Whatever Happened To Barry Manilow?

Gorgeous Barry

I’m a Barry Manilow fan. There, I’ve said it. Do you want to make something of it? Would you like to take it outside?

I’m defensive, it’s true but ONLY Barry Manilow fans know what it’s like to be a Barry Manilow fan. For instance, if you were really into him in the eighties, you may as well have put a target on your front and back and said ‘I like Barry Manilow’ and you’d have been like a porcupine within seconds and no mistake. I was nearly beaten up for liking him at school and was sometimes actually physically attacked at his concerts at age 13 and 14 by other fans for accidentally getting in the way of their view of Barry. ‘Move bitch!’ Whack. So, physical violence was being offered whichever way I turned. Ah, those were the days.

It’s fine and dandy to be a Manilow fan these days, for the most part. Where I came from and the time I came from, it never was. We all know what it’s like to be hated, bullied and ridiculed because of the music/bands/singers we’re into but it really was a different ball game when it came to Barry. It was seriously UNCOOL to be into him or his music in the British northern town I came from. So uncool as to be offensive. So uncool as to evoke physical violence. Now, if Barry can evoke such polarization, he must be seriously cool. Who wants to be lukewarm?

In the ‘backlash-seventies’ eighties, it was hell to be into Barry Manilow. At a time when drainpipe trousers were in, it seemed as if Barry was still wearing flares, but people were still wearing flares in 82. I think I may have been, but it wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t voluntary flare wearing by any stretch. To my shame, I do have my shallow moments, and I do remember wincing at his pink flares back then, but by about 1984, no more flares. He was flare free.

Being into him now, is no big deal, because he’s seventy something and people have gotten tired of criticizing him, or perhaps gotten too old to care. He should have been accepted decades ago when he was a relatively young man. When I say young, I mean forty, when he’d been in the music business for twenty years already. and famous for about ten. He came to fame and fortune late, at around thirty. He remembers the moment when he got famous. It was when Mandy went to No. 1 in the charts, which would have been around 1974. He’d already paid his dues by then. He wasn’t an overnight success. He was seasoned even then. The Americans accepted him a bit more, not just because he was home grown but because they appreciated him! He also did well in Japan (but who doesn’t) and other European countries. In Britain, he was something of a cult. He was loved, or loathed and there was no in between. The loathers were obsessed, they protested far too much. It’s like that whole thing going on with online trolls. If you don’t like it then don’t watch the video etc. but people still watch and comment. The critics were usually white, middle class males. The hatred and jealousy back then was palpable and distressing for people who really liked his music.

When I was fifteen, I discovered punk music and Bowie, but it didn’t lessen my liking for Barry’s music. I went to one of his concerts with a blue, green and pink buzz cut, eyes like a raccoon on speed and a P.V.C mini with chains and studs. I swear he stared at me for the longest time when the lights went up. He was trying to work out what I was. Then, he smiled at me. My finest moment.

I was so fed up of people telling me that I couldn’t be into Barry, Bowie and The Sex Pistols at the same time. I didn’t know what to say or how to explain it but I felt lonely and isolated because no-one else felt it was possible to be into two different genres at the same time. It’s almost like we’re not multi dimensional, or we haven’t got an imagination, or we’re just one trick ponies. ‘I’m a metal head and I will always be a metal head’ scenario. Actually, I do know people like that (metal heads who are only ever going to be metal heads) and good luck to them but where did this thing come from where people have to be one dimensional, either just into this, or just into that? It’s not good to mix the labels up. It confuses people. It was nice when John Lydon said he liked Barry. Well, not liked him exactly but respected him for being authentic. He never tries to be anything he’s not, said John. It could be seen as a back handed compliment to some, but Lydon’s like that. That seems to be a quality that is being more valued in in this current climate. It’s become so refreshing to see authenticity, that sometimes it’s become a quality that is valued before others, despite the nature of the beast. How many fascist dictators have been ‘authentic’, probably all of them. They don’t beat about the bush about what they want or what they are, yet, that doesn’t lessen their evil much.

Back to the point, I never needed or wanted John’s respect or admiration or even acceptance and visa versa. I didn’t like the prejudice on either side, as Barry demonstrated by once making a joke about punks. He said, ‘I can’t imagine running my fingers through some girls green hair.’ Well, that hurt me a little because I had green hair at the time, but it all worked out well in the end because Barry didn’t like girls that much. I liked Rotten and his music, yet I liked Barry. However it was nice that the Prince Of Punk finally acknowledged one of the best songwriters of our time.

Now, I have the perfect come back, for the ‘you can’t be into this music and that music at the same time, it’s just not possible!’ I say, ‘I recognise and appreciate a good songwriter/musician when I see one and that pans across genres.’ But as luck would have it, I’ve never been asked that age old question since I’ve had a good answer to it. Or maybe it’s because people aren’t as antagonistic in middle age. When you’re a teenager, people are always trying to rub you up the wrong way. Or maybe it just feels like that, or maybe it’s because youngsters are overly sensitive, or because they’re young.

I’m not going to make this post a springboard for all of Barry’s singles, albums, records, music awards, specials, concerts and life time achievements. That would be boring. I mean if you’re not a fan, it wouldn’t mean anything. Even though I’ve just spent ten minutes uselessly fawning about him. And that’s ten minutes you will never get back.

And you don’t want to turn it into twenty minutes more because he has so many singles, albums, recordings to get through…and you would think I’m being sycophantic, but I will say this, unless you’ve investigated an artist fully, listened to at least two of their albums, and not their ‘Greatest Hits’, you’re not really in a position to have an full bodied and unbiased opinion regarding them. And who in their right mind is going to listen to two albums of every singer/band they come across? I mean there really isn’t the time. When people are asked to name Barry’s records, they can only mention five or so, the usual suspects, they usually can’t get it up to ten, yet Barry has recorded/written/and composed hundreds of songs.

Barry got me through so much early teenage angst, probably stopped me from committing suicide and The Sex Pistols definitely stopped me from going bat crazy and committing suicide. I love all these things out there that stop people from committing suicide. What does that mean, when a person’s creative works stops another person from committing suicide? That must mean there is something beautiful, hopeful and miraculous in their works?

Well, for me, punk music AND Barry Manilow were incredibly instrumental in my life and inspired me in my creative life beyond anything I thought was possible. Music has its uses and it doesn’t have to be uniform. We don’t know the value of our creative input. We think it blows away in the wind, but it really doesn’t, can’t. Music, words, painting, dancing, performing…we don’t know the effect it has. It has a domino effect that is far reaching. And before we start judging others on their musical preferences, perhaps we should take a look at how peoples music choices make them feel and how it helps their life, gives them joy, happiness, inspiration, makes them want to live, gives them hope. I’m not going to list Barry’s musical accomplishments or give endless links, because if you want him, you will find him. Maybe you’ll check him out with a fresh eye, or say, it’s not for me. Don’t curb your enthusiasm, just curb your prejudices.

Sometimes we believe our own creative works means nothing to other people. How dare we? How presumptuous. Our ego tell us, in a weird ‘about turn’ that we are worthless, that no-one will want to read, or be interested in what we write, or make, paint, or create. We apply that UNCOOLNESS in our lives every day. So when you wake up and write things that you think are uncool and no-one else will want to read, or dress in a certain way, or you feel like a freak, or a misfit and nothing you say seems to come out right. Don’t apologise any more, for anything you write, paint, create, for the way you dress or the awkward way you interact with people… no more sorry, okay?

And what’s this got to do with Barry Manilow?

He made me feel I belonged. It’s the Ugly Duckling Scenario and he’s been there, and it’s in so many of the songs he wrote/writes. Like Bowie, Barry was writing songs about alienation, as well as the love songs he is well known for. He has recorded songs about estranged father and son relationships, suicidal housewives, prostitution, pimps, showgirls, murder, infidelity, celebrity meltdown, and just general meltdown. He even wrote a song about a conspiracy theory.  Bermuda Triangle. Not many musicians can say they’ve done that, not even Weird Al Yankovic.

Even when Barry does write love songs, he usually likes to have a fly in the ointment, something to shake it up. One of his anthems to Geekdom and Alienation is All The Time, an ode to the underdog, to ‘losers’ the world over. We listened, we empathised, we gained comfort.

All The Time

So, I haven’t actually answered the question. Whatever Happened To Barry Manilow?

Barry was earning a living writing music well before he was famous. He wrote scores for musical plays in the sixties and wrote jingles for commercials in the seventies for acne creams and band aids and  home insurance. Instant glamour. He has also written commercials for Japanese companies.

He worked with Bette Midler at the Continental Baths in the early seventies. That’s when he got his big break, when she let him do a solo spot on one of her tours.

Whatever Happened To Barry Manilow? Nothing. He’s still here. He is still going strong. Still talented. Still wowing audiences. Still making music. He has concert dates, in London, booked as far in the future as Sept 2018, so… this is a guy who is not slowing down any time soon. Maybe we should take a leaf from his book. Optimism, enthusiasm and a lack of presumption. This boy’s gonna go far.

 

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21 comments

  1. I’m tempted to make you feel nostalgic by ragging you for liking Barry Manilow. When I was at school we used to indicate our disgust at something by doubling over and pretending to retch while gutterally repeating “Barry Manilow … Barry Manilow …” as if we were regurgitating him.

    There was never any question of me liking him. By the time he appeared on radio I was already into Bowie (not to mention Jimi, Janis, Led Zep and Black Sabbath) so I was well inoculated. But even if I’d been marooned in the musical wasteland that was the early 70s Australian charts I don’t think I’d have been desperate enough to turn to Barry. He may not have still been flogging Macdonalds but so many of his songs still sounded like ad jingles (or themes from bad television shows). Yeah, Copacabana may really have been about murder and the Mob, but it still could have served as a promo for the nightclub (or an apologia for Batiste’s Cuba for that matter). I guess you could argue that by hiding broken glass in his kitsch pies he was subverting the notion of jingles and elevator music but it was pretty hard to sustain the notion Barry would knowingly subvert anything (unlike, say, Tom Jones or Bryan Ferry).

    One thing about Copacabana though; I thought I was joking at the time but I picked up on Barry’s sexuality from the Kinks reference in his choice of name for the showgirl. That Ray Davies later covered the song seems to suggest it wasn’t lost on him either. So I guess it was a bit deeper than most people suspected.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re EXACTLY the kind of person I was talking about. The nostalgia is rushing in like decompression sickness.
      You did better than me on picking up on his sexuality though. It took me and my many Barry friends years to figure it out. Talk about denial. We were Liza Minnelli for a good part of it.

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  2. BTW, Bermuda Triangle was really about failed love and betrayal. But I can think of quite a few songs about conspiracy theories. Mostly they fail because they’re contrived and preachy. For an example here’s my least favourite song from one of my favourite bands.

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      • Hi Cabrogal, so pleased that you’re a Fanilow, lol.

        I can’t honestly claim to be a fan, but there was an element of horrified fascination there. He’s so bad he’s almost good.

        BTW, I’m one of those oldies who never got rap or hip-hop, despite my admiration for the political stance of some of its proponents. But a couple of weeks ago I discovered South Africa’s Die Antwoord (Yeah, eight or so years late. Told you I was an oldie.)

        I can think of lots of reasons to dislike them. Much of the music is typical of the genre in that it could have been written by a rather simple computer program. The lyrics (and especially the film clips) rely heavily on shock and causing offence. A lot of people accuse them of racism, homophobia, lack of authenticity and cultural appropriation (though I think they’re missing the point). But fuck it, I like them. More than I’ve ever liked anything else in the genre (I’ve endured Niggaz Wit Attitudes and Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy gigs because I approved of their politics, but I was bored stiff from the second or third numbers).

        What I don’t do though is try to rationalise my appreciation of them. Even if I managed to drill through my reactions and motives and found some way to articulate them I don’t think it would mean anything. Justifying art is like trying to explain a joke. The point disappears in the verbiage.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah. I’m sure you already know The Stooges and MC5, but New Race was mostly an augmented version of the Sydney band Radio Birdman. Depending on my mood I tell people that either Birdman or The Birthday Party are my all time favourite Aussie bands. Both were good on vinyl but awesome live. One of my most memorable experiences was attending an invite only 21st for the son of Pip Hoyle (Radio Birdman’s keyboardist) in the tiny ‘Clubhouse’ in Glebe Park with no more than fifty other people and actually getting to sit down and jaw with Chris Masuak and Deniz Tek (by then I’d been a fan for about 25 years). Had another good chat with Deniz about ten years back when he was touring Newcastle with a band that included members of the classic but under-rated UK band The Vibrators (I’d been fans of theirs for about 30 years by then).

      Here’s what Radio Birdman were like back in the day.

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      • I like The Vibrators. I also like this song and video from Radio Birdman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoyoYgLEL_E and this one from The Birthday Party. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhecfKyKxfU
        Nick Cave is underrated. If someone stuck a gun to your head and asked you to choose between the two bands, which would you choose? I know it’s difficult because they’re both good but in very different ways, yet, there’s a gun to your head, so what would you do? Birthday Party for me I think.

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      • Fuckin tough, but yeah, I’d probably say The Birthday Party.

        I probably listen to Radio Birdman more often. They were also more consistent live. Some of the Birthday Party gigs I went to were so drug fucked they could hardly get a song out, though others went way beyond what I thought it was possible to experience – at a gig or anywhere. Both bands had a profound effect on the Australian music scene, though Radio Birdman had far more imitators. Few dared to try to imitate The Birthday Party.

        But ultimately Radio Birdman are not only derivative, but derivative of US music. The Birthday Party were a genre unto themselves and could only have come out of the Australian pub music scene of the 70s-80s. There was also more variation in their stuff. Each of their albums and EPs are very different to each other, though each are indelibly the Birthday Party.

        I consider it one of the great privileges of my life to have been able to experience so much Australian live music in the late 70s and early 80s. I have no doubt it was a pinnacle of rock music, though few outside the scene recognised it at the time. Some have attributed it to the intimacy of the venues and aggression of the crowds, but that ignores the fact that so many bands were just as impressive on an elevated outdoor stage as when dodging thrown beer cans at floor level in a tiny pub. It also doesn’t account for the great bands that didn’t embody aggression in their acts. Obviously the Birthday Party did though.

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      • I’ve been trying to think up a question for you that’s as nasty as the one you posed me. I think I’ve got it.

        If you were restricted to just one David Bowie album for the rest of your life which one would it be?

        I think I could answer that one, except that I’ve swapped my answer back and forwards between two albums about half a dozen times since I thought up the question. But I’m not saying which ones they are until you’ve answered first.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s easy, Diamond Dogs. There’s no agonising about that because it’s always been way up there, ahead of all the others. Some of that is to do with where I was at the time, in my life. I was happy, I think, or at least carefree. As carefree as someone with OCD can be. By the way, I wasn’t trying to be nasty or cruel, just thought provoking, lol. I do have a second and third album in mind, so yes, it’s a bit frustrating. not being able to have a second and third choice (which would have been ‘Low’ and ‘The Man Who Sold The World’) Seems like I’m getting a taste of my own medicine! You’re a wily one! But luckily, this was a no brainer for me. I’m intrigued to find out what your favourite is (and second and third, even though we’re not allowed them in our Hobson’s Choice type world.

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      • Man Who Sold the World is definitely in my top five. Width of a Circle alone puts it there (though I prefer the version on David Live). I was never particularly impressed by Low. When I first heard it aged 15 I found it inaccessible but even later I thought it was kinda pretentious, especially side 2 – at least coming from the artist that gave us The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Hunky Dory.

        As a young sci-fi fan I was very taken with Diamond Dogs and the ‘trilogy’ of Sweet Thing, The Candidate and Reprise in particular. Rebel Rebel is truly one of his gems and arguably his best charting single IMHO. When I heard the crap the Eurythmics produced for the soundtrack of the movie 1984 I couldn’t understand why the producers didn’t just junk it and use the stuff Bowie had already written. Though I played Diamond Dogs to death in my teens I rarely return to it now however.

        The album I found it hard to surrender when I limited myself to one choice was Alladin Sane, because it contains my all time favorite Bowie track and I couldn’t bear the thought of never listening to it again.

        I’m a sucker for that ol’ Bo Diddley beat and the way he uses it (and Ronson’s guitar) to fuse rock with Motown just blows me away.

        But my number one choice is Space Oddity, not so much for the famous title track as for some of the other numbers on the album, which seemed to speak to me in personal ways that changed but remained relevant as my life developed.

        Cygnet Committee warns of the dangers of promoting the radical social reforms I’ve always seen as necessary, especially the Nietzschean threat of becoming just as inhuman as the system you struggle against. Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud spoke to my aspie alienation, first from the family and small community I grew up in and increasingly from the values promoted by society. I’d never used drugs when I first heard it but Memory of a Free Festival held out the beautiful promise (mirage?) that there might be community to be found in the altered states I was unable to even discuss with anyone I then knew. God Knows I’m Good seems to me to be about the difficulty (and trauma) of finding a morality I could both respect and live up to without descending into hypocrisy and self-deceit. Janine encapsulated my teenage awkwardness with girls I was attracted to and the fear I was such a freak I’d never find love. It would be years before I finally did experience love and, inevitably, heartbreak and learned to appreciate Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed and Letter to Hermione.

        Space Oddity impressed me when I first heard it and has been a regular on my playlist ever since. At every stage of my life there have been songs on the album that seemed to directly address dilemmas I was facing at the time, often in a way that seemed uncannily relevant to me personally. Sometimes it seemed the only external validation I had of my struggles with beliefs, relationships and emotions.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The ‘Low’ album is depressing but pessimism is second nature to me, plus, I’m guilty of being a tad prententious. It was ‘Warszawa’ I was mostly obsessed with, which I played over and over, while I painted my bedroom pink. I found it atmospheric. When I listen to it now, it’s a bit like listening to ‘Nightporter’ by Japan. I think, ‘Oh come on, lighten up.’ ‘Low’ is nostalgic, and Diamond Dogs is probably always going to be set in stone for me. ‘Sweet Thing’, is one of my favourites.
        In regard to Aladdin Sane, I listened to it a lot, back in the day, but not as much as the others. The album always felt slightly out of control compared to the others, a bit chaotic. However, I understand your choice. I forget how deliciously bluesy ‘Jean Genie’ is. I have always loved ‘Time’, it appeals to my theatrical side. I like ‘Watch That Man,’ underrated.
        I listened to ‘Space Oddity’ repeatedly, in my very cold and damp bedsit in my late teens. I have a particular soft spot for ‘Unwashed and Slightly Dazed.’ It makes me feel that I’m not such a dick. ‘Cygnet Committee’ is like a Charlton Heston movie. Epic. I was also very partial to ‘An Occasional Dream’. It is intimate, personal, private, self indulgent.
        ‘The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud’ has so many layers, you get lost in them. Onion territory. Again, epic, Charlton Heston style.
        ‘God Knows I’m Good’, is very moving, one of Bowie’s story songs. (Barry has them too)!
        ‘Memory Of A Free Festival’…pure blue gold.
        It’s good that I’m getting to listen to these again after so long, and reconnect. Forgot how good they were. Most of these will probably be on my Christmas playlist!

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  3. Here’s a girl who initially found Aussie pub aggression hard to take, until she realised she could wield damaged vulnerability to beat the audience senseless. Courtney Love says she modeled her own stage persona on her.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I reckon Barry’s relationship with originality and plagiarism probably deserves a postscript here. It’s kinda funny.

    In 2006 he tried to sue The Strokes because part of the chorus of their song Razorblade was similar to the chorus of Mandy. The punchline is that Barry didn’t write Mandy. It was settled out of court.

    Barry himself has been accused of plagiarising classical music. For example it’s widely recognised that most of Could it be Magic is lifted wholesale from Chopin. At least he had the nous to steal from someone who was too ‘indisposed’ to sue..

    But I think the funniest was when he took George Michael to court with the claim that the music for Last Christmas had been copied from Can’t Smile Without You – another song Manilow didn’t write. When Michael’s defence team produced recordings of over 60 other pop songs that used identical melodies and chord progressions – most predating Can’t Smile Without You – he settled out of court with the agreement that Michael donate the first 12 months of income from Last Christmas to Band Aid – something Michael had announced he was doing before Manilow sued him. One irony was that Manilow once wrote an ad jingle for Band Aid (the adhesive strip, not the charity) but the best bit was that Michael avoided losing the case by demonstrating that both his and Manilow’s music was too generic for exclusive copyright.

    Oh, and I Write the Songs? He didn’t write that either.

    At least this Barry hit was an original.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was never that bowled over by Manilow’s commercial hits, whch usually weren’t written by him, preferring instead his lesser known album cuts, which he usually writes himself, or else in collaberation with a lyricist. Barry generally writes the melody.
      I don’t think Barry himself, as an individual, would have sued these people, as he didn’t write the songs in question. Although I do appreciate that his record company might have had something to do with it.
      I just listened to Razorblade by The Strokes and to my surprise, the chorus does sound incredibly like the chorus in ‘Mandy.’ We all agree here, in my living room, that it’s a total rip off. Who’d have thought it? It almost sounds deliberate, like they were doing a parody…or maybe a homage to Barry!
      I don’t think ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ sounds like ‘Last Christmas’ at all.
      As for ‘Could It Be Magic’ , the introduction was from Prelude in C Minor from Chopin, which Barry ALWAYS credits before he plays it, or talks about it. The rest is pure inspiration. Chopin may have been his muse but Barry wrote the music to ‘Could It Magic.’

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      • I’m no classical buff but a friend of mine who is insists it’s not just the Prelude Barry ‘borrows’ for the introduction of Could it be Magic but that other Chopin pieces form the basis of the verses and chorus too.

        You’re right that the record companies rather than Barry were behind the plagiarism suits but my understanding is that Barry made public statements supporting them and gave evidence in the Razorblade case. (BTW, Mandy wasn’t originally Mandy, it was Brandy; but as there was a song featuring a ‘Brandy’ charting when Manilow was recording it he thought it prudent to change the name so people wouldn’t think he was tailgating the success of others. Maybe he should have used Andy and avoided spending nearly his entire career in a closet.)

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      • I will admit that Barry Manilow is one of the few artists out there whose videos can’t be found on YouTube or elsewhere. Even his music is in bondage on social media. His music company has such a tight rein on copyright, it’s stifling. There’s just a few tumbleweeds blowing in the wind. But I love this tumbleweed.

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