Yesterday, Barry Manilow released his 39th album, Here at the Mayflower. Now I’m certainly not going to go out and buy it, nor should any of you, not when you can pick up a copy of 1974’s Barry Manilow II on vinyl at any thrift store in the country for less than a dollar. For those of you that don’t already own this album and are wondering if I’m patently stupid for suggesting that you should (or wondering if I’ve just descended into that it’s-so-bad-it’s-good kitsch that causes usually intelligent people like Jake Brown to like such awful shit as Britney Spears) listen to “Mandy” and tell me Manilow is not an artist that should be respected.
For that matter, listen to most of his stuff from ’73-’78 (all of which I proudly own on vinyl and regularly listen to) and tell me that it’s not the best Easy Listening music ever recorded (or at least better than Dan Fogelberg). And then tell me that you haven’t found yourself humming along to an Air Supply song you heard Muzak-ed over the PA at Wal-Mart, or stopping for longer than the obligatory five seconds on WLHT to catch the end of “Blue Bayou”. Even better, try and make an argument for why George Michael’s seminal work with Andrew Ridgeley in Wham! is not Easy Listening—because there’s not a “lite” radio station in the country that doesn’t butt “Careless Whisper” up against “Maneater” by Hall and Oates.
If you’re not man or woman enough to admit the greatness of Barry Manilow, then you need to think really seriously about how comfortable you are with your own self image.
Granted, I think there’s probably no reason to own more than three or four Manilow albums, just like you don’t need to continue buying AC/DC records once you own Highway to Hell, For Those About to Rock, and Back in Black. But for some people, getting stuck in a groove is the way they like to live their lives. For these people, the Manilows and AC/DCs of the world are pillars of strength and perseverance, things they can cling to when the shit hits the fan. So props to both artists for never compromising who they are, never re-inventing themselves to meet marketplace demands.
Barry Manilow has taken a lot of shit over the years, erroneously being dubbed the poster child for bad music when we all know that cretins like Richard Marx, Michael Bolton, and Kenny G could each in turn suck the proverbial chrome off a trailer hitch, a ’59 Cadillac, and a new Harley Springer Softail. Although some of Manilow’s career moves were indeed somewhat suspect (not writing the song, “I Write the Songs”, for instance), think about it for a minute, just how much space would those 39 albums take up in your CD storage unit or on your record shelf? If it were indeed all garbage, Manilow would have long since been put out to pasture. But no, the guy has stuck with it, brushed off the criticism and he still looks, sounds, and performs the same as he did 20 years ago. If Aerosmith and the Stones had aged as well and kept their coolness as intact as Manilow has kept his un-coolness, we’d be living in a different world.
Fortunately, in this same space of time that Manilow has neither grown nor changed, I have. Thanks to my dad who, recognizing my fascination with Barry Manilow during my young and formative years (yes, four of my Manilow albums were actually acquired in the 1970s, before I had even turned eight years old), went out and bought me a copy of R.E.O. Speedwagon’s best-selling album of 1980, Hi Infidelity. As much as this purchase of a cheesy pop-rock record must have pained my father—he’s known to all my friends as The Jazzman; my girlfriend even calls him “Jazz”—he must have recognized that if he didn’t do it, distract me from Barry with something other than Spyro Gyra (which, to my credit, didn’t work), I might now be the guy who went eagerly out last night after work and purchased Mayflower. How’s that for good parenting?
So R.E.O. (ironically enough, given my current occupation as an automotive writer, standing for Ransom E. Olds) changed my life by introducing me to what is now arguably an even worse—perhaps just more insidious—genre of music than Easy Listening: Classic Rock. Fortunately, I have been working on combating the resultant disease—call it Neilyoungisgodosis—with the help of a good support group (this being my friends; “Hi, my name is Tom and I really love Little Feat”) and a prescription for regular doses of Public Enemy. My father still has some hope: at least Chuck D. is black. This digression aside, it’s important to remember that good music is good music, no matter how uncool it is, no matter where it came from, no matter what genre it falls into, no matter how embarrassing it is to admit, and no matter how stupid you might have been when you first liked it—or how stupid you are now.