He got his start as a jingle writer, and if you watched TV in the 1960s, his commercial melodies probably wormed their way into your ears.
You heard them on commercials for State Farm Insurance (“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”) “Band-Aid” (“I am stuck on Band-Aid and Band-Aid’s stuck on me”) and McDonald’s (“You deserve a break today”). He later went on to pop megastardom, singing the kind of personal-sounding ballads that songwriters usually sing themselves.
And Barry Manilow did write or co-write a lot of his big hits. But there are a lot that he covered, or that other people wrote for him. They’re some of his best songs, even his most ardent fans would agree.
So, in honor of Manilow’s Sarasota debut, Friday evening at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (it’s the featured performance for Van Wezel’s annual gala), here’s a look at some of his best songs that he didn’t write:
1. “Read ’em and Weep.” Jim Steinman wrote it, Meat Loaf recorded it first, but it was still obscure when Manilow released it on his 1983 “Greatest Hits” album. It had not been a hit before them, but it was released as a single and reached the top of the Adult Contemporary Chart.
2. “Mandy.” Originally titled “Brandy,” it was a hit in a couple other countries by other performers before Manilow changed the name to “Mandy” and re-wrote it a bit and made it a bigger hit here in 1974. Despite the prevalent urban myth, it is apparently not about the songwriter’s dog.
3. “Ships.” By far the most improbable source for a Manilow song. This one’s by British classic rocker Ian Hunter, best known as the frontman for Mott the Hoople, from his great solo album.“You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic.” Manilow’s version is lusher but less edgy than Hunter’s. Which version makes you miss your father more is simply a matter of your musical taste.
4. “I Write the Songs.” It must have taken a bit of hubris for Bruce Johnston to write a song that says he writes the songs that make the whole world sing. It must have taken a bit more for Manilow to sing the song that he writes the songs that make the whole world sing when he didn’t even write the song that says that.
5. “Weekend in New England.” Randy Edelman’s lyric barley mentions New England and doesn’t mention weekends at all. But it’s a pretty song and Manilow’s version has gorgeous orchestration.
6. “I Made It Through the Rain.” The original version was about a songwriter. Manilow rewrote the lyrics so they were not specific to the protagonist’s occupation. It was only a few years after “I Write the Songs” so maybe he didn’t want to record too many songs he didn’t write about being a songwriter.
7. “Can’t Smile Without You.” Several artists, including the Carpenters, recorded this old-fashioned sing-along ditty before Manilow.
Randy Edelman’s lyric barely mentions New England and doesn’t mention weekends at all. But it’s a pretty song and Manilow’s version has gorgeous orchestration.
8. “Looks Like We Made It.” Richard Kerr (who co-wrote “Mandy”) and Will Jennings (who wrote “My Heart Will Go One”) wrote it, but Manilow was the first to record it. The lyrics are intriguingly ironic, because they’re about two former lovers who find happiness with other partners, not with each other.
9. “Ready to Take a Chance Again.” Written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, who also wrote “Killing Me Softly.”
10. “Somewhere in the Night.” Another Kerr and Jennings song, it was a recorded by third-tier ’70s folkies Batdorf & Rodney and became a hit for Helen Reddy before Manilow made it famous.