Despite the title, Barry Manilow did not, in fact, write his 1976 Billboard Number One record, “I Write The Songs”.
He wasn’t even the first person to record it.
Originally written by Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, “I Write The Songs” was first recorded by Captain & Tennille (better known for hits like “Love Will Keep Us Together”). David Cassidy also had a UK Top 20 hit with his version of “I Write The Songs” in 1975.
But neither of those versions of “I Write The Songs” could compete with the juggernaut that was Barry Manilow’s version. Released in late 1975, it reached the top of the Billboard charts in early 1976.
In the years since, “I Write The Songs” has become so closely identified with Barry Manilow, even in the UK where his version wasn’t a hit. Along with classics like “Copacabana” and “Mandy”, “I Write The Songs” is one of Barry Manilow’s signature songs, and an enduring staple of his live shows.
Despite my little joke at the beginning, the sentiment behind “I Write The Songs” is often misunderstood. Listeners often take it to mean that the person singing wrote the songs which have influenced so many but, while understandable, that wasn’t Bruce Johnston’s intention at all.
Bruce Johnston was writing about the songs we all carry within us…the music in our heads that represents the soundtrack of our lives, if you like. It wasn’t “I” (the songwriter or singer) who “wrote the songs”.
All of us write our own songs…even if we were the only ones who can hear them…and even if they’re not literally “songs”, but just an accompaniment to the memories which follow us through our lives.
Put in that context, Bruce Johnston’s lyrics take on a very different meaning…
I’ve been alive for ever
And I wrote the very first song
I put the words and the melodies together
I am music and I write the songs
Rather than an egotistical piece written to burnish the songwriter’s own ego, “I Write The Songs” is actually about the continuation of the human experience since the dawn of time.
This is both literally true — in some traditions there are songs and music which go back hundreds or thousands of years — and figuratively true…