Barry Manilow’s scores his first #1 single with “Mandy” on January 18, 1975. He would go on to sell more than 75 millions records over the course of his career.
At the height of Barry Manilow’s popularity, none other than Frank Sinatra himself said of Manilow, “He’s next.” Yet even in his heyday, the more youthful arbiters of “cool” were not kind to him. They called Manilow’s music bombastic and schmaltzy, even as Americans devoured his every release. But critics may have missed the point. Barry Manilow never fancied himself hip or cool—far from it. “I have purposely tried not to stay in sync with the times,” he has said. “I just do what feels good.” Even as a teenager in the 1950s, Barry preferred pop standards and Broadway show tunes to Elvis Presley records, and it was his love of this style of music that led to his big break.
While working as a commercial jingle writer/performer and pursuing a recording career with limited success, Manilow met a kindred spirit named Bette Midler. He first became her piano player then graduated to musical director, lending his arranging and orchestration talents to her Divine Miss M album and tour (think “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”) on the condition that he be allowed to perform a short set of his own songs during her intermission. It was this experience that landed Manilow a gig as Dionne Warwick’s opening act, which in turn led Clive Davis to take him under his wing at the newly formed Arista Records. Then came “Mandy,” “It’s a Miracle,” “I Write the Songs,” “Looks Like We Made It” and a string of 21 more top-40 hits between 1975 and 1983—hits that helped earn Barry Manilow recognition by Billboard and Radio & Records as the top Adult Contemporary chart artist of all time. His days as a chart artist may now be behind him, but Barry Manilow continues to fill concert venues around the world with fans whose enjoyment of his music seems undiminished by the jokey barbs of the pop-critical establishment.
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