A lot can be learned about the words you read by being aware of some of the influences of the one who wrote them. I was once again reminded of this last week as I watched a unique TNT special, country singers (Trisha Yearwood, Deanna Carter, Neal McCoy, and Lila McCann among others) honoring Barry Manilow's influence on their music. It without exaggeration was the most peculiar thing I've even seen. (The highlight of the show was the show's conclusion- "Copacabana" complete with banjo backing- I kid you not.)
The premise of the show was that Barry's music wasn't that different from what makes current country music so popular. At the end of the show Barry gave a spiel that only he could give about how this country would be a better place if only the record stores' and radio stations' categorization of music would recognize that his music isn't so much different from country music as it is all part of a big rainbow. Our country shouldn't be about separation it should be about celebrating how we are all in this thing together.
I decided to acknowledge at a very early age I had an affection for Manilow's music and I wasn't going to be ashamed of that critics and friends be damned. Even if I rarely listen to it anymore (although it is on my stereo as I write this) I am proud to say that one of the most influential LPs in my life was Barry's 1978 release, One Voice.
It was one of the first LPs I bought with my very own allowance and to this day that very sacrifice makes it music that alters me every time I hear it. The LP opens with the hard trying wannabe anthem title track that has some lovely acapella singing from my much maligned hero. When I was in junior high, with an unbearable crush on another Manilow fan, I thought about, and tried unsuccessfully to write an editorial for our student newspaper about the universal importance of the message of the song. It takes but one voice to start a movement. It takes many voices to join that one voice to make the movement effective. I was gonna knock her socks off by my acknowledgment of our shared admiration for the artist but I chickened out at the last moment and pulled the story.
I'll never forget the moment I was playing the concluding track from the first side of the LP with my mother in the room. It was Barry's cover of the musical craftsman Jule Styne's classic "I Don't Want to Walk Without You." Mom was surprised to hear Barry do a 1940's song in such a conventional style. The song reminded me of his own "I Can't Smile Without You."
From start to finish the album is pure Manilow meaning it is full of heartbreak and lamenting lost love via power piano ballads. At the time I was just beginning my own rather frustrating piano lessons and strived to one day be able to play the instrument, and express myself as effectively as Barry.
The LP concludes with two of Barry's most typical yet most moving songs. "When I Wanted You" is the standard attempt at a BIG hit ballad found on every Manilow album up to that point. It has a great melody written by the same writer, Richard Kerr, that wrote the song that originally put Barry in our consciousness ("Mandy") but somehow despite the continued high haunt count of his other songs, this one failed to chart for our champion. I love how the song starts so simply and sadly ("Though we're going our separate ways...") and builds to a painful sweeping conclusion ("When I wanted you, I needed you/Now I just can't bring myself to say I'm over you...").
The last song is perhaps the most sincere and moving song from an artist whose catalog is chock full of such sincerity and schmaltz. "Sunday Father" is a love song from son to father. It is about growing up in a broken relationship and having to try to cram all of one's heart's feelings into rare visits. "One day to keep the two from turning to strangers..." It's the type of song that so clearly influenced many of our most popular country performers (and me) to acknowledge their debt to a man many roll their eyes at.