The Audacity of 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”.