I really might help give you a different opinion–and an overall appreciation of music–or comprehension of the music of Barry Manilow if you stick it out here with me.
The first eleven weekend reviews can be under the category heading of “Album Reviews.”
I’ve written a lot about the varied mix of musical influences I got from my parents and four older siblings, but when it comes to how the actual music influenced me I write more about the rock and roll that my brother Steve got into during our teen years, but it all influenced me.
Even ny sisters’ folk rock, pop, and dance music albums, which weren’t my cup of tea, had an influence on my life and my writing.
My sister Cheryl’s love of singer/songwriters had a big impression on me in my early attempts at writing; the form was ballads, the theme was love, and the girl was Melissa, and Barry Manilow’s current album, Even Now, was such a big part of that. That was 1978, the year before KISS would crank my head around with Dynasty and Paul Rodgers would sing about his “Rock and Roll Fantasy,” all in the attempts to outrock the sounds of the pinball and Space Invaders machines at Holstein’s Arcade.
Certainly with its own share of rock and roll of course, much of 1978 centered around this and Paul Stanley from KISS’s solo album. I was digging on all the KISS solo albums, but the ballads and love songs on Paul’s disk really had a big influence on how I viewed myself as a song writer; it’s the only album that influenced me more than Even Now did.
Now, if there are any of you metal heads and punk rockers out there wondering how I can ever come off with a Barry Manilow album on here, I have to remind you that I did review a Billy Joel album earlier, and, while Billy Joel is different from Barry in a lot of ways, in a lot of songs, he’s not too dissimilar in others.
And anyone who doubts Barry’s merit in the history of American music should know that Frank Sinatra was talking about him when he said “He’s next,” and Bob Dylan grabbed him and hugged him, at a party in 1988, and said, “Don’t stop what you’re doing, man. We’re all inspired by you.” Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard the stories about Bob Dylan, but he doesn’t come off as one who just walks up and hugs a lot of people.
Also, anyone who might denounce this album for it’s speed and decibel level might be surprised to find how similar this music is to maybe a Ramones album or an early Maiden or Skid Row disk. We’ll get to that a bit later, however; right now, let’s talk about Barry.
To understand this album, I think it helps to realize the type of musician Barry was. Yes, he was a band leader and a musical director, who produced such era heavyweights as Bette Midler and Dionne Warwick, and he was a theater man, but before all of that he was a New York pianist who wrote and sang his own songs. Being such, he was also a lounge singer.
On Even Now, you get three different types of songs. You get songs written with the piano bar in mind, songs written with the arena in mind, and songs written with the Billboard singles chart in mind.
An artist of Barry’s stature, all of these songs were written with the hopes of becoming hits, still, some of them stay soft and thoughtful like one would expect in a jazz bar, “Where Do I Go from Here?”; “I Was a Fool (to Let You Go)”; “Losing Touch”; “Starting Again”; and “Sunrise” all feel like they’d be fine with a glass of red wine and a quiet conversation.
“Somewhere in the Night,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” “Even Now,” and “Leavin’ in the Morning” all sound like they need three or four thousand seats to make them seem at home, while “Copacabana,” “A Linda Song,” and “I Just Want to Be the One in Your Life” all sound like somebody had thoughts of hit songs in mind.
And what worked? All of it. The album produced four hit singles, the title track, “Somewhere in the Night,” “Copacabana,” and “Can’t Smile Without You,” and became Barry’s second straight three million selling album.
And it’s such a strong album, the hits being what they were, but those don’t even include my favorite song–and one of my top three or four from the whole Manilow catalog,–“Leavin’ in the Morning” and such standards as “I Just Wanna Be the One in Your Life” and “Where Do I Go from Here?”
In all, the album is a fantastic representation of what singers and songwriters were doing in the mid to late-70s, but what if it wasn’t? What if you took these songs and treated them differently? Might they indeed be the stuff that the metalhead or the punk rocker might enjoy? Of course they could. Music isn’t built on how loudly or softly it is played, and tempo is even secondary to the basic structures upon which is actually based, those being the variance of the notes and the distance between them.
If you don’t believe me, try this: Listen to this album and try to re-imagine every song as a punk tune. Sped up, all of these songs sound like they could be early-Ramones offerings or could have fit Skid Row’s debut album or something from Maiden from the Di’Anno years. So, if you’ve never been able to create much of a taste for the music, seeing its potential as such might just show you there’s merit where you had previously not seen it.
If that doesn’t work, stick on the album and dance through the the entirety of “Copacabana,” the opening track, and I mean dance to it like you mean it from start to finish. Do it the first time with nobody watching so you can really let loose with no self-consciousness; if you learn to dance when nobody is watching, you’ll be able to dance when they are.
And speaking of that first song, “Copacabana,” I have a question for those of you who are still reading, and you have to answer it before you listen to the song again. Do you remember just “who shot who?” You can let me know in the comments, no answers necessary but a simple yes or no.
Much love, beautiful people. Hope you enjoy it.
As always, I won’t be mad if you share this.
Here are videos for “Leavin’ in the Morning” and “Copacabana.” I think “Leavin'” is a far superior song, but that suit in “Copa” is just priceless.