Looks Like He Made It

Reviewers have tried to get rid of him for years, but Barry Manilow's not going anywhere.

WW: Your music is extremely melodic, and it seems to me that a lot of rock critics, or critics interested in hip-hop or electronic music, are uncomfortable with too much melody -- maybe because some hooks can get past all your defenses. Even if you don't like a certain type of music, a hook can still get stuck in your head whether you want it to or not.

BM: And they begrudgingly respond to it. But I can tell you that even if the critics don't like melodies, the public loves them. They always look to the melody. For all of my career, I have heard all of the records that have been popular, and they are all kind of wallpaper. But then there's one a year that hits the number-one spot, like the song from Titanic, and you realize that there's an enormous audience out there that has been silent. I think the general public really responds to melody, and if they can't get it on the pop radio, they get it on the country radio. But I think it's coming back with all the young kids, like 'N Sync and 98 Degrees.

WW: Of course, the critics have gone after them, too.

He came and he gave without taking: Barry Manilow.
He came and he gave without taking: Barry Manilow.

BM: It's easier to like rock and roll and music that's aggressive than to claim that they like melodic music. But it didn't seem to be like that before I started making records. There were the Gershwins and the Cole Porters and the Harold Arlens, and before that, the classics. Those are melodies from heaven. But now when you listen to the radio, there are no melodies. There are great grooves, great-sounding records, but I'm telling you: When they hear a great melody, a majority of the public will arise and make themselves known.

WW: Have you ever written a hook where you knew instantly that no one would be able to resist it? One where you knew people would be totally powerless before it?

BM: I would have to say that "Copacabana" did that. I never knew that it would turn out to be the kind of standard that it is. It started out as a novelty record, but I knew it was pretty hooky.

WW: And when you performed it live for the first time...

BM: There was no doubt.

WW: At times like that, are you able to almost stand outside yourself and watch what these songs you wrote do to people?

BM: Once you finish writing a song, it doesn't belong to you anymore. That's why I connected so much with this awkward song called "I Write the Songs" that Bruce Johnston had written. Because I understood what he had written. I thought he had said it awkwardly, and I knew I would get myself in terrible trouble...

WW: People didn't think it was about inspiration; they thought it was about you, Barry Manilow, claiming to have written every great song.

BM: That's right. This morning, I just got a review from some putz in New Jersey where he said "the egomaniacal 'I Write the Songs,'" and I slapped my forehead and said, "After all these years, they still don't understand." Now, that doesn't mean the whole world doesn't. But there's some putz in New Jersey who's writing for a newspaper who still doesn't understand. Yes, I knew I'd get myself in trouble, but I also understood what Bruce was saying, and I agreed.

WW: After all these years, are there people who come up to you after shows and say, "I used to hate your music in the Seventies, and now I enjoy it"?

BM: I don't think anyone's ever said, "I hated your music in the Seventies"; I don't think they'd be that insensitive. But I do think that they have rediscovered it. These audiences that I've been performing for have been larger than any audiences I've had since the very beginning, and "Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again" still brings down the house. It always did, and it always should. But these days I hear squealing, and I know it's affecting a younger audience. They're discovering me through their parents' records and through the underground people that loved my music but have been afraid to say they have.

WW: Is it particularly satisfying to you that most of the people who came after you with both barrels are gone but you're still here?

BM: I'd love to say that it's satisfying, but I never really paid much attention to it. I would wince at these continually brutal reviews, but it didn't ever really stop me. The furthest I would get was to be amazed at how cruel some writers needed to be to a human being that they didn't even know. I was a young guy trying to say something -- trying to become more of a musician and trying to entertain people. And I had something to say. I wanted to say, "Here's a melody that moved me. Here's a lyric that might affect you. This is an interpretation that I hope you can connect with." That's all I ever wanted to do -- to connect with an audience. But these critics would love to have annihilated me, and I was always amazed and astounded at how cruel they felt they needed to be. But after I'd get out of the self-pity after an hour or so, I'd feel bad for them, thinking that they needed to do that to somebody that they didn't even know. And then I just moved on.

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