In terms of record sales and career longevity, Barry Manilow is one of the most successful adult contemporary singers ever. That success hasn't necessarily translated to respect (or even ironic hipster appreciation) in most quarters; instead, Manilow's music has been much maligned by critics and listeners alike, particularly the romantic ballads that defined his career, which were derided as maudlin schlock even during his heyday. It's true that Manilow's taste for swelling choruses and lush arrangements often bordered on bombastic, but unlike many of his MOR peers, Manilow wasn't aiming to make smooth, restrained background music: he conceived of himself as a pop entertainer and all-around showman in the classic mold, and his performances and stage shows were accordingly theatrical.
Ultimate Manilow [Arista]Manilow dominated pop music during the latter half of the '70s like few other performers, spinning off a long series of hit singles (including 13 number one hits on the adult contemporary charts) and platinum albums that essentially made the Arista label. When the well began to run dry in the early '80s, he branched out into other genres. No longer a superstar expected to deliver blockbuster hits, Manilow was free to explore his long-held taste for swing, pop standards, and Broadway show tunes, which dominated his albums from the mid-'80s on. He continued to record steadily during the following decades, and his popularity never completely eroded, as evidenced by the number three chart debut of his 2002 greatest-hits package, Ultimate Manilow, and the number one peak of his 2006 covers album, Greatest Songs of the Fifties.
Barry Manilow was born Barry Alan Pincus on June 17, 1943, in Brooklyn, and grew up in its low-income Williamsburg section. His father left the family when Barry was two, and he eventually adopted his mother's maiden name of Manilow. He began playing piano and accordion at age seven, and following high school he was accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School of Music, which he paid for by working in the CBS mail room. From there, he became musical director of the CBS show Callback, and supported himself for the next few years by writing, producing, and performing advertising jingles (including high-profile campaigns for State Farm, Dr. Pepper, McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and others).
The Divine Miss M In 1971, he met Bette Midler, who hired him as her pianist, arranger, and musical director; he served as her accompanist on her legendary pre-fame tour of New York City's gay bathhouses, masterminded her first two albums (1972's The Divine Miss M and its self-titled follow-up), and debuted some of his original material at her Carnegie Hall show in the summer of 1972. Thanks to his gig with Midler, Manilow was able to land a record deal of his own with the fledgling Bell label, and his debut album, Barry Manilow I, was released in 1973. It didn't sell very well, and when Bell became Arista, label head Clive Davis asked Manilow to record a pop tune called "Brandy," which had been a U.K. hit for its co-writer, Scott English. Manilow changed the song into a ballad and changed the title to "Mandy" (to avoid confusion with the Looking Glass hit "Brandy [You're a Fine Girl]"); released on 1974's Barry Manilow II, "Mandy" became a number one hit early the next year. The Broadway-esque follow-up, "It's a Miracle," hit the Top 20, and a re-release of the Chopin-adapted ballad "Could It Be Magic" (from the first album) hit the Top Ten.
Tryin' to Get the Feeling With his career thus established, Manilow recorded an even stronger follow-up album in 1975's Tryin' to Get the Feeling. "I Write the Songs" (ironically, written by Beach Boys sideman Bruce Johnston) became his second number one pop hit in early 1976, and with the title track also hitting the Top Ten, the album went triple platinum. Manilow consolidated his emerging stardom with This One's for You, released toward the end of the year;
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