You know I like to say that, as a general rule, an artist who achieved considerable success probably didn't do it by accident. They had to have something going for them. Sometimes, however, you have to wonder.
For many listeners, Barry Manilow seems to be the exception to my rule. He may be the musician who best fits the old line about Richard Nixon (or maybe it was Ronald Reagan): I don't know how he could have won the election, no one I know voted for him.
(See how I lured you in? I'm writing a post about Barry Manilow, for goodness sake, and you're reading it! Too late to turn back now!)
Lots of people liked, and still like, Barry, whether you want to admit it or not. His records have sold millions of copies. He is still performing all over the world (he's touring the United Kingdom this spring, according to his web site), more than forty years after he debuted as a recording artist. How can that be possible?
By the way, he also has a charitable foundation that gives financial support to public school music programs. I think he deserves credit for that no matter what you think of his music.
What could there be in Barry's records that makes people want to listen to him? Two things stand out to me:
(1) the records were always put together perfectly. The material, the arrangement, and the recording were always superbly done;
(2) face it, the man can sing. He might not be Sinatra or Bennett, but he's a lot closer to them than a lot of other singers, even ones you like.
You can hate on the songs, the arrangements, and the genre all you want to, but you can't say Barry doesn't sing well, or that his records are not masterfully done. One characteristic of his records proves my point, although I suppose it also points up how formulaic they were: the patented Barry Manilow last verse key change, taking the song up a step in pitch for the last verse so Barry could really belt it out. I don't know if that technique originated with Barry, but he sure used it to maximum effectiveness. I think virtually every one of his hit records employs it.
The recording that best demonstrates what I'm talking about is Looks Like We Made It. It wouldn't kill you to listen to it. It's on an album titled This One's For You. The lyrics aren't going to drive you crazy (maybe that's what people hated about his records), it's a great arrangement, and it shows off his voice as well as anything he ever recorded. Give it a try.