Barry Manilow

  • Pop and soft rock singer, pianist and songwriter born Barry Pincus in 1943 in Brooklyn New York.
  • His father left the family when Barry was 2 years old, and he eventually adopted his mother’s maiden name, Manilow. He played piano and accordion when he was 7, and after high school, he was accepted into the Julliard School of Music. He paid his tuition by working in the mail room at CBS. While there, in 1964 he met a director who asked him to arrange some songs for a musical adaptation of a play from the 1840s titled The Drunkard. He ended up writing the entire musical score for the play, which ran at an off-Broadway theater for 8 years. He began to earn money by writing and singing jingles – Manilow famously wrote and sang the jingles for State Farm Insurance (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”) and Band-Aid (“I’m stuck on Band-Aid, ’cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me”) – see my February 13, 2019 post on jingles for more information. By 1967, he was music director for the CBS TV series Callback, and the following year, he was conducting and arranging for Ed Sullivan’s production company.
  • In 1969, he was signed by CBS Music vice president (and recording artist) Tony Orlando. In the early 70s, he co-wrote with Orlando, and performed with a group of studio musicians, using the name Featherbed. Two singles released by Featherbed did not chart – one of them, Could It Be Magic, would later be released as a solo song by Manilow and would be a hit.
  • Bette Midler saw Manilow perform in 1971, and she hired him to play piano on her songs, and then to produce her first 2 albums. He worked with Midler for 5 years – in 1973, he was nominated for a Grammy award for his role as producer of her The Divine Miss M album.
  • After Featherbed, he went solo with his debut album in 1973, the self titled Barry Manilow. His breakthrough occurred with his next release, Barry Manilow II. The album went platinum – his first of 9 consecutive albums to be platinum or multi-platinum (he has a total of 15 platinum albums, including compilation and live albums). The first single from the album was Mandy, which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song originally was called Brandy, written and recorded in 1971 by Scott English. When Manilow covered it, he changed the name to Mandy to avoid confusion with the 1972 hit Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass.
  • A string of hits followed throughout the 70s – he had 17 top 40 songs during the decade, including the #1 songs I Write the Songs (which Manilow did not write) and Looks Like We Made It. Additionally, he hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart with 7 other songs, notably another signature song, Can’t Smile Without You. By this time, Manilow had established a style of romantic ballads with lush arrangements – something that the critics despised, but was immensely popular, particularly with women. He saw himself as a classic showman, and his live performances were big and theatrical.
  • In the late 70s and early 80s, Manilow starred in 4 television variety show specials – the first in 1977 won an Emmy award. He also has won just 1 Grammy award (from 15 nominations over 5 decades) – for his 1978 hit (and another signature song), Copacabana (At the Copa). He was awarded a Special Tony Award in 1978 for Barry Manilow on Broadway, a second Emmy award for his TV special Barry Manilow: His Music and Passion in 2006, and an honorary Clio award in 2009 recognizing his work as a jingle writer.
  • His popularity on the singles charts waned in the 80s, though he had 9 singles in the top 40, with 3 songs – The Old Songs, Somewhere Down the Road, and Read ‘Em and Weep – topping the Adult Contemporary chart. During the decade, he continued to be successful in concert tours, he starred in the 1985 film Copacabana, and he published an autobiography. Over the last 30 years, many of his 18 studio albums have been covers of classic songs from the past, including musical theater, big band, and songs from the 50s, 60s and 70s, as well as several Christmas albums. Manilow has at least 1 album in the Billboard Top 40 album chart in each decade from the 70s to the 10s – that is 5 decades of successful albums.
  • Barry Manilow is one of those artists that might make you roll your eyes when you hear him, but his body of work puts him among the best selling artists of all time, and his performances prove his greatness as a performer. Watch the king of cheesy ballads perform I Write the Songs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *