It’s a hazy memory, but a man is running around in New York City traffic, desperate to get somewhere. I’m not sure what the premise is, as the Beta tape didn’t catch the very beginning of the program. It doesn’t matter. I’m sitting on the floor in a wood-paneled rec room, surrounded by pleather furniture. As I stare at the Zenith, something happens: Barry sings.
That’s right, Barry Manilow opened up his big ole mouth and spouted some of the catchiest, happiest pop songs in the history of modern music. His music was sappy, shameless, and beyond redemption. And I loved it.
What a cover!
I’m not sure which of Barry’s ABC TV specials my parents had taped for me, but I watched it a million times (it was only rivaled by the Muppet Show episode featuring Elton John). I knew the songs, and I knew the moves. My parents had the vinyl, which is still sort of odd to think about as neither of them liked Barry Manilow, but maybe they bought it because it was popular? Because I liked it? I don’t know. We had a stereo console in our living room that included the turntable, the radio, and the all-important 8-track player, and I spent a lot of time spinning those Manilow discs.
My all time favorite.
In 1978/1979 you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Copacabana, and I’m sure it was just thrilling to hear a tone-deaf four year old run around your basement screeching “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…” Sing it with me! In fact, in 1978 FIVE of Manilow’s records were on the charts simultaneously, something only Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Mathis have also achieved. You know the hits – Mandy, Willing to Take a Chance Again, Autumn in New York – just hearing a Barry Manilow number makes me feel safe, and instantly happy.
Aside from his catchy songs, I’m not sure why I loved Barry Manilow so much. I’ve never found him handsome, not being one for blonds. Funnily enough, I do like his nose, which is evidenced in my current male crushes:
Knife skills are sexy. But not as sexy as a pronounced schnoz.
I'm beginning to see a pattern. Do you suppose Tony knows Looks Like We Made It? And can Barry cook?
Okay, so maybe Manilow influenced more than just my musical tastes. You probably don’t realize that Barry was a part of your life too, like it or not. He wrote both the Band-Aid and State Farm jingles that are still used today, as well as McDonald’s “you deserve a break today…” song. He literally wrote the songs that made the whole world sing, though he actually didn’t write that song. Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys did.
Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of crap for my Manilow love – there was no Barry street cred during the late 90s when I worked in the music business. Still, I’m not the only taste maker who recognizes his genius. According to Wikipedia, in 1988, Bob Dylan stopped Manilow at a party, hugged him and said, “Don’t stop what you’re doing, man. We’re all inspired by you.” So there’s that.
The reason I started thinking about Manilow is American Bandstand. On this day in 1957 the show premiered on ABC. From 1977 to 1987 (when the show ended its run on ABC) Barry’s rendition of “Bandstand Boogie” bookended the show, with Barry’s updated lyrics. In the years before MTV and even Friday Night Videos, American Bandstand and Soul Train were pretty much all we in the Saturday morning cartoon set had to to get hip to the latest tunes. Um, hence Barry Manilow’s mega stardom?
He didn't have to prove anything.