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The Audacity of Barry Manilow

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Barry Manilow

By Scott Creney

Most people don’t remember Barry Manilow these days. He was a big deal back in the 70s (10 US Top 10 hits and 3 #1’s), but his star faded in the 80s and he quickly became a walking punchline.

He was sort of like the Michael Bolton or Coldplay of his day — a toothless peddler of melodic schmaltz. But he had this one moment in 1975, a #1 in two different countries (the US and erm… Canada), that has to rank among one of the strangest songs ever recorded. A song so full of itself, so overblown, that not even Noel Gallagher at his most egomaniacally coked-out and fucked-up could have possibly conceived it.

The first line alone contains two historically volcanic eruptions of bragging. Not even Kanye has the ego to say he’s been alive forever, let alone that he wrote the very first goddamn song (and what song was that exactly? ‘Happy Birthday’? ‘Havah Nagilah’?).

He then goes on to claim that he is music, that he wrote the songs that make the whole world sing, and that he is young again even though he is very old.

Just who the fuck does this guy he thinks he is? We know damn well he didn’t write every song that ever existed. Now it’s POSSIBLE that the entire thing is a science-fictional conceit, a Borges-like attempt to envision what it would be like to be someone who had written every song in history. Perhaps the song takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, and all the songs up to that point have been wiped out and forgotten by the entire human race, but then this guy — the guy in ‘I Write The Songs’ — comes along and reinvents music out of some Jungian collective unconscious.

But that may be giving Barry a little too much credit. Especially since he didn’t even actually write the song.

You heard me. Barry Manilow, the big fat fathead who went around singing that he wrote the songs DIDN’T EVEN WRITE THE SONG WHERE HE SAYS OVER AND OVER AGAIN THAT HE WROTE EVERY SONG. Which you have to admit, is pretty cool. Here’s Barry touring all over the world, the song’s blasting out of every radio, going on about how he’s the guy who wrote every goddamn song that ever existed, and Barry didn’t even write it.

Feel free to discuss among yourselves how this reflects post-structuralist ideas pertaining to authorship and the creation of meaning.

It turns out the song was actually written by a member of the Beach Boys… no, not Brian Wilson…no, not Mike Love… no, not Dennis Wilson… no, not Carl Wilson.

Bruce Johnston wrote ‘I Write The Songs’. How amazing is that? The guy in the Beach Boys who didn’t write the songs IN HIS OWN BAND wrote a song claiming that he wrote EVERY SONG IN HISTORY. That’s amazing. It’s like Ringo writing a song called ‘I Play The Guitars’. Or Mumford And Sons writing a song called ‘We Have Discernible Talent’. Regardless of the quality of the result, you have to admire the nerve. I mean, can’t you just picture Bruce Johnston sitting in the corner during Beach Boys practice, fuming with jealousy and rage after yet another one of his songs got rejected by the band. Oh they think they’re so great, but I’ll show them. I’m gonna write a song that will reach number one. And then he actually went and did it. That’s some sweet revenge right there.

Barry Manilow may or may not be a genius, but he’s got guts. How many of you would have had the courage to do what he did? And hey, give the man credit. He wrote more songs than you think he did.

First in a series of Barry discussions. Stay tuned for “The Obesity of Barry White” , “The Hauntology of Barry Gibb” and ‘The Proctology of Barry McGuire”.

11 Responses to The Audacity of Barry Manilow

  1. Everett True November 20, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    That final video is outtasite!

  2. tim footman November 20, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I think the last video proves something that I’ve argued for a long time. Despite all the jokes, Barry Manilow does not have a particularly large nose. He just has a ridiculously small head.

  3. Joseph Kyle November 21, 2012 at 12:56 am

    There’s a radio station that runs archival Casey Kasem Top 40 broadcasts. There was a discussion of Manilow, and I thought it was interesting that Casey mentioned that Manilow told him that “My fans add nothing to my life, I have nothing to say to them, and don’t really want to interact with them.”

    Now THAT is audacious.

  4. Erika November 21, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Cool! Barry Manilow has the same accent as Joey Ramone!

  5. Garry November 25, 2012 at 3:37 am

    What a stupid Fuck you are. I write the Songs…written by Bruce Johnston..is a CHARACTER song. whomever sings it is playing the part of MUSIC. David Cassidy and Karen Carpenter ALSO recorded I write the Songs. Manilow was the only one to have a hit with it because he’s a VERY talented arranger. The song was given to him by the one and only Clive Davis and Manilow didn’t want to record it because he told people would misunderstand and think that HE was saying that HE wrote the songs and was on this amazing ego trip instead of actually listening to the lyrics AND having the ability to understand that the song was saying that it’s MUSIC that writes the songs. He was obviously correct because 40 years later people are STILL misunderstanding. Manilow is FAR from an angel. he can be a very nice guy and he can be a royal jerk. I happen to know him personally and can tell you that usually he’s pretty cool and a good friend to have but, like all of us, he has his moments when his behavior is less than perfect. He IS human afterall. your entire article is rubbish

  6. Scott Creney November 25, 2012 at 9:48 am

    I am words… and I write the articles.

  7. Scott, again November 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    You know, in my copious amounts of research I learned the whole ‘it’s sung from the viewpoint of music angle’, but aside from the fact that it would ruin the premise of the article (and besides, as every critic since T.S. Eliot has said: Who gives a fuck what the writer intended?), I think this has to be one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard of. A song sung from the point of view of music? I am music and I write the songs? Like what the fuck? That makes as much sense as saying I am paint and I make the art. Or I am language and I make the novels. Music can’t write songs. Music IS fucking songs. And did music write 2 Live Crew’s ‘Get the fuck out of my house, bitch’? Did music write Eleanor Rigby? Did music write white supremacist songs trumpeting the strength and moral rightness of Nazi Germany? For that matter did music write the song about itself called I write the songs?

    What a stupid goddamn song. And the fact that people continuously misunderstand the premise of the song should tip you off that it’s a pretty shitty premise to begin with.

    Two more points.

    1) People don’t understand that calling someone ‘audacious’ can be a compliment.
    2) At least we learned that Barry Manilow is kind of an asshole. I love him even more now. Now ‘Could It Be Magic’, THAT’S a fucking song.

  8. UnContainuhDrivuh November 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I am laughter I tell the jokes.

  9. Mark Penparc November 27, 2012 at 12:12 am

    In Welsh, the sound “Barry Manilow” isn’t even a sentence but it’s almost “to which too detailed, oh”. So, you know, there you go. Says it all really. *leaves room*

  10. Alyx August 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Bruce Johnston did write the songs for his own band before he was in the Beach Boys!! He had a duo with Terry Melcher called Bruce & Terry that released some pretty happening surf songs written by Bruce and/or Terry as well as some yer typical schlock from the canon of surf hits.

  11. Joe March 26, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Bruce wrote songs in the Beach Boys, too (“Disney Girls,” for example).

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