Barry's Sound: Miss M and Big Mac and Mandy
With his residuals from perhaps the most oppressively omnipresent jingle on the air—he is the voice of McDonald’s hamburgers—plus his royalties as Bette Midler’s producer-arranger, Barry Manilow was the last musician in the world who needed another break today. But no sooner had Barry cut out for himself as a singer than he turned up 1975’s first No. 1 smash, Mandy. The tune is not the Irving Berlin-Eddie Cantor oldie but is pop-rock somewhat closer to the McDonald’s bag—the well-done, musical meat loaf, of which Manilow has become a master chef.
The cuisine and sound when Barry was growing up in Brooklyn was like his family—”nice Jewish. They exposed me,” he says, “to The King and I and to Gerry Mulligan.” They also supported him through classical training at Juilliard, which he parlayed into a job at CBS as a mailboy and eventually musical director of Ed Sullivan’s last specials. Meanwhile, on the side Barry discovered the wondrous world of TV spots. “I found out that every time a jingle is aired, the singer gets paid. So I started singing for everyone from Pepsi to ‘Oh, oh SpaghettiOs.’ ”
Manilow also began moonlighting as house pianist at Manhattan’s Continental Baths, an all-male spa that soon became a fashionable weekend cabaret for everyone. Enter Midler, and though Barry recalls, “we hated each other on sight,” he soon became her accompanist-accomplice-alchemist. In 1973, when Bette went on tour, Barry demanded a co-featured spot. “I told her,” he recalls, “if I don’t sing for me, I don’t play for you.” Midler screamed, refused and finally relented.
When Miss M went into sabbatical, Manilow stepped out on his own. “At first it was rough,” he says. “Glitter rock was at its peak then, and I was Mr. Clean. Bookers said I had no flash.” But then, Clive Davis, deposed president of Columbia Records, took Barry over on his new label and risked both of their futures on Mandy. Now, says Manilow, 29, who is divorced (“I have no energy left for relationships”), tomorrow is his world. “People are listening to words and melodies again. Hard rock is dead.”