Story in Song

I love to read, but what I really love are stories–which of course aren’t confined just to books.  It was fun to review a couple of movies for the Once Upon a Time Challenge, and I think I may mix it up a bit in the future, occasionally reviewing something that isn’t a book–but still a marvelous tale.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying stories in music.  I may be among the few people my age willing to admit this, but I’m a Barry Manilow fan.  (No one laugh!  I’m in good company–Elton John, Victoria Beckham and Slash from Guns ‘n’ Roses are all fans too.)  If you somehow don’t know Barry Manilow, he’s an oft-maligned singer/songwriter since the seventies, singing heartfelt and soaring ballads.  I ask you–what’s not to love?

Barry’s latest CD came out just a few weeks ago: 15 Minutes, a story about a singer’s rise to fame and subsequent self-destruction.  And it really is a story.  It’s not just a series of songs around a theme–it’s a clear, continuous, building story, from track to track.  It’s like a soundtrack, only without the play.

For those who are familiar with Barry Manilow, this one is different.  It’s still heartfelt and soaring at times, but it has more of a rock quality to it.  He’s also delving into different emotions: anger, bitterness–darker feelings.  He’s always had sad songs; you can pretty much take your pick of songs that follow the theme “I loved her, I lost her, I miss her.”  But there’s something more raw and edgy about this CD.

(If it’s possible to give a spoiler for a CD, fair warning that I’m about to.)

It opens with “15 Minutes,” setting the stage of the singer’s dreams of fame and glory.  He gets the job in “Work the Room” (which has an astonishingly rapper-like quality to it!) and rushes home to tell his girl in “Bring on Tomorrow.”

“Bring on Tomorrow” is my favorite song on the CD.  It’s a beautiful piece about reaching your dreams and seeing this amazing future spread out ahead of you.  Chasing dreams are another frequent theme in Barry’s songs, which may be one reason I like him.

Bring on tomorrow for me and for you,
We hung on through dark hours, dawn’s overdue.
Bring on tomorrow, and show me the sun,
We’ll live it together, ’cause you’re the one.

Without you it’s nothing, why else would I climb?
Together forever, hearts beating in time.

He gets to enjoy his rise for a few songs, but then it starts to disintegrate: “He’s left with no companions, only enemies and slaves” in “He’s a Star.”  From there, everything falls to pieces, including his relationship–which gives “Bring on Tomorrow” this wonderful added poignancy.  The songs trace a spiral into increasing destruction, including the truly creepy “Letter from a Fan,” who turns out to be disturbingly obsessed.  (I have never used the word “creepy” to describe Barry Manilow music before!)  Everything comes to a head in “Winner Go Down,” followed by a few songs reflecting on how it all went wrong.

And here, despite how much I do love this CD, is where Barry ends up losing me.  I’m right with him through “Trainwreck,” the third-to-last song, about how it all went off the rails and now the singer is trying to get back on the track again.  But then, right when I’m looking for a classic “loved her, lost her, need her” song…we get a reprise of “15 Minutes.”  The singer’s heading back into the spotlight.  Which I could accept as well, if there was a sense of “I learned something, I’ll get it right now and it’ll be different this time.”  There is a sense of “I’ll prove to them I’m not done yet,” but…not much of “it’ll be different.”  So when the last track is “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right,” I’m left saying, how and why and what are you going to do to make it all right?

There’s a brilliant melodic touch in here–a couple times, at key emotional moments, we hear the melody from “Bring on Tomorrow” again.  It’s there in the song when the couple falls apart, and again at the end of “Trainwreck”–which is my one (extremely slim!) hope that maybe he went and found the girl again.  (He should–didn’t he listen to all of Barry’s other songs about devastated loss?)

If they were going to turn this into a play, it would be easy to do.  It’s got the complete story already, and if they needed to expand it, they could just bring in some of Barry’s other songs–I’ve been listening to my other Barry Manilow music, and there are several that would weave in very nicely.  Including adding a “loved her, lost her” song at the key moment.  All you have to do is name the girl Mandy and you’re set.

“Mandy” is Barry’s signature song (along with “Copacabana”) and one of his first big hits.  Thematically,  it fits into this story perfectly, even in the details.

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, oh Mandy.

You came and you gave without taking,
But I sent you away, oh Mandy.
You kissed me and stopped me from shaking,
And I need you today, oh Mandy.

If they need someone to turn this into a play, I’m ready!  🙂  And barring that unlikely event, I’ll just enjoy listening to it.  If you like Barry Manilow, or even if you don’t, check it out–you might be surprised in either case.

Thank you for indulging me on my musical ramblings about a marvelous tale in music…I promise to write about a book next time!

Artist’s Site: http://www.manilow.com/ (including samples of the songs from 15 Minutes right on the homepage)

One thought on “Story in Song

  1. I have loved Barry Manilow’s music for more years than I care to admit. He is very underrrated by the music critics. Thank you for a well-thought out review of his latest CD. It IS quite a departure from his earlier work, but I think he’s been influenced by the trends of modern pop music and wanted to incorporate some of those into his own music. He’s great and still going strong.

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