Thursday, July 13, 2006


Wishes are sometimes granted.

Last night I stalked Borders with the intention of picking up the DVD release of Pink Floyd’s “Pulse”. Mission accomplished and I’ll be writing about its uber-coolness shortly, what with Syd Barrett dying and all.

What I didn’t intend to pick up – as I didn’t even know it existed – was the CD re-release of 1977’s “Barry Manilow Live”. Fuck you who mocks my love for Manilow ( aggressive), but I’ve waited for this CD for like 15 years. “Live”, which shouldn’t be confused with any other Barry live album, is quite simply the greatest live album ever recorded. Granted, I’ve not heard every single live album ever made, so I proclaim out of ignorance – but what fun would the Morgue be without a little hyperbole from time to time? I’ve owned “Live” on 8-Track (as a kid), cassette (as a teen) and the original hacked-up and shitty sounding CD release (as an adult). Oddly I’ve never owned it on vinyl, which is likely how it’s been owned by most.

“Barry Manilow Live” was his first and only #1 album in the U.S…until his recent release “The Greatest Songs of the Fifties” - weird, but true. In ‘77 it knocked Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” out of the #1 spot (according to the new liner notes; can’t imagine someone made that up). I adore the Mac (probably even more than Barry) and “Rumours” is a masterpiece, but in some strange way that tidbit kinda rocks. Making it all the more rockin' is that “Live” was a double album and double albums aren’t a particularly easy sell, and the fact that it hit # 1 means something. What that something is, I do not know, but I’m typing to find out.

So why, you may ask, is this “the greatest live album ever recorded”? Because it’s the one Manilow recording that takes everything he’s ever been about and pumps it up about 10 notches. When it was recorded, he wasn't quite yet a "star", but "Live" sealed the deal. If you think you know everything about Barry, this recording will change your perceptions. If you think this is an album full of sappy love songs and/or campy production numbers, you are just plain wrong - despite the fact it features both. Most live albums expose artist's weaknesses; this album reveals Barry's strengths. It is pure fucking showmanship.

There isn’t a false note played or an incorrect note sung. The re-release is remastered, rearranged [1] and most importantly, restored. For years the available CD was not only edited to fit on a single disc, but it sounded lousy; it’s telling when one longs for the 8-Track on which he grew up. This not only restores the missing material (all three parts of “Beautiful Music” as well as his amusingly self-deprecating chit-chat with the audience), but it also adds five tunes from the same performances that have never before been released. For the first time I heard a circa-1976 live version of “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again” that blew me the fuck away.

[1] The “rearrangement” might be considered blasphemous to a hardcore fan. Some of the tunes have been moved around to accommodate the flow due to the five new tracks. It’s an improvement on all counts. Ending Disc One with “New York City Rhythm” is inspired and probably even as it should be. How something this perfect has been improved upon is mind-boggling.

Speaking of, I gotta point out that the structure and energy of “Live” directly inspired my play “New York City Rhythms”, which was produced here in S.A. two years ago. It was a Mamma Mia!-esque sort of affair where I took Barry tunes and wrote a (pretty engaging!) story around them. If any budding producers out there reading would assist me in dealing with the legalities of the concept, I maintain that it’d be huge with the proper backing and casting. Check out Laurie Dietrich's flattering piece on the show by clicking here (scroll about halfway down).

If it isn’t already obvious, I worship the tape on which this material was originally recorded. It’s the Barry album that will make you appreciate this guy who you’ve probably never taken seriously. And you know what makes it even more perfect? It doesn’t have bloody “Copacabana” on it; that didn’t come out ‘til ’78’s “Even Now” album. If by revealing that, I’ve ruined any chance of you buying this CD, then you don’t deserve it in the first place.

For years I’ve dealt with people equating/defining Manilow with/by that one song. Sure, it’s a fun little ditty – but it’s also an anomaly. Barry never recorded anything else like that hunk of cheese. He can’t be blamed for riding that wave, but there’s so much more to Manilow than Tony, Lola and Rico and it sucks that most people think of that tune before even “Mandy”.

You know what else? “Mandy” is a great piece of tuneage. You know it is, even if it’s our dirty little secret. I'm sure most Manilow scribblings don't drop as many F-Bombs as this one did...but this is a guy whom I feel I've fought for forever. If just one person reads this and buys the CD, it was worth the fucking effort.