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Barry Manilow apologized for being late for our interview. Superstars don’t have to apologize, but Manilow is no ordinary superstar. Behind his trademark glitter and showmanship is a man very seriously fascinated by the craft of his art. He was clearly happy to have the opportunity to talk about his concepts as an arranger—something he told me no one had ever asked him about.
Artist/songwriter/arranger Rupert Holmes told me, “Barry Manilow is going to start getting a lot more credit as the years go by for his melodic, memorable records. It’s easy to dismiss Manilow. He’s considered a guilty pleasure. But people have to stop feeling guilty about enjoying him. He made wonderful records. They soar. ‘Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again’ is one of the greatest records ever made.”
In arranging terms, the contemporary pop ballad was defined by Richard Carpenter and refined by Barry Manilow. To this day, everyone who records a love song has to use Carpenter and Manilow as a reference, even if they are unaware of or reject that reference. The template they laid out can be seen in records by Chicago, Whitney Huston, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and every boy-band who ever posed on a pubescent girl’s wall.
But whereas Carpenter’s records evoke a kind of ‘Sixties nostalgia for the ballads of the ‘Fifties, Manilow’s express what he calls a “two-fisted romance”, expressing the urban emotional sensibility of the less innocent ‘Seventies. As Manilow says, “I always wanted to have a little edge to my songs. I always wanted more muscle than that.”
His hard-edged baritone voice with its defiant intonation set him apart from other male singers. His performances, a unique blend of explosive showbiz glitz with the intimacy of a singer/songwriter, gained him a wide audience. His controlled use of dynamics, building arrangement to climax after climax has left a legacy of hits.
Few fans are aware that ‘The Voice’ (as Manilow is sometimes called by those not old enough to remember that Frank Sinatra was known by the same nickname) started life as a pianist and arranger, writing jingles by day while moonlighting as Bette Midler’s musical director. I asked him about his early career as an arranger.
This is a unique chance to hear the working methods of a superstar. Enjoy!