Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 17 June 1946, Brooklyn, NYC) Arranger, songwriter, singer who became a massive MOR act of the 1970s-80s: a slum kid from a broken home beaten up at school for being ugly ended with the knack of communicating directly to the lonely. Accordion at age seven, piano at 13; studied at Juilliard but left to work at CBS as mail clerk; later studied at New York College of Music, got into arranging for TV shows; arranged (and re-wrote) off-broadway musical The Drunkard '67 which later ran for eight years, also arranged and played piano in three-piece band for show Now; arranged for weekly TV talent show Callback, others. Meanwhile married, divorced; accompanied singers in clubs, auditions; from '69 wrote, arranged, sometimes sang jingles for soft drinks, McDonald's hamburgers, State Farm Insurance, Chevrolet, a toilet cleaner, etc (later arranged jingles into song 'Very Strange Melody' on a no. 1 album). Half of flop night club duo Jeanie (Lucas) and Barry '70-1, also made first single for Bell: co-written 'Could It Be Magic' by group Featherbed (Manilow double tracked). As accompanist in a bathhouse '72 he met Bette Midler, also on her way up; became her music director through her first two albums. Second flop single for Bell also '72, 'Sweetwater Jones' under his real name. Went solo with Midler's backup group when she took a year off '74, got spot in Dionne Warwick show in Central Park (later produced her hit LP Dionne '79). Soon hired own backup trio: Debra Byrd, Reparata (Lorraine Mazzola) and Ramona Brooks, called Flash Ladies; Brooks replaced by Monica Burruss, name changed to Lady Flash.

Meanwhile Clive Davis took over at Bell, now changed to Arista; his first two LPs on Bell were reissued on Arista, several tracks on the first (Barry Manilow I) remade, and it included 'Sing It', made in a Times Square booth '48 with the voice of his grandfather urging the small boy to 'Sing it -- sing ''Happy Birthday''. Don't you want to make a record?'. The album now made top ten USA, also including four-year-old song 'Brandy', retitled 'Mandy': the single was no. 11 UK, no. 1 USA. Sixteen chart singles in UK '75-83; 25 top 40 hits USA '74--83 incl. two more no. ones 'I Write The Songs', 'Looks Like We Made It'. Five albums in the top ten of UK album charts from '79 included I Wanna Do It With You (title cut also top ten single); 13 albums in top 40 of LP chart USA '74-84 included two hits compilations and no. 1 Barry Manilow Live '77; first of several annual TV specials that year: Variety wrote, 'Fortunately, his big hits have been reasonably literate and musically sophisticated songs.' His feat of five LPs in charts at once had been previously accomplished only by Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis; in '78 he became the first artist to have three triple platinum LPs in 18 months (sales of 3m each): This One's For You, Barry Manilow Live and Even Now. Critics joked about his nose, but not about his success; he sold out five nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London '82. Richard Williams wrote in The Times: 'His vocal equipment may be limited but he has the gift of singing to a single member of the audience without excluding the other 5,999 ... [a skill] which should not necessarily be scorned.' Manilow says, 'I'm just a musician who sings a little.' He regrets that 'sometimes when I open my mouth, what comes out sounds like Pat Boone ... I get angry at myself because I can't do what Tom Waits does. His voice comes from his kishkas when he sings. I could try to sing like that for the rest of my life and I could never sing as good as him.' He moved away from sweet ballads with '40s-sounding 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe '84 with guests Sarah Vaughan, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Torme; Swing Street! '87 with Mulligan, Kid Creole, Stan Getz, duet 'Summertime' with Diane Schurr; he published autobiography Sweet Life: Adventures On The Way To Paradise '87. Not so big on the charts any more but still with plenty of fans, more albums were Live On Broadway '89, Showstoppers '91 and Singing With The Big Bands '94, backed on various tracks by five ghost bands (Glenn Miller etc) and Les Brown, then not yet a ghost. His show Copacabana inspired by a top ten hit from '78 opened in London '94, described by Mark Amory as 'bone-shakingly, jaw-droppingly bad, not even fairly representative of Manilow's considerable song-writing talents'.

In mid-2018 Rite-Aid pharmacies in California were playing Manilow's hits to drive away panhandlers from outside the stores. We report this without judgement and we don't know whether it worked.