When it comes to hot DVD box sets, one name I would not usually get excited about is Barry Manilow, who’s releasing an upcoming five DVD set. After all, I’m a guy!
Seriously, I think Barry Manilow is one of the most paradoxical forces in pop music. To some, he is a brilliant and deep, expressing in song what fans feel in the depths of their hearts and at the core of their relationships. For others, he’s amazingly shallow, full of hair, make-up, trite sayings and shallow showtunes. People either love this guy, or they don’t. Or, perhaps, they do but don’t really admit it publically. I’m not sure why that is, but it is.
I saw a clip of him on the “Today” show where all of the guys were watching passively while the ladies were going absolutely nuts in Rockefeller Plaza. It reminded me of 1992’s “Sneakers,” with Robert Redford and Sidney Portier, where the discovery of one character’s Barry Manilow concert ticket stub indicated a sure sign of nerdiness.
Rolling Stone magazine called him “The Showman of Our Generation,” and the numbers seem to back up that statement. He has sold over 75 million albums, done over 3000 live concerts and has 28 platinum records (so far). His Las Vegas Hilton show tickets go for $95 (cheap seats) up to $225 (or higher from scalpers). There are obviously people who are inspired by his music and his show and who buy his stuff. I just haven’t met any of them!
But consider his story: Barry Manilow is a great American tale of personal talent, entrepreneurship, and self-confidence that we all should all be inspired by. He got his start by writing jingles for commercials. From there he wrote songs for other more famous singers. Then he started making his own records. Then he became an on-stage showman, and some of his songs became movie themes. And the rest is history.
That on-stage showmanship and confidence that won him early acclaim is on display in the latest five-disc DVD release, which includes the television specials that launched him from stardom to iconhood. There are lots of special guests, including Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, Penny Marshall, and John Denver. I remember seeing some of those TV shows as a kid and thinking, “Man, this guy is really talented.”
That early music (“Mandy,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” “I Write the Songs,” “This One’s For You,” etc.) was all over the radio. “Ready to Take a Chance Again” was a great movie theme. “Somewhere in the Night” was probably a great song, but one school dance and bad renditions played over and over ruined it for me.
My feeling is that his early music struck deep chords in many fans, but his stage stuff has run the risk of losing the magic and depth of the lyrics in exchange for showmanship and production values. It will be interesting to see if the DVD box set serves as a reminder of the authenticity of his talent, or rather just a nostalgic dip into a time when variety shows were more a part of primetime television.
For his many fans, though, I’m sure it will be another opportunity to be inspired by a singer whose music has reached the masses and connected at a level that inspires a loyalty rarely seen in our generation.