I imagine it was hard for both the artist and producers when they sat down to put together the latest in Barry Manilow’s decade tributes. The previous two albums, celebrating music from the fifties and sixties, resulted in top-selling albums that won critical acclaim and put Manilow back on the charts for the first time this century.
But Manilow paying tribute to the seventies? To me, that’s comparable to Gene Rodenberry paying tribute to science fiction or Rachel Ray paying tribute to quick cooks. Just as Rodenberry popularized his genre with “Star Trek and Ray has made 30-minute meals household standards, Manilow’s music was the seventies.
The songs he’s best known for – “Mandy,” “I Write the Songs,” “Weekend in New England” and “Looks Like We Made It” – all topped the charts during the 70s. Even before those songs, he began the decade by filling our heads with jingles like “You Deserve A Break Today” and “Be A Pepper.” Even those of you who didn’t live through the 70s recognize that these phrases hawk McDonald’s and Dr. Pepper.
So, how does a man who so influenced a decade celebrate it?
“The Greatest Songs of the Seventies” has to be one of Manilow’s greatest compilations, even rivaling his original collections that have sold millions. The consummate pop singer goes where few singers dare tread, taking on songs that seem almost inseparable. From the original office. Appropriately, the collection opens with “The Way We Were.” From there, Manilow weaves us through time, giving due respect to those “other singers” of the 70s: the Bee Gees, Elton John, the Carpenters, Jackson Browne and Simon on Garfunkel.
While so many artists have done a cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” none have been able to replicate the emotion brought out by the close harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel. Manilow does. This has always been my mother’s favorite song and when I heard Manilow’s version, I actually fought back tears.
He gives equal treatment to other classics. Another high point of the sing is “It Never Rains in Southern California.” Manilow’s vocals are backed by a somewhat different arrangement. It works. The song, though, continues to be a mystery to me – such a nice upbeat tempo, even a optimistic title, yet some of the most depressing lyrics ever penned. Manilow critics would point to that as one reason this song was a natural fit for Manilow.
The real treat for Manilow fans, though, comes at the end. Five of his own classics from the 70s are performed acoustically. You’ll be happy to know that Manilow’s vocal range hasn’t changed. A few of the songs, namely “Mandy” and “Even Now” sound almost exactly like the original cuts. “Copacabana” has a completely different arrangement, a treat for Lola and Tony…and even Rico!
Those of you who are die-hard Manilow fans know this is actually his second salute to the great songs of the 70s. Back in 1996, “Summer of ’78” included the original title songs and covers of eleven hit songs from that year. Most were ballads and the highlight was Manilow’s rendition of Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy.” Unfortunately, the powers that be chose not to include that song on this album and that is my only criticism.