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Music Review: Barry Manilow – The Greatest Songs of the Seventies

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After putting out two collections featuring music from the fifties and sixties, respectively, Barry Manilow now interprets songs from the decade that coincides with the peak of his own success on The Greatest Songs of the Seventies.

This compilation should appeal to his loyal fanbase regardless but, despite that, the album works because Manilow decided to cover songs that assimilate stylistically well with the music he produced during the same era. Logically, those who enjoy the sounds of the Carpenters, Christopher Cross, and Bread from the 1970s most likely enjoy the music of Barry Manilow as well. It’s not as if he’s covering Black Sabbath, AC/DC, or Led Zeppelin here.

Moreover, the hallmarks of Manilow’s music, with its sophisticated production, pristine vocals, and affective flair for melodrama, all work their way onto this album. For instance, “If” features a more sweeping string arrangement than the already-lush original version without losing any of the song’s idealistic charm. As well, “The Long And Winding Road” resembles the Phil Spector production on Let It Be, which might make Paul McCartney cringe, but those who appreciate Barry Manilow’s gift for turning schmaltzy music into an emotional wellspring will love it.

By and large, the songs on this album stay quite close to their original arrangements, yet Manilow capably offers moving vocal performances, making a good number of them worthy interpretations. “My Eyes Adored You” and “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” exemplify this point.

The track that benefits most from Manilow’s near-faithful renditions, though, is “(They Long To Be) Close To You,” which suggests Burt Bacharach’s precise instrumentation while evoking the optimism of Karen Carpenter’s seminal vocal performance.

However, where Manilow excels in the intricacies of the previous song, he falls short with the same approach on “Sailing”. In its first incarnation, Christopher Cross sang the lyrics in near imperceptible tones, wispy like the music, ultimately creating the very atmosphere the song described. In Manilow’s rendition, each syllable is enunciated and prominent in the mix, which kills the mood that this song could so pleasantly capture.

Another misstep comes on “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which is one of those classics that, unless an artist approaches it with a sensibility that’s divergent from the original version (like Aretha Franklin’s gospel rendition, for example), it’s best not to tackle it at all. Manilow certainly does an acceptable job, but it’s not extraordinary. It should be, though, because this is an extraordinary song.

Following the album proper, six acoustic performances comprising some of Manilow’s most recognizable seventies songs convey the merit and the emotional impact of his songwriting during that decade. While “Copacabana” fails to thrive in this context, the five piano ballads that round out this portion, especially “Weekend In New England” and “Looks Like We Made It,” sound exquisite.

Overall, The Greatest Songs of the Seventies is of sufficient quality to make the album worthwhile. Barry Manilow neither strays far from the original versions of these songs nor from the type of music his fans have come to expect and appreciate, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Johnny Marr, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Rickie Lee Jones, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.
  • daryl d

    Ok, now I agree with you Donald on why Madonna shouldn’t be in the R&R Hall of Fame. Lets put Barry Manilow in there instead!! He has twice the hit material and audience that she does.

  • Evan

    i got Barry Manilows new cd Greatest Songs of the Seventies for christmas

  • Evan

    Barry Manilow does not come on here

  • Evan

    Happy Valaintines Day Barry Manilow fans

  • Evan

    Barry Manilow is a girly looking guy but his music is good

  • Evan

    the best music to listen to is Barry Manilow

  • Evan

    i dont listen to modern music i like classic music not modern music

  • Evan

    im not a thug thug rappers like Gorilla Zoe cant sing Barry Manilow is alot better then Gorilla Zoe

  • Evan

    i think about music all the time

  • Evan

    i also got his 2006 cd Greatest Songs of the Sixties and im getting his other 2006 cd Greatest Songs of the Fifties

  • Evan

    im not a thug thats rap music Barry Manilow is better then Marilyn Manson and rap music

  • Evan

    i do like music but im glad i stopped talking about it all the time and i developed a sports interest to go with my music intrest and happy valentines day Barry Manilow fans

  • Evan

    when people pick music to listen to its Barry Manilow