I accidentally recently half-watched the programme on Barry Manilow (Barry Alan Pincus) on the Biography Channel, and was interested to learn how he got started. I suppose I had heard that he originally wrote advertising jingles, and the programme said that, in order to keep the audience’s attention in his early shows as an unknown, he would perform a medley of the famous jingles he’d written and sung, so the concert took a surreal advertising break as he and his backing singers sang seriously about KFC, Dr Pepper, Pepsi and McDonald’s—the latter’s famous ‘You Deserve a Break Today’ campaign.
Another thing that caught my attention was that his first producer was Tony Orlando, as in Tony Orlando and Dawn, who sang Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree—so famously used as an unofficial anthem during the Iran hostage crisis—and Knock Three Times, and hosted a variety show in the States in the 70s, as did most performers it seems (The Smothers Brothers, Captain and Tennille, The Carpenters, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, etc). Hearing the result of Orlando’s tinkering with such later-famous ballads as Could it Be Magic? and Mandy suggest that it was not the happiest arrangement, as Orlando turned most things into something that sounded like Tie a Yellow Ribbon, a quick catchy pop song of the day. Fortunately, Manilow wrestled them back and eventually made hits of them his way, before the likes of Take That eventually covered Could it Be Magic? in a way that would make Orlando proud.
But most amazing, I thought, was seeing old clips of Barry Manilow working as Bette Midler’s pianist, with Grammy award winner Melissa Manchester (another former jingle singer) on backing vocals, in toned down shows on a teeny stage at a gay baths (NYC Continental Baths), where Manchester said the vending machine only sold KY Jelly and much of the audience watched bare-chested and clad only in towels, which they would throw at the stage if they disliked what they saw. But methinks that seeing Bette Midler, Barry Manilow and Melissa Manchester perform together on stage in the 70s must have been an impressive act worth keeping one’s towel on for.
Though my musical tastes are generally slightly more cutting edge, as partly demonstrated by my music-related website http://www.aboutlastnight.org.uk/ , I would certainly go see Manilow if I found myself in Vegas with the fortune to spare that it would probably cost me. He’s surely an impressive showman, I remember loving a lot of his songs I heard on the radio when I was a girl—particularly Mandy, the name of my cat, short for Kathmandu as she was a Himalayan cat. Think of all the songs you could sing along with if you were that way inclined, sung by that bold, unique voice on stage: One Voice, I Write the Songs (written by the Beach Boys’ Bruce Johnston), Can’t Smile Without You, It’s a Miracle, Looks Like We Made It, I Don’t Want to Walk Without You and the one most people like more than I do: Copacabana. You couldn’t pay me to see the likes of Tom Jones or others who might be filed under ‘naff’, but I imagine Manilow would be worth the mortgage-priced ticket cost. Hey, Sinatra and Dylan have been fans, so don’t knock him.
One thing the show didn’t mention was that in June 2006, some Australian officials blasted Manilow’s music between 9pm until midnight every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to deter gangs of youths from congregating in a residential area late at night (there was no mention of what the residents thought of having Manilow music blasted around their homes all night, but I assume it was preferred). As nothing seems to work here in Britain, I wonder if they should consider that? Though I’m sure they could come up with artists who would be more of a deterrent…..any suggestions?