Barry Manilow was all over the news media yesterday, telling the world he was “coming out” as the media still quaintly puts it.
I’m not sure how newsworthy that information was, although it made for a joyful celebration, which is getting ever-rarer in news bulletins these days.
It’s great for Barry though. If you didn’t live through the ’70s and ’80s you might wonder what all the fuss is about.
Back then it was tough. Entire lives were lived in secret. People could lose their jobs, families and livelihoods if word got out.
The mere fact that the practice of beating up people on the grounds of their sexual preference, in the UK at least, was even given its own name (“queer bashing”) probably tells you all you need to know about how much of it was going on.
No wonder, for too many, that closet stayed well and truly shut through the ’70s, ’80s and beyond.
I’m just glad that one of my musical heroes found whatever it took to go public with his news yesterday.
Barry Manilow has never been a darling of the critics, but I think that says more about them than it does about him.
I’ve seen a few interviews with him over the years and he’s always been very thoughtful about his music. You can tell Barry Manilow had a proper musical education from the way he discusses the influences of great classical composers on his music.
And he’s a pretty good piano player too, as befits someone who has performed in public since the mid-1960s, firstly as a musical director for others (most famously Bette Midler) and then on world tours and Vegas residencies of his own.
He also wrote some great songs — although ironically one of his biggest hits, “I Write the Songs”, wasn’t one of them.
And neither was “Mandy”, the first Barry Manilow record I heard on the radio.
When “Mandy” was released I was learning the piano. Elton John, Billy Joel and Barry Manilow became the performers I looked up to. I never got good enough to play professionally, but I loved “unpicking” songs and trying to work out what was going on in them, lyrically and musically.
That set me on a path to, well, typing these words for you today. Maybe all the pressing down on piano keys back then was some sort of metaphor for all the typing I do on a computer keyboard nowadays…perhaps those piano lessons weren’t wasted effort after all…
Written by Scott English and Richard Kerr, the song we know as “Mandy” was originally called “Brandy”. It was a Top 20 UK hit under that title in 1971 for English.
Barry Manilow changed the title, supposedly to avoid confusion with another popular song at the time called “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass, and made some relatively minor adjustments to the song itself.
Scott English apparently wasn’t keen on this new slant on his composition at first, but after the royalty cheques started flowing, he quickly decided it was pretty good after all.
My favourite lyrical section is the at the end of the first verse, which uses the word “morning” to transition from one verse to another, and also signal a loosening of the tension that built up during the verse. The mood softens a little after the transition…
I remember all my life
Raining down as cold as ice
A shadow of a man
A face through a window
Crying in the night
The night goes into
Morning, just another day
Happy people pass my way
Our subject comes to the end of another night of tears over the recently-departed Mandy. Dawn comes around again and it’s the start of another day.
But none of this is Mandy’s fault. He walked away, not her.
I’m standing on the edge of time
I walked away when love was mine
Caught up in a world of uphill climbing
The tears are in my eyes and nothing is rhyming
Mandy, the only girl who ever “gave without taking”, isn’t in his life any more. Love was there for him, but he turned it down. Only now does he realise what he’s so casually given up.
As with all people who respond to outrageous behaviour with only unstinting love, kindness and support, there’s a still a red line somewhere. When that gets crossed, it’s curtains.
That, we presume, is how it was for Mandy or she would have given in to his pleas to get back together again.
“Mandy” (or “Brandy”, according to your preference) is a really lovely song. When the first few notes of the intro come on the radio, I always know I’m in for a treat.
As Barry Manilow performs it, “Mandy” conveys emotion, but stops short of being overdone. What could have been maudlin becomes tender. What could have been blaming becomes yearning. That balance of emotions is what makes “Mandy” a great song.
The original Scott English version is here, and worth a listen for historical interest at the very least.
But of course the worldwide hit version was Barry Manilow’s. His slightly different take on the same song transformed it from a minor UK hit into a chart-topper in most major territories around the world.
40-odd years after I first heard the soft piano intro for “Mandy” through the speakers of my transistor radio, I’m glad Barry Manilow took the step he did yesterday.
I’m glad he’s had someone beside him for 40 years who “kissed him and stopped him from shaking”, even if he wasn’t ready to tell the world all about it until now.
Life is short. We all need someone to kiss us and stop us from shaking. I’m just glad he found that person. I couldn’t care less whether it was a man or a woman.
Here’s Barry Manilow performing “Mandy”, the song that started it all for him (and for us)…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here…https://open.spotify.com/track/4oV4dVj0evVFhjPLvUz8w8
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.