Call him soft rock or romantic pop, Barry Manilow was the king of the ballads in the 1970s. He started off his reign with a little musical melodrama called "Mandy," which was released 40 years ago. Before "Mandy," Barry Manilow was floundering as a performer. He had already released his debut album, but that record failed to get any notice. Then music mogul Clive Davis, founder of Arista Records, encouraged Manilow to record "Mandy." While some critics found the tune too saccharine for their tastes, Manilow won over millions with this sentimental song of heartbreak.
"Mandy" was originally "Brandy."
The song's title was changed to avoid any confusion with "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass. This "Brandy," however, tells the story of a man who chooses the sea over his on-shore girlfriend. If the band's name doesn't sound familiar, don't feel bad. Looking Glass only had one minor hit, "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne," after topping the charts with "Brandy" in 1972.
The man who "writes the songs" didn't write this one.
Scott English and Richard Kerr co-wrote the tune. English recorded his own version of the song, then known as "Brandy," which hit the U.K. charts in 1971. According to an interview he did on The Paul Leslie Hour, he wasn't thrilled with Manilow's take on his song. "In the beginning, I hated it," English said. He objected to how Manilow changed the song and made it "real poppy" sounding. But then the "checks started coming in" for the song and English told Manilow that "I ended up loving you buying me houses." (Fun fact: Manilow didn't write "I Write the Songs" either. The credit for that soft rock ditty goes to Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys.)
"Mandy" was Manilow's first number-one hit.
This song became the first in a long string of successful singles, which included "I Write the Songs" the following year. Manilow went on to dominate the adult contemporary genre for nearly a decade. According to Billboard, Manilow last topped the adult contemporary singles chart in 1983 with "Read 'Em And Weep."
Before "Mandy," Manilow was Bette Midler's piano man.
Manilow worked as a pianist at the Continental Baths, a gay bathhouse in New York City in the early 1970s. There he began performing with singer Bette Midler and quickly became her musical director. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Manilow explained that "I learned from Bette how to perform, how to do a show. I had no idea. I never even paid attention to performance."
Not just the king of the ballad, Manilow was also the master of the commercial jingle.
He wrote the music for several big ad campaigns of the 1970s. You have Barry to thank for "I Am Stuck on Band-Aids" and "Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There." In fact, he wrote an entire song for "Like a Good Neighbor," but the company only ended up using part of it. Manilow also recorded a number of other popular jingles and used to do a medley of his advertising hits during his concerts.
Manilow never wanted to be a pop music sensation.
He had his sights set on the Great White Way, not the music charts. As he explained to the Washington Post, Manilow was greatly influenced by his stepfather's musical tastes. His stepfather introduced him to jazz and the songs of Broadway. "Pop stuff made no imprint on me," he said. "I just wasn't impressed by four chords. Elvis didn't do it for me. But jazz and Broadway tunes had such substance and such intelligence and such soul that it was something I could connect to." Manilow credits Clive Davis with making him a success in pop music. "If I hadn’t had Clive Davis guiding me along I really don’t know what kind of pop career I would have had," he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Even Manilow gets sick of his songs sometimes.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said that "Can't Smile Without You" was one of his least favorite tunes to perform. Manilow explained that he makes the song more palatable "by doing it as a duet with some member of the audience." He also pointed out to Vanity Fair that sometimes "Looks Like We Made It" "feels a little stale" to him. "When that happens, I take the song out of the show and give it about six months." Now in his seventies, Manilow is still performing. He will spend much of 2015 on his One Last Time Tour.