Not many singers and songwriters have had hit after hit spanning 70 years, but Barry Manilow and his songs are in a league of their own. The beloved Grammy-Award winner has recorded more than 51 Top 40 singles, including 13 that have hit number one. And Frank Sinatra himself even predicted a young Manilow’s rise to fame in the 1960s, stating confidently, “He’s next.”
Barry Manilow’s rise to fame
Born on June 17, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, Barry Manilow began his musical career in 1964 when a CBS director asked him to arrange some songs for a musical adaptation of The Drunkard. Instead, the prolific Manilow wrote an entire score that was used in the Off Broadway musical, which enjoyed an eight year run.
Around this time, Manilow also began work as a commercial jingle writer and singer. We all still hear the melody of “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” and McDonald’s “You deserve a break today” among many other ditties Manilow wrote during that time.
Up and coming actress Bette Midler took a liking to Manilow’s musical act in 1971 and chose the young musician as her pianist at the Continental Baths in New York City. Subsequently, he produced both Midler’s first two albums in 1972 and 1973.
Manilow’s breakthrough solo hit came in 1974 with the single, “Mandy” which began the start of a string of hits. His “Ready to take a Chance Again” originated in the film Foul Play as did “Copacabana”.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Manilow enjoyed sold out concerts in the United States and abroad along with multiple television specials that skyrocketed him into one of the best-selling artists of all time.
Barry Manilow still “writes the songs”
Since 2011, Manilow has hosted They Write The Songs, a documentary series for BBC Radio and also recorded his concerts at the O2 Arena in London for subsequent CD and DVD releases. Most recently, Manilow has added a Las Vegas residency to his stellar resume.
Considered by many to be the king of soft rock and adult contemporary hits, Manilow still enjoys writing the songs that the whole world sings. Here we take a look at some of his greatest hits through the years.
10 Barry Manilow songs that stand the test of time
1. “Could it be Magic” (1973)
Coming off jingle writing and acting as Bette Midler’s musical director, Manilow’s first venture into solo recording was not a hit by any means. The album was a flop but it had this hit song on it — a seven-minute tune that set up Manilow’s style for future songs. Over time, the ballad driven, drama and big orchestral backing has been made into a disco anthem by Donna Summer to a beautiful Leon Russell medley with Sylvester.
2. “Mandy” (1974)
Originally titled “Brandy”, Manilow turned up his nose at the suggestion he record the tune until Clive Davis convinced him it would be a good career move. They changed the name to “Mandy” so as not to be confused with the hit “Brandy You’re a Fine Girl”.
Manilow’s version had amped up vocals, and an orchestra and choir backing him. The result of “Mandy” produced Manilow’s first #1 pop hit after his first album failed to garner much attention. “Mandy” also gave Manilow his first Grammy nomination.
3. “I Write the Songs” (1975)
Actually, Barry did not write this hit. It was written by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys and the first to record this song was Captain and Tennille who often worked with Johnston. Once again, Clive Davis had to convince Manilow to record what became another #1 hit single for him. At first, Manilow thought people would think he was boasting about his work and himself. The song earned a Grammy Award for Song of the Year, which went to Johnston as the songwriter but made a hit by Manilow.
4. “New York City Rhythm” (1975)
Known for his ballads, this tune combines Philly soul with Latin funk-rock of Santana. While Manilow added a little bit of show tune aspect to the song, it also has lyrics that display a bit of debauchery too.
5. “Can’t Smile Without You” (1978)
If you remember way back when, The Carpenters first recorded a version of this single a year before Manilow’s hit. The sentimental song boasts a tune that becomes instantly familiar. At most of Barry Manilow concerts, this is a favorite audience singalong.
6. “Looks Like We Made It” (1977)
The song takes a look at a divorced couple who have found happiness with others. But listen closely and the song gives doubt that the couple actually finds true happiness and fulfillment with their new spouses. It marks the peak of Manilow’s success.
7. “Copacabana” (1978)
Can anybody sit still when hearing “Copacabana”? Barry Manilow won a Grammy as Best Pop Male Vocal for this song. Complete with a very succinct storyline and vivid characters in the saga of Lola, Tony and Rico, the song became the focal point of a TV musical that was later adapted for the stage.
Manilow’s memories of the Copacabana club in New York City were the inspiration behind the song. It was included as music in the 1978 film Foul Play. In 2008, Manilow recorded an acoustic version of the song for his album The Greatest Songs of the Seventies.
8. “Made it Through the Rain” (1980)
Barry Manilow wrote the entire song by himself. Considered a positive creative song, it was originally written by another songwriting team, but when Manilow heard it, he adjusted the lyrics, altering the point of view from that of a musician to an everyman so that people could better identify with the words.
9. “She’s a Star” (2011)
Not known for writing and singing tough songs, Manilow gives a glimpse into celebrity with this tune, supposedly inspired by his former boss, Bette Midler. Manilow reworked it for his adventurous 2011 concept album, 15 Minutes, also home to a track that features him rapping. So to discover another side to Barry Manilow, this album is a must.
10. This is My Town: Songs of New York (2017)
Manilow released this studio album in commemoration and celebration of his hometown, New York City by “saying thanks to the city for giving me my ambition, my sense of humor and my decency.” The album consists of new original Manilow compositions and standards that remind listeners of the spirit and energy of New York. Tunes include “This Is My Town”, “Coney Island”, “New York City Rhythm”, and many others.
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