Barry Manilow may never have held much stock with rock critics, but over the course of his seven-decade career, he’s managed to win over the public with his smooth vocals and sublime pop craftsmanship. To date, he’s sold over 85 million records worldwide, making him one of the biggest selling artists of all time. Here, we take a look back at some of his finest moments with our pick of the 10 best Barry Manilow songs of all time.
10. When October Goes
Kicking off our list of the 10 best Barry Manilow songs of all time is When October Goes. By the mid-’80s, Manilow’s magic was beginning to wane. With his record sales at an all-time low and his naffness at an all-time high, he did the only thing he could do – reinvent himself. Recast as a late-night lounge lizard, he released the 1984 album 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe, a jazz-inflected recording with a late-night vibe and a downbeat groove. It’s a fine effort, with When October Goes standing out as one of its highlights.
9. Looks Like We Made It
If you thought Manilow was only capable of saccharine corn, turn your ear in the direction of Looks Like We Made It, an emotionally charged ballad with enough complexity and depth to turn every lazy preconception about Manilow on its head. Explaining the bittersweet lyrics to SongFacts, writer Will Jennings said, “You walk into a party. Someone you used to love and someone who used to love you is there. You are each with someone else. ‘Looks like we made it, left each other on the way to another love… looks like we made it, or I thought so until the day, until you were there, everywhere, and all I could taste was love the way we made it’… real life. And if you feel that way, you didn’t make it.” Released as a single from the album This One’s From You in 1977, the song peaked at number one on both the Adult Contemporary chart and Billboard Hot 100.
Ships was written and originally recorded by former Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter in 1979. That same year, Manilow reworked the song (which is reported to be about Hunter’s strained relationship with his father) for his album One Voice. Although his version is sweeter and more melodic than Hunter’s, the tasteful interplay between the vocals and instrumentation delivers the same emotional punch to the guts, leading Hunter to later remark “That guy’s no slouch when it comes to arranging.” On its release as a single, it reached number 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart and number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
7. Weekend In New England
Set against a backdrop of soaring strings and dynamic key changes, Weekend In New England finds Manilow reminiscing about a trip to New England with its “long rocky beaches and you by the bay” after he’s “back in the city where nothing is clear.” Released in 1976 as the second single from the album This One’s For You, the song hit the top spot on the Adult Contemporary chart and the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100.
6. I Made It Through the Rain
In 1980, Manilow earned his final top ten hit with I Made It Through the Rain, a Gerard Kenny and Drey Shepperd co-write (with a few little lyrical tweaks courtesy of Manilow and Bruce Sussman) about the struggles of an Average Joe who refuses to give up. Described by Billboard as having a “contemplative mood” and “one of Manilow’s most dynamic finishes,” the song hit number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 4 on the Adult Contemporary Chart.
During a stay at the Copacabana Hotel in Rio de Janeiro, Manilow got into a conversation with his long time collaborator Bruce Sussman about whether there’d ever been a song called Copacabana (which also happened to be the name of a New York nightclub that Manilow had frequented during the ’60s). They decided there hadn’t, and on their return to the US, Manilow suggested that Sussman should be the first to write one. The result is a wildly camp, hugely enjoyable piece of Latin-infused melodrama that took Manilow to the top ten in the US, Belgium, Canada, France, and the Netherlands.
Before Mandy was Mandy, she was Brandy, and before she was one of the most famous songs in Manilow’s catalog, she was a top 20 hit for her writer, Scott English. Despite his initial reluctance to record the song, Manilow was eventually convinced of its merit by label boss Clive Davis. After giving it an extra helping of drama and changing the name to avoid any confusion with the Looking Glass hit, Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl), he released it in 1976 as a single from his second album, Tryin’ to Get the Feeling. It went down a storm, peaking in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 and earning the singer his first number one hit on the Adult Contemporary chart.
3. Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again
As theguardian.com notes, one of Manilow’s greatest gifts is singing songs about romantic despair in a way that makes them sound epic and triumphant: “the musical equivalent of a tearfully stoic smile.” Case in point – the title track to the excellent album, Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again, which was originally recorded by The Carpenters but went largely unnoticed until Manilow turned it into a top ten hit in 1976.
2. I Write the Songs
As liveabout.com explains, despite what some fans think, Manilow did not write I Write the Songs. Rather, it was written by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. Manilow was initially reluctant to record the song, but after his label boss Clive Davis convinced him of its potential, he proceeded to give it the works, using harps, orchestras, group backing vocalists, and everything else he could get his hands on to turn it into yet another number one hit single to add to his collection.
1. Could It Be Magic
Manilow’s debut album was a flop, selling a tiny 35,000 copies on its original release in 1973. But while not many people bought it, those that did were treated to one of the greatest moments of Manilow’s career – the 7-minute epic, Could It Be Magic. Grandiose, spectacularly well-crafted, highly orchestrated, and just a little bit Broadway, it represents Manilow’s entire approach to music in a nutshell. After Manilow’s second album turned him into a chart success, Arista re-issued his debut in 1975 with a re-worked version of Could It Be Magic. This time around, the song caught on, hitting number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Since then, it’s been reworked by numerous artists, including Donna Summer and British boyband, Take That.