to say, “I told you so,” but…

Barry will be performing at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre on Sunday, September 29, 2002, for the National Democratic Gala, the marquee fundraiser to benefit Democratic Majority 2002. Manilow joins fellow performers Barbra Streisand and Three Mo' Tenors, plus an impressive Artist Committee, U.S. House Reps Richard Gephardt, Nancy Pelosi, Nita Lowey, and the Democratic Congressional Caucus in the David Foster production. Additional performers and speakers will be announced. Democratic Majority 2002 is the fundraising effort to win a Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives through the upcoming November 5 elections. It is a joint fundraising committee authorized by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Gephardt in Congress Committee. Beginning with $500 concert-only tickets, those interested in attending the gala may make up to $250,000 contributions, which are not tax-deductible.

That brings us up to speed.

The reason you never (or hardly ever) hear of Manilow’s private life is because he chooses to keep it exactly that. It’s unfortunate, but today if a performer chooses to live a life of privacy, others, especially the media, will not be satisfied until these individuals give a tell-all interview or go on a national tour discussing their private lives. Barry has always remained faithful to his fans, but more importantly, honest to himself. Over time, I’ve been fortunate to have met and conducted 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.

© 2002 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.