Tuesday, April 14, 2015
A Song's Story #6: Could It Be Magic?
Posted By Pam On Tuesday, April 14, 2015
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.