Friday, December 5, 2008

Manilow tackles Reagan era

Thirty-four years after "Mandy" launched Barry Manilow and Arista Records — the label founded by Clive Davis — the singer is still racking up achievements, thanks to his Davis-directed series of decade-themed covers albums.

The Greatest Songs of the Eighties, out Nov. 25 on Arista, is the fourth — and likely final — installment in an album series aimed squarely at pre-baby boomers. Their zest for all things Manilow offers such slam-dunk promo opportunities as Manilow’s regular appearances on QVC, where he is the best-selling artist in the retail channel’s history.

In 2006, The Greatest Songs of the Fifties became Manilow’s first No. 1 album chart debut, followed by Sixties (No. 2) in 2006 and Seventies (No. 6) in 2007. In total, the three collections have sold more than 2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

"Barry’s enduring popularity comes from a combination of his songs, which are part of the soundtrack of people’s lives — you see him live and the audience knows every word to 30 songs — coupled with the fact that he is a great live showman," says Davis, Sony BMG Worldwide’s chief creative officer. "On both counts, he has stood the test of time."

Manilow returns the kudos: "In my career, I have one thing nobody else does: Nostradavis."

The 12-track Eighties is led by the single "Islands in the Stream," a 1983 No. 1 hit for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, written by the Bee Gees. Manilow’s version is a gleeful duet with Reba McEntire, recorded live in the studio.

Other selections include Chicago’s "Hard to Say I’m Sorry," Cyndi Lauper’s "Time After Time" and Stevie Wonder’s "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Scanning the playlist, Manilow says this was the most challenging of the four albums: "These songs are so well known, so loved — perfectly recorded records. With the ’50s and ’60s, we could play around with the arrangements. The ’70s was more difficult, because those arrangements were wonderful. How can you touch ’Bridge Over Troubled Water’? ’You’ve Got a Friend’ was perfectly written and recorded."

Manilow says he was determined to maintain the original writers’ and singers’ integrity, while still placing his stamp on the songs. "It took a long time to figure out how to make them my own, to see where I could crawl inside the meaning of the lyric," he says. "I didn’t want to do karaoke renditions. Make no mistake, I was intimidated, but I think I nailed them. Once the arrangements were done, it was one big smile after another."

Among the most novel efforts on Eighties is Rick Astley’s 1988 No. 1 "Never Gonna Give You Up." "It has the catchiest little melody, with production from Stock, Aiken and Waterman. How do you compete with that?" asks Manilow, who called on producer Michael Lloyd (the Dirty Dancing soundtrack) for assistance. "I think it’s going to stand.

"I had a feeling there could be more, but no idea it would wind up being this big," Manilow says about the new chapter in his career opened by Fifties.

On Jan. 16, he’ll begin his fifth sold-out year-long residency at the Las Vegas Hilton. "I figure I’ll be there until they throw me out."

To Davis, "The fact that Barry can have a successful album at this stage in his career shows how timeless songs last and compelling performers can maintain an audience." — Nielsen Entertainment News Wire

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