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29th June 2011
By Dean Goodman
(Reuters) - Barry Manilow, the piano man who didn't write his big hits despite proclaiming otherwise in "I Write the Songs," is back in stores with his first album of original material in a decade.
"15 Minutes," a guitar-driven concept album he co-wrote with lyricist Enoch Anderson, details the rise, fall and possible redemption of a young musician. There are traces of Manilow in the storyline, but he says it can apply to anyone trying to make it in their chosen field.
The album debuted in the top 10 of the U.S. pop album chart last week, and is at No. 20 on the current UK chart. It will be released in Europe in September.
Q: This record indicates to me that you're a closeted rocker?
A: "Aha! I wouldn't call me a closeted rocker. I would say that I'm crazy about all sorts of styles of music. My only weak spot is singing them because I don't consider myself a singer. I've sort of fooled the public into thinking that I really could sing. Luther Vandross is a singer, George Michael is a singer. But I was able to get through because I can act the lyric. I can perform a song, and I think that was good."
Q: What parts of you do you recognize in the character?
A: "I didn't start off wanting to write an autobiographical story, but I had gone through just about every experience in every song except for the very last two cuts, which is when he's really down and I'm imagining him in a hotel room saying, 'What happened?' Thank goodness I didn't go down that far, but everything else I experienced."
Q: What's the closest you've come to derailing?
A: "Not very successful albums, some singles that were released that didn't make it, shows that didn't sell out. They really affect you when you're flying high. This fame thing is a rollercoaster. And I'll tell you something, if you do it for the fame you are asking for trouble. For me, I never did it for the fame, I did it for the music. I did it because I couldn't not do it. It saved my ass."
Q: If you're not self-destructive, when you look in the mirror what character flaws do you see?
A: "I got offered everything when I was starting out. I had to make a decision whether I wanted that life or not. My biggest decision was how was I treating people? When 'Mandy' hit and I had five No. 1 records in a row, was I being the guy that I was five years ago, or had I changed? I said, I changed and I had to make that decision to be a good guy again."
Q: Are you a good guy now?
A: "I try to be. I don't think I'm that ego, fear-based guy that I was when my life was out of control."
Q: How did you develop such a thick skin?
A: "I'll tell you one of the things that definitely helped. I had a lot of people around me who were very supportive. I had family, I had old friends. I had a record company. I had people around me saying, 'Don't listen to any of this stuff, you're doing great work.' They would boost me up. When Sinatra (reportedly in the 1970s) said, 'He's next,' that was a very, very important moment for me."
Q: To what extent do you keep a hand-on approach to the Barry Manilow business?
A: "I must say that I don't pay attention to the money as much as I should, because I did go bankrupt twice ... I should have taken responsibility for that. I just don't. It doesn't mean anything to me, it really doesn't. I'll miss it when it's gone."
Q: Do you work out?
A: "I do, three times a week. I eat well. I go to the gym. I got my hair. I'm telling you, so there you go, I'm lucky. I'm a lucky guy.
26th June 2011
Barry's new original album 15 MINUTES entered The Official UK Top 40 Albums Chart this week at No 20.
Congratulations to Barry, Stiletto Entertainment and everyone involved in the success of this amazing project!
Barry was in the UK last week for a whirlwind promotional visit which included recording An Audience With Barry Manilow ITV 1 special, due to air in the autumn. Plus, Barry brought Covent Garden, London to a standstill while he signed copies of 15 MINUTES for hundreds and hundreds of fans, many who had camped overnight to be first in the queue! Barry also performed Bring On Tomorrow on the Paul O'Grady show and gave a special private concert at Windsor Castle for the Princes Trust.
This week watch for Barry on DAYBREAK ITV 1 which is showing on their listings to air on Tuesday 28th June 2011 between 6am-8.30am.
And, tune into the following radio shows!
Smooth FM with Mark Goodier Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th to hear his interview with Barry
Magic FM with Neil Fox week commencing 27th June
Heart FM with Jamie Theakston on June 27th
25th June 2011
BARRY Manilow's been in showbusiness since the sixties so he knows what he's talking about.
Barry Manilow worries that performers who find instant fame through reality shows will struggle to "handle" their stardom.
The singer-songwriter, 68, has appeared as a mentor on American Idol but admits he's concerned contestants find fame too fast without serving their apprenticeship.
Barry, who worked as a TV jingle writer, arranger and pianist before stardom came with hits such as Mandy and Copacabana, says: "I get worried for the kids who wind up in the spotlight without having paid their dues. You see it every week on The X Factor and American Idol. They do have talent but before you know it they are household names. They haven't worked in the bars we worked in, they haven't gotten dressed in the men's room."
He tells Piers Morgan Tonight: "I was in a dressing room share and they had this nice young girl I saw on TV a couple of weeks before. she had her hair up, she was wearing Armani and I went, 'Woah, how is she going to handle this?' being famous is a very dangerous thing if you are not grounded. It's a drug. I know that feeling - audience applause and being told you're the greatest."
But he's keen to pass on his advice: "I would do that every day. I've learned so much over these past million years."
25th June 2011
After fans waited for ten years, Barry Manilow released his first collection of completely original material. His new album "15 Minutes" debuted at #7 on the Billboard album chart and was inspired by the rise of pop star Britney Spears as well as his own career.
Always entertaining, Manilow discussed his health, writing and kids today during post-album interviews. The veteran star is concerned about modern kids pursuing a show business career. Manilow said, "I get worried for the kids who wind up in the spotlight without having paid their dues. You see it every week on 'American Idol' and 'The X Factor.'"
Manilow also has a sense of humor about aging and health, indicating, "I never get fat, because I don't like eating. I don't need aerobics; I get enough of that when I'm on stage. And I've got my hair. I'm very lucky - 95 years old, and I've still got my hair." Manilow [has] decades to go before reaching 95.
Barry Manilow revealed [he] wrote his 1979 song, "One Voice" in his sleep, whispering the lyrics into a cassette machine. He also admitted the pop star in "15 Minutes" was himself, saying, "I found myself in every song. Around the eighth one, I realized that I was really writing about me. I never went down as far as the guy on the album does, but I did go down. I was a very unhappy guy."
It seems Barry Manilow is happy today [with] his new album debuting at #7 on the Billboard album chart. WPLJ reports in the past 10 years, this is Manilow's sixth top 10 album. Over the lifetime of his career, Manilow [has] enjoyed 13 Top 10 albums and 47 Top 40 hits. "Bring on Tomorrow," the first single from "15 Minutes," already reached the Top 40 hit list.
24th June 2011
In his first collection of all-original material in a decade, the saccharine-but-ever-inspiring Barry Manilow has a new album debuting at #7 on the Billboard album chart. [Two] years in the making, the album "15 Minutes" was inspired by the rise of Britney Spears and examines the perils of fame. "I was watching Britney Spears being driven crazy by the paparazzi," Manilow told USA Today. "This young, beautiful, talented girl was just trying to live her life, but she was being followed around everywhere. I asked myself, is that the price of fame these days?"
Taking its title from Andy Warhol's prediction that people of the future will be famous for just that length of time, "15 Minutes" traces the rise and fall of a fictitious male pop star that is definitely not Spears. The New Yorker calls it an "ambitious concept album," writing: "If you think that 'Barry Manilow' and 'concept album,' when placed too close to one another, trigger an irreversible chemical reaction that produces excess camp value, you'd be correct, but Manilow's album benefits from his indisputable pop talents and a focused if sometimes overdetermined narrative: the song titles, from 'Work the Room' to 'He's a Star' to 'Winner Goes Down,' aren't exactly oblique."
As Manilow does the post-album release [interviews], here are some of gems he's said: On kids these days: "I get worried for the kids who wind up in the spotlight without having paid their dues. You see it every week on 'American Idol' and 'The X Factor.'" On his health: "I never get fat, because I don't like eating. I don't need aerobics; I get enough of that when I'm on stage. And I've got my hair. I'm very lucky - 95 years old, and I've still got my hair." Manilow is 68. On writing his 1979 song "One Voice" in his sleep: "This one woke me up. It really woke me up - the whole song, the rhymes, everything.I ran to the cassette machine, and I whispered it into the cassette machine. All done." On identifying with his album's fictitious pop star: "I found myself in every song. Around the eighth one, I realized that I was really writing about me. I never went down as far as the guy on the album does, but I did go down. I was a very unhappy guy."
20th June 2011
UK the WAIT IS OVER...15 MINUTES, the first original album from singer-songwriter Barry Manilow in ten years, is OUT NOW, available in all good shops and on line at www.ManilowUK.com
Barry will be making a very special appearance signing copies of 15 Minutes on Thursday 23rd June from 6.30 pm at Dress Circle Records 57-59 Monmouth Street, London, WC2H 9EZ.
Watch Barry on The Paul O'Grady Show - Friday 24th June on ITV 1 and Daybreak - Monday 27th June
Plus Barry will be hitting the airwaves!
Radio Station: Radio 2 - Ken Bruce, acoustic session and interview - 23rd June
Radio Station: Radio 4 - Kirsty Lang - 23rd June
Radio Station: Smooth FM - Mark Goodier - 27th & 28th June
Radio Station: Magic FM - Neil Fox - w/c 27th June
Radio Station: Heart FM - Jamie Theakston - 27th June
18th June 2011
"Even Now: Barry Manilow Goes Independent With First Collection Of New Material In A Decade" by Paul Cantor - Billboard Magazine
"In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes."
The well-known Andy Warhol line, which first appeared in 1968 in a self-titled catalog for a Swedish art exhibit, has inspired Barry Manilow - already world famous, and for much longer than Warhol's estimation - to record "15 Minutes," his first album of original material since 2001's "Here at the Mayflower."
"All the reality shows are turning people into stars overnight," says Manilow, who turns 68 on June 17. "I kept looking at the newspapers and the TV and it seemed these young people were becoming famous and kind of imploding. I thought that it would be interesting to write songs about [that]. I didn't want to just write a brand-new original album with 12 lovely songs. I didn't think that would be interesting to me as a songwriter."
And so, roughly two years ago, the Grammy and Emmy Award-winning singer/songwriter sat down with Enoch Anderson who Manilow has worked with off and on since his 1974 sophomore album, "Barry Manilow II," and began fleshing out ideas for "15 Minutes." The concept album details the quick rise and even swifter fall of an unnamed modern-day musical celebrity. The journey of the main character from hopeful nobody to full-fledged star and back to nobody again is explored over 16 tracks that run the gamut from uptempo guitar-driven pop ("15 Minutes"), to lush ballads ("Bring On Tomorrow"), to duets ("Letter From a Fan/So Heavy, So High" featuring Nataly Dawn of California-based indie rock band Popmlamoose).
The album, due June 14 and co-produced with Scott Erickson (Carly Simon, Barbra Streisand) and Michael Lloyd (the Osmonds, Pat Boone), both of whom Manilow has worked with consistently, largely plays in two halves. The first is filled with meetings with label executives ("Work the Room") and toasts to the good life after making it ("Wine Song," "He's a Star"). But then, the dark side of fame rears its head. On "Who Needs You?" the protagonist becomes full of himself, with Manilow singing, "You're claiming you made me, built me up high/So go make another, let's see you try." On "Winner Go Down," the crowds that once adored our hero now await his downfall, and on "Trainwreck," he implodes. After a reprise of the title track, the album closes with the uplifting "Everything's Gonna Be All Right."
In a pop culture landscape dominated by Twitter, an unrelenting gossip news cycle and TMZ cameras, "15 Minutes" feels right on time. That it's coming from Manilow, who has spent the past 10 years releasing albums of era-specific covers (2006's "Greatest Songs of the Fifties" was his second set to enter the Billboard 200 at No. 1) and compilations (his latest, "Duets," was released May 3) is striking.
"Barry just said he didn't really want to do anymore cover albums," says Manilow's long-time manager Garry Kief, who in partnership with Universal Music Group's Fontana Distribution will release "15 Minutes" independently through his company Stiletto Entertainment. "I assumed there was pent-up demand for original material. [And] the response has far exceeded my expectations."
"15 Minutes" is Manilow's first indie effort. But he's relying on proven tactics to engage his target adult contemporary audience. On May 26, he appeared on QVC to play cuts live and give people an early opportunity to purchase the project with a bonus disc containing four unreleased songs. Manilow is also partnering with Clear Channel for a contest in which participants will submit videos of what they would do for a chance to appear with him at the Paris Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where he's been performing weekly since March 2010. And on June 7, [Radio Manilow], a station programmed around the artist's music and other songs of his choosing and hosted by Manilow himself, goes live on Clear Channel's iHeartRadio.
Will all this help sell "15 Minutes"? Manilow, who has sold more than 75 million records (according to the RIAA), says he isn't sure, but that he's happy to be creating music again. "Who knows how to sell records anymore? We made a beautiful record, and I would be happy to put [it] back in the drawer. I really don't even think about the next step... but certainly, that's unrealistic. So here I go... promoting this album, and crossing my fingers that the public likes it."
16th June 2011
On a recent afternoon in Hollywood, Barry Manilow, the Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter who has sold more than 80 million records worldwide, has one of life's curious surprises waiting for him in suite 12D of the W Hotel & Residences, where he's holding an interview in support of his new album, 15 Minutes. Manilow, who turns 68 this week, looks trim in dark slacks and gray jacket. He sits on a couch with a view of the Hollywood Sign. Across from him sits a redheaded journalist whose mother, Beanie, was one of Manilow's good friends when they worked together at CBS in New York City in the '60s.
Manilow attended Beanie's wedding in 1967, his records were endlessly played at the journalist's home during his childhood in the 1970s, and the singer regularly sent Christmas cards to the family. The singer and Beanie's son, however, have never met. When the journalist explains all this, the singer says he feels like he's going to cry.
"We were close," Manilow says, moving to the edge of the couch. "Your mom got me through the days of CBS. It was a very gray office, with a lot of people and serious bosses. It was typical office work. She was a bright, shining light in the middle of all these gray, serious businesspeople." He thinks, and says, "If she only knew how important she was to me in those days."
Manilow smiles and reminisces about the old times, when he would sneak away from the CBS mail room and play a piano in a nearby rehearsal hall, Beanie covering for him. Manilow also drafted her to be in Off-Broadway productions. "I used to do some conducting for local theater stuff, and she was in those shows. She did The Pajama Game with me, and she might have done Bells Are Ringing with me. She was fun. She was funny."
Since Manilow's new, guitar-driven album examines the pitfalls of fame and a celebrity-obsessed culture, the journalist asks if that rise from the CBS mail room to the top of the charts taught him any lessons. "Well, your mom would remember," Manilow says. "I was always into the music. I was not into becoming famous. I was not into making money. I was just into the music. And everybody remembers me as a musician. So this new album kind of says, 'Don't do it for the fame. Do it because you have something to say. Do it because you can't not do it.' That's what I did."
He continues, "I had to leave that job at CBS. I had to get this music out of me. It was the only thing in my life that made me happy. And it wasn't about standing up on the stage and getting applause. I was very happy in the background. I was very happy playing piano for people and conducting for people and doing arrangements for people. So Beanie will tell you that I never did it for the fame. Ever. As a matter of fact, when I wound up as a singer, everybody who knew me was shocked. One of my friends, I think it might have been Bette [Midler], when I got my first record contract, I said I got a contract, and she said, 'Doing what?' I said, 'Singing.' She said, 'You don't sing.' I said, 'I do now.'"
Then he recalls the years between 1975 and 1979, the height of his fame. "'Mandy' came out [in 1975], and it kind of threw me for a loop," he says. "This fame, being famous, I didn't like it. When I got these No. 1 records, people were applauding and my name was getting bigger and bigger, and audiences were getting bigger and bigger, and I was getting more famous for something else. They liked the way I looked. They liked the way I talked. And the music was beginning to take second place. It was the best of times and the worst of times for me."
The journalist looks down at his sheet of scribbled questions, thinking about the many hours he listened to Manilow's records as a kid, trying to get to know his mother's friend through his songs. He then realizes, some 30 years later, he no longer has to guess. He asks what it was about fame that Manilow didn't like. "For me, I really didn't like all of the attention. I didn't like the spotlight. It just wasn't my thing. So suddenly I found myself having to put makeup on for TV shows and think about what I was wearing. And it wouldn't stop. It just kept going."
"I think I became a person I didn't like. I think I just didn't like doing this job, but how could I turn it down? You know, the records were selling. They did like my music. They did like my performance. And I'm good at that. But what came with it was very uncomfortable to me. I became a guy who I think Beanie wouldn't have liked. I wasn't that same guy. I was, I think, demanding. I was not kind, I think. That's what it felt like to me. I keep asking people around me, and they might not agree with me. But that's what it felt like to me. I lost myself during those four years."
Manilow pauses for a second, and says it was by reaching out to friends in the early 1980s that he found himself again. "I made phone calls to everyone. To my family and to my old friends. Because those are the people who are going to tell you the truth. Those are the people who kept me grounded. I shook myself awake again."
The journalist, realizing why his mother liked Manilow so much, asks if he has any wisdom to share with young songwriters. "Keep your old friends and family with you. Don't lose them. Because they'll tell you the truth. That's what helped me. The other thing is, don't do it for the money and don't do it for the applause. Because it'll never be enough, and if it goes away, you're going to be very, very unhappy. I've read someplace that when it's all over, they're not going to remember you for what you did. They're going to remember you for how you made them feel. That goes for any artist, maybe for any human being."
"I remember your mom for how she made me feel. I know that she made me feel better than I was. When I would show her something, she would jump around and say, 'You're great! That's great!' Or she would make me laugh. She was a light in that gray room. That's what I remember about her. That's what I hope my fans are getting from me. That they like the way I make them feel with my music. Maybe that's what has kept me up there."
At the end of the interview, Manilow asks for Beanie's number. He wants to call his old friend.
16th June 2011
Like Alec Baldwin, Manilow, whose new album is appropriately titled '15 Minutes,' empathizes with the former Senator. Says the singer: "After all this unbelievable attention and flattery, you wind up alone in front of your computer and that's when you get yourself in trouble."
During his four decade-long career, Barry Manilow has been a master of the singles chart, with dozens of top 40 hits, including his most famous "Mandy" and "Copacabana," a multiple Grammy winner, a consummate showman and a good sport who's as likely to mock his own seventies fashions as he is to play himself in a TV sitcom, like he did in 2003 on Will & Grace. No doubt Manilow knows all too intimately the highs and lows of fame, which is one reason why his introspective new album -- and first independent release, out this week -- is titled 15 Minutes. Manilow spoke with THR about the difficulties of public life, the new music business, and why he would never, ever be a contestant on a reality singing show.
The Hollywood Reporter (THR): You're no longer contractually bound to a record company, how you go about promoting an album in this day and age?
Barry Manilow (BM): This was the big question because the album is on my own label, [Stilleto], but we needed a hand distributing it. So I would ask the people that I met over the last couple of months, "How do you sell a record these days?" Everything is diffferent, and it seems to have changed a lot over the last year. When we were selling records, we fought for room on the top shelves in Tower Records, but there's no record stores… So you need to have people working for you who live and breathe on the internet, and that's a bunch of young people. Between my company, Universal and Fontana I felt very safe with that batch of young people.
THR: Lindsey Buckingham mentioned in a recent interview how difficult it would have been to make an album like Rumours now. If you were starting out today, how would you approach a music career? Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then?
BM: You have to be strong. Fame is always a shock to the system; there's no school to go to, there are no books to read, and when it hits you, it's a surprise. You could be working for 10, 20 years and when it finally hits you, you get knocked down. I keep reading about people who want to be famous -- it's not that they want to be great songwriters or great actors, they want to be celebrities. That is scary because you can be famous doing some really stupid things.
THR: How did you avoid those trappings of fame?
BM: I was always into the music. Music, in general, saved my life. But the fame part… I would look up, see what was going on around me, the reporters and photographers and all, and then I would just go back to making my music. And it never really got me. I think the people who are out there for fame get themselves in a lot of trouble.
THR: There are certainly plenty of examples in the news in recent years, everyone from Britney Spears to Charlie Sheen to Anthony Weiner. In your song, "He's A Star" you sense a sort of loneliness. Does that just come with the territory?
BM: It's what can get you in trouble. From highs like you never imagined -- the screaming of the audience, the accolades from people around you -- you really believe that you are the smartest, most intelligent, most beautiful person. And then you go to your hotel room, close the door and, ergo, the Weiner. This is when you go online and take a picture of your penis. Not that I would! [Laughs.] But I know that feeling, after all this unbelievable attention and flattery, you wind up alone in front of your computer and that's when you get yourself in trouble.
THR: When you were writing the songs on 15 Minutes, were you looking at it from the point of view of a fictional character or did you recognize your own experience?
BM: On "Written In Stone" I realized, "Oh, I had lived through that." It's about sharing this success with a girlfriend -- they wanted it together, she started off encouraging him and they would have this life together for the rest of their lives. You start off grateful to this person, and this happens to everyone, you realize you can't take her to work with you. I tried it over and over and suddenly the relationship starts to fall apart. And when I wrote "Written In Stone" and sang, "Didn't we say we were written in stone? Weren't we gonna do this whole thing together?" I realized I was really writing this album about experiences I had myself.
THR: You were a guest judge on American Idol, a show that means instant fame for its participants and has become an increasingly legitimate launching pad...
BM: That's the most frightening thing for me. I saw these kids who haven't got much experience or paid their dues. It was a great chance they took and wow, they become a household name in months, but you kind of countdown the days until they wind up on TMZ.
THR: Sounds like they need career training...
BM: I actually thought I sort of made a dent the three times I was on the show. I did the best I could. They were like sponges -- so appreciative and I do think they got better. But they really need some direction or suggestions, they're very alone.
THR: Now there are so many singing competition shows, including The Voice, Idol and X Factor, if you were Scotty McCreery's age today, would you audition for one of these shows?
BM: I would never, ever have done it. I haven't got the balls to do anything like that. To stand in a line and sing a capella? No way. I never wanted to be a performer, that was not one of my goals. I wanted to be a musician and that was that. So this performing thing, when I made my first album, nobody was more terrified than I was to get up from the piano and try to communicate with an audience and sing and talk. So no, I never would have gone down that road that these young people are taking.
THR: Did you have any self-revelations while working on this record?
BM: The dark night of the soul for me was one night in Florida, when I had been on the road for about four years and I realized that everybody around me was on my payroll, that my old friends hadn't been in touch with me and my family didn't know where to get me. I was a very unhappy guy and it was because I was really alone. All these people that you work with all day long are in your house all night and then in the afternoon, these same people are in your car and on the plane and they're all people you pay. I looked up and said, "Wait a minute, what happened to my life?" I had to make a decision and my suggestion to anybody who's going to do this is: keep your family and old friends around you. That's what I had done and that's what saved my life when it came to being famous.
June 15th 2011
While his fans of nearly 40 years may disagree, legendary singer-songwriter Barry Manilow wishes that, in a way, his new studio album 15 Minutes didn't have come to come out this week. "People have been hearing cuts and everybody's flipping out over this album, more so than anything I have ever done. Every artist feels the same way: It's like having a new baby, you create a beautiful thing, and then you release it and people say, 'Boy, that's an ugly baby,'" he says, laughing. "That's what I'm nervous about."
Released on his own Stilleto Entertainment label, 15 Minutes marks Manilow's first all-original effort -- and a very strong one, at that -- since 2001's Here at the Mayflower, with several tribute and compilation albums in between. It's a sonic story told in 16 tracks of a man who finds fame and then loses it, with lyrics by Enoch Anderson.
You can hear songs from the album as well as classic hits on his just-launched Radio Manilow station on iHeartRadio, which also features other musicians' music he digs. Listen to it for a couple hours and you're liable to hear Sting, Annie Lennox, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, the Four Seasons, Tina Turner, and Hall and Oates. Manilow, who's in residence playing shows at the Paris Las Vegas, checked in with us to talk about the new album, music education and if he'll ever follow in the footsteps of iconic music producer Clive Davis and channel his inner music mogul.
USA Weekend (UW): The album is still very much you, but it's obvious you're trying some new stuff.
Barry Manilow (BM): I hope people understand that this is a really risky thing for me to do, and I really love taking a chance like this. It harkens back to the earlier albums, before I did the covers. This is the kind of album I always made, filled with different styles and different kinds of songwriting. The first album [in 1973] had a jazz piece on it followed by a Chopin prelude followed by a couple of guitar-driven songs. Those are the kind of albums I used to love to make, but about 10 years into it, I started to make tribute albums to different styles of music, which I really loved doing. And Clive was very, very for those kinds of albums. I sort of lost the songwriting part and I missed it. So this is the first one in a long time where I actually get a chance to go back to writing and writing that kind of album filled with melodies and lyrics and great production.
UW: You are the guy who writes the songs, after all. Was it easy for you to get back into that groove?
BM: I have been writing over the years, but not for the albums as much as I have for Broadway stuff and the movies and stuff like that. My albums seem to have taken a turn to singing other people's stuff, and they were very successful and people seemed to like it. But I missed the songwriting, so this is a real important one for me. I just really love it.
UW: When you listen to the record, you definitely get the "fame" theme. Albums with a theme seem to be a staple in your discography.
BM: The Paradise Café album [in 1984] had a theme: I put myself in a nightclub in the 1950s, and I was the piano player with a group of musicians. The same thing with the Here at the Mayflower album that was stories about people who lived in an apartment building, and that was great to write. For me as a songwriter, it is agony to try to write a hit song that will be played on the radio. There are people who can write like that, like Diane Warren, who cranks 'em out two a day. I really admire that because, for me, sitting down at the piano and trying to write a love song that will be played on the radio is just impossible. It is the most difficult thing to do. I don't know how to do it - I've had luck doing it, but it's always agony. As you know, writers have to face the blank page, and that blank page is very difficult for me. But if you give me a situation to write about, that's fun. That I can do really, really well, and that's why I came up with this idea. It felt like a really interesting idea to write songs about fame and what fame can do to somebody because I've been down that road. Those songs I definitely knew how to write, and I was even able to put some songs in that would sound good on the radio as well. But to just write a song about, "I miss you," ugh, God, that's hard. [Laughs]
UW: Were there a few songs that you thought were riskier than others as you were writing?
BM: There's a song called "Letter from a Fan" that was risky because, No. 1, the topic of it was risky. She's kind of a stalker and gets a little angrier and angrier as the song goes on. And I didn't sing that one - I gave it to Nataly Dawn, who's a wonderful singer from this group called Pomplamoose. I thought, well, that's kind of an oddball thing to throw on an album, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And some of these angry songs, I wasn't sure whether the people who like what I do were going to be able to be OK with, Oh, there's a song on it called "Who Needs You." I thought the music of it was great, Enoch's lyric is really great, but will the public like hearing me be angry on a song? Even after "Letter from a Fan," I come in just an angry guy, with lots of guitars and edge music on it. I thought, Are they going to be looking for the pretty ballads? This is not an album of pretty ballads. There's a lot of energy to it. But so far, the people who've heard this are having no trouble with any of that.
UW: Did you try out the songs in your Vegas show?
BM: No, I've only done "Bring on Tomorrow" there, and it stops the show every night, so I'm OK with that. And I did this hour on QVC a couple of weeks ago. I did eight songs in front of an audience and we sold loads of albums, meaning the public was buying them and they really liked it.
UW: Bring on Tomorrow, to me, has that classic Manilow sound.
BM: I only wanted to do one of those. I didn't want to put a batch of those on the album. There's another beautiful ballad on it called "Written in Stone." It's when he becomes famous, and she doesn't want to come along. What's interesting about this album is Enoch and I were writing it about a fictitious young person who wants fame, gets it, blows it and starts again. I really was writing about somebody else, but somewhere in the middle of writing this thing, I realized that I had actually lived through every single song. I was really writing about myself. I didn't start off writing an autobiographical album about what I went through, but I had really lived through every single experience. It's just that I never went down that far as I take the guy at the end. I never wound up in a hotel room saying, "Nobody's calling and what the hell happened?" I never did that. I did experience all the other ones.
UW: It seems like that would be surreal personally if you're writing these songs and have an epiphany like that.
BM: It made for a better performance for every song. I could be more truthful as a singer than if I hadn't experienced these things.
UW: You have a reprise of the opening number before ending the album with a song called "Everything's Gonna Be All Right." It's a hopeful moment after this sea of raging emotions.
BM: I didn't want to end it on a down note - that would have been a bummer. I wanted to go back and end on a hopeful note. You know, that's me. I'm a hopeful guy. I'm sorry. I see the good in things. [Laughs]
UW: Will your fans get to see you tour with this album or are you staying put in Vegas?
BM: I stopped touring. It got me. It's a young person's gig. After about 30 years of room service and waiting for planes and hotel rooms and being away from home, I was done. I got lucky - the Las Vegas Hilton first asked me if I wanted to go there, and I didn't want to retire. I love being with the band and I really have gotten very fond of performing, but I had to get off the road. I had to get my life back. This Vegas thing turned out to be a real gift. I don't really tour anymore, but I'm beginning to stick some of these songs in when we do one-nighters now and again. We did four nights at the O2 Arena in London, and we did "Bring on Tomorrow" there. They really responded well. I'm putting my toe in the water and I'll put two more songs from the album into the Paris show. If they go over well, when we go out again I'll do three songs from 15 Minutes.
UW: Some people might know who Nataly is, some might not, but she has a really nice voice. Do you feel that could be something you're good at, finding talent on the side and developing it on your Stiletto label? Do you have a music mogul in you?
BM: No, I really don't. I'm not good at that. I did two, maybe three Broadway musicals, and casting is not my forte. I can spot talent, but I'm not sure I can spot commercial talent. That's a Clive Davis thing, and I leaned on him for anything commercial. He was my commercial ears when it came to songs and productions. He's great at spotting who's going to have a hit record and what kind of sound they have. That's not my thing at all.
UW: You've done a lot for music education in schools around the country. How often do you get a chance do that?
BM: We do it as much as we can, especially when we're on the road and I know I'm heading someplace. We send letters out to schools and invite them down to soundchecks. I have my band come down, and we talk to all of them for an hour. I speak to the music directors and the principals and ask them what do they need, and if I can, we deliver brand new instruments to various schools. We did that here in Palm Springs, we did that in Vegas, we did that in Seattle. Especially when we're in a town for a long time, then we really go nuts. But when we're there for one night, I do the best I can. This Manilow Music Project is me and three of my friends - that's it. It's not like the Grammy Foundation or NARAS. I do it myself, so it's a small grass-roots way of doing this.
UW: Is it fun for you to talk to kids and see their burgeoning love for music, the same one you probably had at their age?
BM: My favorite was when I did American Idol. I've done three American Idols and the last one I did, they asked me to talk to nine contestants that were about to go on to American Idol. I really loved speaking to them for an hour and taking their questions. They're like sponges. These young people just want somebody to give them a hand on how do you do this, how do you sing, what do you do, what do you wear, how do you arrange a song, what do I do, how do I pick the right song? It was great talking to these people.
UW: As a music fan yourself, have you heard anything recently that you really loved?
BM: There's one group that I'm particularly fond of, a British group called Friendly Fires. I like them! They're kind of odd and I don't know whether they're a hit or anything. That's not where I go - I don't go for "hit" anything. But they're good, they're interesting, they're unique and that's the one I'd pick. I don't go to pop radio, I go to electronica. My taste runs toward anybody who's very, very musical. Pop radio has never done it for me. By the time they get hits on pop radio, they've watered it down to four chords and very, very simple lyrics. Yes, now and again we get great stuff on pop radio, but not often. I find my favorite music on NPR and KROQ. I'd much rather find it through those radio stations.
13th June 2011
It has been a decade since Barry Manilow last released an album of all-new material. But a few years back, the man who once wrote the songs that made the whole world sing found a brand new muse - in what some might think a highly unlikely place. "I was watching Britney Spears being driven crazy by the paparazzi," Manilow says. "This young, beautiful, talented girl was just trying to live her life, but she was being followed around everywhere. I asked myself, is that the price of fame these days?"
Mind you, Spears is nowhere to be found on Manilow's 15 Minutes, due today. Taking its title from Andy Warhol's prediction that in the future, everyone would be world-famous for that length of time, the 16-track collection instead traces the rise and fall of a fictitious pop star, one that Manilow envisioned as "a young guy, a talented writer and guitar player."
But as he worked on the song cycle with his collaborating lyricist, Enoch Anderson, Manilow discovered that this journey had roots in real-life pop history - and not just Spears'. "I found myself in every song," Manilow says. "Around the eighth one, I realized that I was really writing about me. I never went down as far as the guy on the album does, but I did go down. I was a very unhappy guy."
Chatting in midtown Manhattan's SIR Studios, where he has rehearsed since the 1970s, Manilow seems like a fellow who has - to borrow a line from another one of his hits of yore - made it through the rain. At nearly 68 (born June 17, 1943, in Brooklyn), he looks fit and trim in a blue leather jacket over a black shirt and jeans. "I never get fat, because I don't like eating," he quips, and exercise is limited to working with weights three times a week. "I don't need aerobics; I get enough of that when I'm on stage. And I've got my hair. I'm very lucky - 95 years old, and I've still got my hair."
Scratch past Manilow's self-deprecating humor and careful graciousness, though, and you'll find someone who seems both confident and sensitive. He has taken his lumps: For decades, his name has been synonymous with a kind of mild yet florid pop held in contempt by many rock pundits. "I read a quote from Ethel Merman where she said, 'The hell with critics — I know when I'm good,'" Manilow says. "I agree. I know when I'm good. And this album is good. I hope they like it, I really do, but I wouldn't change a note."
With a guitar hero as its central figure, 15 Minutes actually features more rock textures than much of Manilow's fare has. "I didn't want to write an album with 12 lovely songs on it," he says. "I've done that, and how could I compete with 'This One's for You,' or 'Even Now,' or 'Copacabana?'"
But many of Manilow's new tunes have the ingratiating melodies and unapologetic sentimentality of those singles. Applied within a concept album, these qualities take on a decidedly theatrical feel. Asked if he ever thought of adapting 15 Minutes into a stage musical, as he did with Copacabana, Manilow says no. But he admits that the notion of crafting a narrative appealed to him. "Writing pop songs is actually very difficult," he says. "Diane Warren can do two a day. But for me, it's agony to sit down and just write a song that says 'I miss you' or 'I love you.' But if you give me an idea, a person, a situation - that's easier."
Manilow has always considered himself a songwriter first. He calls his voice "my Achilles' heel." When record mogul Clive Davis approached him a number of years ago about doing a covers album, "I was on the fence, because I didn't want to do someone else's songs, even if they were really good. But because I'm also a producer and arranger, I thought I could find myself in that job." The result was the successful series that launched in 2006 with The Greatest Songs of the Fifties, which entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1. A trio of albums covering the next three decades and 2010's The Greatest Love Songs of All Time followed.
Manilow also mentored singers on American Idol... "I tried to get them to tell the story in the song. If someone chose "I Made It Through the Rain," I'd say, 'Who are you singing this to?' The answer would be, 'The audience.' I'd say, no, who are you singing to? Your best friend? Your grandmother? God? By the time I finished, I think they were a little better."
Watching the young contestants backstage could, he admits, be more unsettling. "I remember being in a makeup chair, and this girl I had seen on the show was in the chair next to me. They had her hair up like a goddess, and they were putting more and more gloss on her lips, and she didn't look anything like the girl I'd seen before. I thought, how is she going to deal with this?"
Manilow notes that when his first chart-topping single, "Mandy" (not his original composition), came out in 1974, "it threw me for a loop - and that was after 10 years of writing songs for commercials and conducting and arranging for Bette Midler and other singers. I had to learn how to handle everything."
Michael Lloyd, who co-produced 15 Minutes, notes that Manilow "never thought of himself as a performer. He was thrust into the spotlight, and I think the ideas behind this album have actually been evolving for many years." Manilow confirms this: "My chosen career chose me," he says. "I certainly wasn't going to turn down (fame); it was thrilling. But it was a challenge to keep myself grounded, to not go off into this crazy world. They were throwing everything at me - money, drugs ... Everything I wanted, I got."
He recalls "a really dark night of the soul about four years in, in 1978. I was in Florida on tour, and I had songs at No. 1, 2 and 3. I was in a rocking chair outside this place I was renting, looking up at the stars, and I realized that I was paying everyone inside - the cook, the driver, my assistant, my agent, my publicist. My friends were all gone; they didn't know where I was and I didn't know where they were." It was several years later, after a harrowing concert in Las Vegas - Manilow won't give specifics, only saying that he realized "there was just too much pressure" - that he did take a year off.
Manilow no longer tours, but ironically, he has a regular gig in Vegas, where he's contracted to perform numerous weekends through the end of the year at the Paris Hotel, with negotiations for the future pending. Hotel entertainment director Carlos Reynoso says Manilow is "an amazing storyteller, and he touches everyone who comes into the room. They all get glow sticks when they come in, and they're activated throughout the show. Then everyone leaves with this huge smile."
Manilow loves the arrangement. "I'm able to create a beautiful production, and the audience is very kind to me. They're my friends out there; they've always been my friends. They never call me Mr. Manilow. It's always Barry. Isn't that nice?"
Veteran music critic J.D. Considine once wrote an unflattering review of Manilow's music, "and I got handwritten letters from fans across the country, shaking their fingers at me for having written such nasty things about such a nice guy. The truth is, he's a very engaging performer; he's funny and charming and never speaks down to the audience. And he gives them what they want: tunes and a good time."
One thing that Manilow still won't share with his admirers, or reporters, are details of his personal life. "I've opened the door to every aspect of my musical life, but that's the one area I save for myself. You can't come into my private life unless I invite you. The press has been respectful of me there - actually, I don't think they give a s---. I mean, I'm boring, boring as you can get."
Pressed to at least disclose his hobbies, he responds, "I make music. I've got my studio and that's what I do. I wish I could tell you I like tennis - I live in Palm Springs - but no. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday, in pen, while having coffee and listening to my favorite classical radio station."
He also listens to contemporary pop music, everything from the Basement Jaxx and Foo Fighters to Lady Gaga. "I think she's doing some great work, and she seems very grounded for someone so young. I think it's because she seems to have had a great home life. She always turns it back to her sister and mother and stepmother. That's what I'm saying with my new album, that that's the sort of thing that will keep you grounded."
Manilow, who is already planning his next project -- a second volume of his 1984 jazz album, 2:00 AM Paradise Café -- has learned that lesson himself. And he's optimistic that the main character in 15 Minutes would eventually have done the same. "I think there's a hopeful ending to this album," Manilow says. "(The character) says, 'I know the road to glory. Watch me fly.' And next time, maybe he won't make the same mistakes."
13th June 2011
The long-running hit machine that is Barry Manilow takes a bold step at age 67 with his new release, '15 Minutes,' a rocking concept album that follows the story of a pop singer who hits giddy highs and rock-bottom lows. Spinner recently spoke to Manilow to discuss the perils of fame, his recovery from tumors and why he's not going to Vegas to die.
Spinner (SP): We'll ask you the question you ask on the album: Fame -- is it worth it?
Barry Manilow (BM): That's exactly not right. The quote you're looking for is on the cover -- "Fame -- can you take it?"
SP: But there's also a lyric that asks, "Is it worth it?"
BM: Well, I say it's worth it if you're doing it for the right reasons. I hear some of these young people saying "I want to be famous," and I clench up. You need to do what you believe in. Do it because you can't not do it. If you do it for money, applause, or to be famous, that's dangerous. If you do it because you can't not, whatever your field, you have a better chance of having a happy life.
SP: The album seems clearly influenced by 'American Idol,' which has condensed the process of becoming famous. How much of the story is autobiographical?
BM: We were really writing about our fictional character, but halfway through, I actually found myself in every song. I'd been through every experience in every song, except the very last two. Thank goodness I've never gone down that far, although I went down pretty far.
SP: But you've had a fortunate career, without too many down periods.
BM: It's been a roller-coaster ride. If you're lucky, you explode, and from that moment on, it's a roller coaster until it's over. I've certainly had my share of failure, though I always felt I'd get through it. After 'Read 'Em and Weep' I never got another [Top 40 hit], and that makes you feel terrible. When I left Arista the first time I couldn't get a record deal. Everyone was interested in R&B in those years.
SP: This album is obviously a labor of love. Was it hard to get it made?
BM: It wasn't hard. It was complicated, because I wanted it to be guitar-driven and I don't play guitar. In the studio, we had this batch of great guitar players, and they looked at me like I was crazy. When I handed the music out, they said, "That's not the way we would play." It took months of communication with these brilliant people to explain what I was hearing in my head. I was playing air guitar in the middle of the studio.
SP: There have been so many album-inspired shows on Broadway recently. How much were you inspired by things like Green Day's 'American Idiot'?
BM: Oh, it never even entered my mind. When I started writing the album, I didn't just want to write 12 pretty songs. I wanted to do an album that had an idea to it instead of 12 pop songs. Frankly, I don't know how to do that. I know it sounds crazy, but for me, the most difficult thing to write is "I love you, I miss you." That's torture. Give me an idea, a situation, a character to write for and man, I'm there. But I don't really feel like this could be onstage.
SP: But you must have people around you saying it could be.
BM: One or two people, yeah. But I've been down that road, Broadway musicals, and listen, that's not the way you do it. You don't take an album like this and put it onstage. At least that's not how I would do it. The way I learned, you take a story and find the places for the songs. There are rules to writing a Broadway musical.
SP: You must have met Andy Warhol at some point.
BM: Never! Though I'm from New York, believe it or not, I was too young. How many times will I ever say that [laughs]?
SP: Not at Studio 54?
BM: That wasn't my life. I was already in [places like] Wisconsin, on the road. I did take the album title, of course, from that phrase that he's famous for.
SP: Who do you think of as your peers?
BM: Oh! Um ... I don't know.
SP: Neil Diamond? Elton John?
BM: Yeah, but Neil and Elton started 10 years before me.
SP: Neil Sedaka, Billy Joel?
BM: He's the greatest songwriter we have, Billy Joel.
SP: But none of their careers match up precisely with yours. Elton was obviously outrageous, and Sedaka is considered from a different decade. Your career kind of stands alone.
BM: I have a little piece of the pie. It's small, but it's mine. I can't compare to those guys -- they're so brilliant. Most of them have written their own material, and I didn't really get the chance to do that. Most of them have their own style. I went everywhere -- big band, show tunes, jazz. They're creators, songwriters. One thing I love most of all is arranging songs. I was going to be Nelson Riddle or Don Costa when I grew up. Or George Martin, with the Beatles. Those were my idols. I had to learn how to become a performer.
SP: A few years ago you had benign tumors in your mouth and plenty of dental work. That had to be awful for a singer.
BM: Yeah, it was touch and go for a while there. They patched me up, but for a couple of years, I nearly spit those two front teeth at the audience. I had a big cyst up there, and they had to remove a piece of my palette. It was a rough patch, but I'm all better now.
SP: You've been in Vegas for years.
BM: I may be breaking Elvis' record.
SP: Are you happy to be off the road, or are there times when you feel like you want to see the rest of the country again?
BM: A little of both. I was so done with the road, and I was lucky to get the offer to go to the Hilton. Touring is for a younger person. I'd done it for 25 or 30 years. But I must tell you, when they offered, I had that feeling, like, "Oh, God, isn't that where old singers go to die?" My fear was that I'd fade away into the distance, but that didn't happen at all. We did really good work at the Hilton, and now I'm at the Paris, and I love it. I'll do a couple nights out, here and there. I just came back from four shows at the O2 arena in London. They were sold out -- an insanely great experience.
SP: Playing in Vegas seems like it might be a hindrance to introducing a record like '15 Minutes,' where you almost need to tour with all the songs.
BM: I would never do that anyway, even if I was touring. Those audiences come to see what they're paying for. I know what they want. We did it in London, one or two songs, and that's about as much as they can take.
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