Monday, October 27, 2014

Barry Manilow sings with dead people

Let me begin by saying I'm a Barry Manilow fan, in a mild way. "Mandy" got me through all-nighters my senior year in college, when disc jockeys scheduled it incessantly, and I always let him play when I'm radio-surfing in the car and come across his songs. But his new album "My Dream Duets," which landed on my desk Friday, has me puzzled.




It consists entirely of duets with 11 people who have died, some as far back as the 1960s (Frankie Lymon, Judy Garland) and some as recently as 2012 (Whitney Houston, Andy Williams). Manilow was 70 when he made his contributions to these recordings, and even fans who admire his voice can admit it has a noticeable quaver.

Now I'm wondering if this is a trend. And if so, where does it stop? With Tom Cruise inserting himself alongside Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca"? With a "pairing" of Jascha Heifetz and, say, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra? The idea seems pernicious to me.

In the first place, I'm not convinced Dusty Springfield or Mama Cass would have wanted to re-do "The Look of Love" or "Dream a Little Dream of Me" with Manilow or anyone else. Louis Armstrong might have agreed to a duet, but I wonder whether he'd have approved this strange overlapping medley of "What a Wonderful World" and "What a Wonderful Life."

People who control the estates of these artists did have to sign on to the project. But as Dr. Seuss' widow showed by green-lighting atrocious adaptations of his books -- see Mike Myers' film of "The Cat in the Hat" -- an heir's compliance is no proof the original artist would have said yes.

In the second place, some songs can't be improved. Williams' immaculate "Moon River" and Jimmy Durante's ebullient "The Song's Gotta Come From the Heart" (initially a duet with Frank Sinatra) don't benefit from tampering, however much Manilow's sentiments are in the right place.

The technology to do this has been around for a long time. I recall the bizarre union of Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline, who were both dead by 1981 when a remixed "Have You Ever Been Lonely?" went to No. 5 on the country charts. (They never recorded together but had each made solo versions before dying in plane crashes, Cline in 1963 and Reeves in 1964.)

Any artist might be tempted into a recording studio by the chance to "perform" with people he respected, and it's easy to do that when they no longer have any control over their music. But as my mom used to say, "Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Barry live with another departed legend - Donna Summer - performing HER version of "Could It Be Magic", which was the first of Manilow's hits for which he wrote the music:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkGcP5HCRC4

For the true Barryphile, the original 1971 version of "CIBM", produced by Tony Orlando with totally different lyrics and "Mary Tyler Moore Theme"-style production:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AsI5L-pfFwk

Lawrence Toppman said...

This I DO like, because it's a true collaboration between artists who both wanted to take part. And it has way more energy than anything on the album.

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