Barry Manilow’s first hit almost became his last when a South Florida DJ from Y-100 (100.7 FM) announced that his single Mandy was Miami’s biggest hit that Christmas season of 1974.
Manilow happened to be in the city to escape the New York winter with his frequent collaborator Bruce Sussman.
“That song came out of Dade County. I’ll never forget it. Bruce and I were driving in the car and the DJ said, ‘Now, the No. 1 record in Dade County — Barry Manilow’s Mandy.’ Bruce and I nearly drove off the road. It was the first time that that had happened.”
The jubilation was a bit short-lived, Manilow says, laughing.
“Then we also went up to a diner, and Mandy came on the jukebox. I was being like a little egomaniac, and I said to the waitress — she didn’t recognize me — I said, ‘Do they play that song often?’ And she said, ‘Yeah. They play it all the time, and I can’t stand it. I hate that song!’
“That took me down a peg or two.”
Happily, Manilow’s racked up plenty of fans since Mandy. He plans to showcase an all-hits set for his One Last Time! Tour concert Friday at Sunrise’s BB&T Center in which he’ll be joined by some members of the The Nova Singers of Nova Southeastern University.
“I can’t think about it, or it would make me really sad,” Manilow, 72, says of the tour’s title. He’s married now, to longtime manager Gary Kieff, and his audience has grown up with him. The timing is right.
“I’ve been touring for, oh my God, how many years? It’s a young person’s gig. Being away from home and in hotel rooms and bad dressing rooms and waiting for airplanes and weather, you do 45 years of that and it does get to you. Not the work, certainly not the work, and not the audiences. I love the gig. It’s just getting there has finally gotten to me so I’ve got to say goodbye to touring,” he says.
My memories of the first time hearing some of Billy Joel’s songs knocked me out. Billy Joel started before me. Elton John started before me. Neil Diamond started before me. I was just a musician struggling and those songs, I’ve got the same memories that people must have with my music.
Barry Manilow on longevity.
Manilow, who has won the Grammy, the Tony and the Emmy, is up for another traditional pop Grammy on Feb. 15 for his My Dream Duets album. He’s thrilled to be recognized two years in a row but he’s pulling for perennial winner Tony Bennett for his album, The Silver Lining —The Songs of Jerome Kern. “He sounds beautiful on it and he’s heading to 90 and honestly, he should win with this one.”
Besides, he shares with Bennett similar attributes — longevity, attention to musical detail and loyal fans. He knows the feeling.
“My memories of the first time hearing some of Billy Joel’s songs knocked me out. Billy Joel started before me. Elton John started before me. Neil Diamond started before me. I was just a musician struggling and those songs,” he says, “I’ve got the same memories that people must have with my music.”
Manilow still has music to make, though. He’s in the middle of recording a new album, a mix of standards and originals, and is as excited about the craft as he was all those years ago when he was cruising through Miami during the year of the oil crisis. Call it the power of a well-written pop song.
“When you get one that works, there’s not much like it. That is the beauty of pop music, you take it with you for life — your prom, your marriage, your having a kid and those memories. You should read these letters I’ve gotten over the years. The impact a great pop song has will last through a person’s life,” Manilow says.
“To know that I’ve had an impact on strangers is the greatest gift anybody could give me,” he adds. “I’m just a musician who got lucky. I wanted to make people proud of what I do, and I definitely want the listener to feel great when they hear this music. My impact on these people I take very seriously because they have been so great to me. For 40-something years they have been on my side, and I don’t know how to thank them. It’s an incredible experience.”
Barry Manilow with Dave Koz performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at BB&T Center, One Panther Pkwy., Sunrise. Tickets: $19.75-$179.75. Call 954-835-7825.
Manilow Music Project
Barry Manilow plans to donate a Yamaha piano to Hollywood Hills High School, 5400 Stirling Rd., as part of his initiative to promote music education at a time budget cuts slash arts and music programs. Fans can score two tickets to his Friday concert by donating new or gently used musical instruments to a drop-off point at the venue’s North Box Office at the BB&T Center, One Panther Pkwy., Sunrise, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Friday.