I believe that music makes the mood, and the hallmark of a good musician is their ability to tell a story that bends the ear and touches the heart of his or her listener. It doesn’t matter to me if the song doesn’t chart, or the albums aren’t a huge commercial success. And critical opinion — well that be damned, too.
Balladeer, composer, pianist and music producer Barry Manilow chronicles heartbreak and personal struggles in powerful and evocative ways. Melancholic songs have always appealed to me more than happy, bouncy ones; maybe because they tend to be more contemplative and retrospective, and I, as an introvert, tend to gravitate towards those adjectives.
It is those wistful, sentimental journeys that Manilow has been taking me on for many years. His songs have been called schmaltzy, cheesy, and even elevator music, but his longevity in the music industry, combined with a string of multi-platinum selling albums through the years seem to say otherwise. It’s hard to believe that he has been making his particular brand of magic for almost half a century. It was almost as surprising for me to learn that he was the creator of jingles for McDonalds (“You deserve a break today”) and State Farm Insurance (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”)
Manilow reawakened my interest in piano, an instrument that I deliberately lost touch with for almost ten years, and instilled in me an interest to sing. I find his songs to be eminently playable. It’s a treat to be able to “accompany” him on the modern day piano, aka my digital Yamaha keyboard. Even if it’s an audience of three, two, one (or none) that I am playing to.
He’s also one of those few artists that I can listen to, without watching. Listening to him sing “Can’t Smile Without You” doesn’t make me depressed. The voice of encouragement in his lyrics keeps that from happening. “Ready to Take a Chance Again” is, however, full of angst … to the nth degree. The singer is trying to convince himself as much as a potential significant other that he is indeed ready to wear his sleeve on his heart again. And haven’t we all put ourselves in that vulnerable, soul-baring position before?
The beginning to many songs in his repertoire, including “I Write the Songs” and “One Voice” is hesitant. Like a knock on the door. Someone who’s looking for that burst of confidence to talk in front of an unfamiliar crowd, and make that special connection with them. His songs also lend themselves to the lovely use of metaphors.
His cover of “Memory” is my favourite–far and above even Barbra Streisand’s. It truly epitomizes the yearning to be free and unfettered. Even if we don’t all admit to having an inner cat. 🙂 To live in the moment, even if the moment is one of the past. It’s a nostalgic piece that puts me front row and centre at the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats musical.
“Looks Like We Made It” is my favourite Manilow song. It is a triumphant, yet bittersweet look back on a past relationship that had its moment and needs acceptance from both sides that a good thing is finally over, but not in a bad way. Acceptance to be finally at peace with one’s self, and move on. On the other hand, the optimistic “Somewhere Down the Road” believes that a past relationship can be rekindled. “Ships” chronicles difficult parent-child relationships. And I can so relate, as a teen and even as an adult. The peppy beat of “Daybreak” gets me going in the morning. And “A Little Travelling Music, Please”, makes me feel like I am on that train, bound for home. The sound of shuttering in the background helps. 🙂
Me, a Manilow fan? Unapologetically so. Guilty as charged. A Fanilow? Well, that may be pushing things. I’ve never been much into cute follower labels.