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CD Reviews: Review of The Greatest Songs of the Fifties by Barry Manilow
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Barry Manilow: The Greatest Songs of the Fifties (Arista 2006)

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Come out of the closet, oh ye who have been living in denial, and admit it: you like Barry Manilow. Maybe not now…but, at the very least, at some point in your life, you’ve hummed, whistled, or sung along to one of his songs.

Lots of people grew up with Manilow as a part of the soundtrack to their childhood – this writer among them – and, even now, many of us still have a soft spot in our heart for songs like “Copacabana,” “Mandy,” “Looks Like We Made It,” “I Write The Songs,” and…well, suffice it to say that the list is longer than you’d think. In recent years, however, Manilow has spent way too much time re-recording other people’s songs. He’s done big band covers, followed that up with a disc of Sinatra songs, and he even revisited the decade where he had his greatest success by doing an album of ‘70s covers. (Only Manilow could record “Sometimes When We Touch” and still manage to “take it down a notch.”) In 2001, it really looked as though we had the old Barry back, when he released Here at the Mayflower, a concept album about an apartment building, consisting of all original tracks…but, now, he’s taking another step back.

The front cover of The Greatest Songs of the Fifties will, at first, have you thinking, “Wow, it’s nice to see that they’ve finally added Barry to Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum,” until you realize that, OMIGOD, THAT’S ACTUALLY HIM! It’s a little disturbing…but not quite as disturbing as having your 60-year-old mother listen to the disc and, after a few moments of hesitation when asked for her opinion, she actually opens with the words, “Well, it’s a little bit easy listening, but…”

Okay, let’s just stop right there.

My mother, bless her heart, is allowed to listen to whatever she desires, but to maximize the effect of this statement, let’s put things into perspective and clarify that, last Christmas, she asked for a Celine Dion CD. (Just to help her rep, however, it should also be noted that she can also identify the voices of Robert Smith, Morrissey, and Robyn Hitchcock by name when she hears them.) If she’s saying that “it’s a little bit easy listening,” there’s no need for you to pretend that this is worth picking up. There’s not even kitsch value to be had. The only reason it gets one and a half stars is because, to be fair, Manilow’s voice is as strong as ever, but to hear it deliver these string-laden, schmaltzed-up covers of “Unchained Melody,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” and “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing,” the whole affair comes off as utterly depressing.

If there’s any chance in hell of Manilow saving his reputation for being “so uncool that he’s cool,” it’s gonna have to involve him kneeling at the altar of Tom Jones, i.e. taking things way, way over the top. As it stands right now, however, The Greatest Songs of the ‘50s wouldn’t even qualify as cool in Branson, Missouri.

~Will Harris 


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