Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Song's Story #6: Could It Be Magic?


It's hard for some people to admit that they like Barry Manilow's music, and I am no exception. In my high school, Barry Manilow was considered the lamest singer you could ever idolize, and that was exacerbated by the fact that the nerdiest kid in our school did just that. 

But I think the cold, harsh truth most of us must face at one time or another is confessing to loving at least one Manilow song. Heck, even Peter and his buddies from Family Guy admitted to it. 

And for me, that song is "Could It Be Magic" (OK, I also love "Copacabana", too.) I think "Could It Be Magic" is one of the most beautiful, lush, love songs written. Ever. In the entire history of love song making. 


I heard the song for the first in many years in my car on the Sirius '70s on 7 channel and had to sit in a parking lot until it finished (and wholeheartedly admit to wiping away a tear when that last piano key was struck.) When I learned that it wasn't a hit at first for Barry Manilow, I knew I had to select it for the A Song's Story series. 

As most of you probably know, Manilow got his start in music writing advertising jingles ("I am stuck on Band-Aid brand 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" and "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" are among his credits as well as McDonald's trademark "You deserve a break today.") 

"Could It Be Magic" was written in 1970 or 1971 with lyrics by Adrienne Anderson. Because Manilow was unknown yet as a pop singer in the early '70s, he initially teamed up with session musicians under Tony Orlando's guidance in a pseudo-group with an awful name: Featherbed. 

Featherbed recorded four tracks, one of which was "Could It Be Magic." It sounds very little like the version that would make Manilow famous; recorded as an upbeat pop track, the lyrics have been changed and the song is missing its integral piano opening and closer which is Frederick Chopin's Prelude in C Minor. In fact, it sounds similar to the Orlando hit "Knock Three Times." For many years Manilow said he detested the record and was grateful it was a flop. 

Manilow released the intended version in 1973 on his debut solo album Barry Manilow, where again it didn't go anywhere. Two years later, when he was now with Arista records, he released it again as a single where it finally became a well-deserving hit and made it to #6 on the U.S. charts. 



Why do I love this song so much? I think it's way it's constructed...it has a really slow build-up (as one person on YouTube observed, it's a lot like making love.) The Chopin melody also gives me chills. It's known as the "Funeral March" prelude in classical music and because it entered the public domain decades ago, Manilow was able to compose a song around it without fear of copyright infringement. And it is a true 1970s' love song, incorporating imagery of "where the stallion meets the sun." ("Sweet Melissa", by the way, is a nod to singer Melissa Manchester who was also signed to Arista at the time.)

A year after Manilow's version became a hit, Donna Summer released her own disco-inspired cover which also did modestly well (Summer changed the lyrics of "sweet Melissa" to "sweet Peter" as an ode to her boyfriend at the time, Peter Mühldorfer.



In 1992, a British boy band named Take That recorded the song, which sounds a lot like the original Featherbed version. It is considered one of the worst covers ever recorded but if you're into cheesy '90s boy bands, you may just dig it:



Since then the song has been recorded in Dutch and French, by jazz arrangers and even as house music. But one of my favorite renditions is by The Puppini Sisters, a lovely group of ladies who sing covers of modern music in a style similar to The Andrews Sisters. Their version is stripped of the Chopin chords, but it's still just as lovely. 



Whenever I hear songs such as "Could It Be Magic" it's a painful reminder that they just don't write love songs anymore like they used to. It's a thing of magic, indeed. 

9 comments:

  1. I swear to God, I think this is the first time I've heard Manilow sing this in 30 years... loved the piano in the opening and close.

    Y'know Pam, I'm 10 years older than you--when I was in high school (in the 70s) it was okay to be a fan. (Although I wish I didn't put "Even Now" by Barry Manilow as my Favorite Song on my senior profile!)

    Well thanks for sharing and truth be told I haven't been a big fan of his stuff for many years (and if I ever hear Copacobana again I think my head will explode). Kinda interesting to see how this guy went from a popstar in the 70s to the heartthrob he is today to middle aged women everywhere. Before my mom passed a few years ago, she was a certified "fanilow". :)

    I think I'm going to find & listen to "Even Now", haven't heard that one in 30 years either :)

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  2. Hi Doug - thanks for your comments as usual! A friend of mine and her husband once were given tickets to see Barry Manilow--they're not fans, and didn't realize how many songs he had written. They ended up leaving the show with a lot of respect and said he gave a great performance. I haven't heard "Even Now" for a very long time...so I guess like you I'll have to look it up!

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  3. Pam I've never been to one of his concerts either, but I have a couple friends who never miss his show when he's in Pittsburgh and they always say the same thing.

    Not the fan I once was, but you gotta respect all his hard work and talent. :)

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  4. Absolutely! I wouldn't pass up a chance to see one of his shows for free but I must confess I am a Neil Diamond girl. But talent is talent just as you say.

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  5. The opening notes of this song always give me a little chill. I love it.

    Time in New England was a big favorite of mine, too. You can't saw the guy isn't talented.

    My mom paid an arm and a leg to see his Vegas show.

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  6. Definitely my favorite Manilow song of all time. I have distinct memories of my babysitter playing Manilow Live! over and over again all summer long. So when I found it for a quarter at Goodwill, I squeeed! then bought it. Played it at top volume much to my husband's chagrin. I listen to Could It Be Magic every so often when I feel the need to belt out a ballad. Platinum pop song in my humble opinion...

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  7. Wow, that is a ride in the wayback machine for sure. I saw that episode of Midnight Special the night it broadcast (a regular Friday night viewer before the days of MTV). That was "our song" for my first teenage love. Brought a tear to my eye too. I have a very eclectic musical taste, so I freely admitted to being a fan of a very talented man even then. Thanks for the rush of some of the most amazing times of my life.

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  8. My wife dragged me to one of his shows---in temps around -28 degrees F--back in the early 1990s. BEST concert I ever saw! Without a question. And I've seen McCartney FOUR times since 1976!

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  9. I'm hoping Manilow gets the recognition he deserves from the Kennedy Center for his arts contribution! Maybe 2016 will be the year!! :) DBliss.

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