One could say Melissa Manchester is one of the three “Big Ms” of Adult Contemporary music—the other two being sometime Manchester collaborators Barry Manilow and Bette Midler. Since 1973, she’s had her share of Grammy nominations and wins, enjoyed co-writing duties with the likes of Carole Bayer Sager and Kenny Loggins, and achieved very high sales for both her albums and hit singles.
Among those major sellers are previous compilation albums, and Playlist is clearly not intended to be a “Greatest Hits” collection or a comprehensive overview of her career. Instead, it’s a budget-priced assortment of 14 songs most Manchester fans likely already have. While Playlist contains a few rarities, its primary audience should be those who enjoy Manchester’s music but haven’t yet picked up a good retrospective of her songs from 1975 to 2011.
The songs are not presented in a strict chronological order, but it’s easy to trace how Manchester has developed considerably since the mid-70s when her main calling card was producing dance hits. Appropriately, the set opens with her first Top Ten hit from 1975, “Midnight Blue.” From the same year, the disco single “Just Too Many People” is the first of three overt mirror-ball numbers including “Shine Like You Should” and “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” a Grammy winner in 1982.
From 1979 we get two highlights, including Peter Allen’s Grammy nominated “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” In the same year, Manchester made Academy Award history by performing two movie themes on the same night from both “The Promise” and “Through The Eyes of Love” (the theme song from Ice Castles). For some reason, only the latter is included on Playlist, however. Along the way Manchester gets a little bit country with “Talkin’ To Myself,” very bluesy with the haunting “Come In From The Rain,” and makes a respective nod to one of her influences, Dionne Warwick, with the 1989 remake of “Walk On By.”
We also get a sampling of her many duets including the slow ballad “Lovers After All” with Peabo Bryson, the previously unreleased “A Mother and Father’s Prayer” with Collin Raye, and the very jazzy, old-fashioned “I Can’t Get Started” with her long-time bassist, John Cooker LoPresti. For this one, Manchester shows major reverence for Billie Holiday with lyrics going way, way back, referring to Greta Garbo and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The album features two newer songs including the beautiful, lyrical “Rainbird” from the 2010 film, Dirty Girl, co-written with actress Mary Steenburgen.
The grand finale shows off Manchester’s deeper, lower register for the live 2011 Gospel-flavored “I Know Who I Am,” from Colored Girls. By the time you hear this one it’s become abundantly clear few singers have the range and power of Manchester’s voice, and fewer who can convincingly sing hits suitable for Soul Train, soaring anthems for Hollywood titles, or introspective ballads with equal ease.
Again, Manchester completists will need this collection only for the rarities they don’t already have. In the main, this is a gentle package for those who may know Manchester only for the songs that got frequent airplay and would like to delve a little deeper into her “playlist.” Sure, you can easily list hits or alternate versions of some songs that weren’t included. Consider this assembly merely an introduction, then, and the full story will require more investigation.