When he burst onto the music scene with "Mandy" in '74, Barry Manilow invented the power ballad and in the process changed prom songs forever. The rest of the Me Decade would prove the singer unstoppable (even by critics) as he produced a string of hits and created a loyal following of fans who found in his lush music an escape from the hard rock of the times. These days the Brooklyn boy is still making good, with a new CD for the holidays, In the Swing of Christmas (available at Hallmark stores), and a TV special, Barry Manilow: Songs from the Seventies (premiering Dec. 3 on PBS, check TV Guide listings), proving that much like the power ballad, Manilow will never go out of style.
TVGuide.com: It seem like you're busier than ever.
Just when I think I'm done it explodes again, I'm just amazed. I go out on the road and sing my songs and say my goodbyes on a farewell tour and then the next thing I know I open in Las Vegas. There I am 35 stories high on the side of the Hilton Hotel and I think, "That'll be about all," and before I know it my album (Greatest Songs of the '70s ) is entering at No.1 — it just keeps going.
TVGuide.com: Is your favorite thing getting up onstage every night?
My favorite thing to do is producing, I like putting things together. I like being in the background, if it was up to me I'd be accompanying other singers and arranging and producing, or putting shows together for other people. The last thing I ever aspired to was being a performer and to get up onstage, it's the biggest surprise in my life that this is where I wound up.
TVGuide.com: Is performing uncomfortable for you?
Now I'm very comfortable. For years I was very uncomfortable and didn't know how to do this and the critics saw that and tried to annihilate me. I agreed with them — I did not know how to be a performer in the spotlight. But the audiences were there and didn't care that I was an awkward amateur on that stage; they kept coming back. They knew I was learning on the job.
TVGuide.com: What do most people say to you if they see you out at a restaurant or the airport?
Well, the odd thing is when I walk through an airport they all yell, "Hi, Rod!" They all think I'm Rod Stewart. It's nice. I talk in a gruff voice and sign his autograph. I wonder if he gets "Hi, Barry" as much as I get "Hi, Rod."
TVGuide.com: Who do you like on the music scene today?
My favorite rock and roll groups are Nickelback and the Foo Fighters. I don't know how to make stuff like that, but I like it; I hear their passion and craft. The next album I'm doing is a guitar-driven album and when I get ready to make the record I'm going to make phone calls to some great rock and roll people to ask if they want to work with me.
TVGuide.com: Well, that sounds like a change from your new Christmas CD.
I work with a great jazz trio on this album. I love finding new facets to songs people already know, but this is my third Christmas album and if I have to do a fourth one, I may be down to the bottom of the barrel for songs. I was going to do a Hanukkah song on this CD, but they are so awful [Laughs], they just don't work. What am I going to do, an arrangement of "The Dreidel Song"?
TVGuide.com: You should think about doing that. How was singing this season on Dancing with the Stars?
I was very lucky that they even got one shot of me with the way the cameras swirl around the dancers; they didn't pay any attention to me singing my heart out [Laughs]. But those people are working their asses off, I'm just happy I had a couple of songs they could dance to.
TVGuide.com: Next season might we see Dancing with Barry?
Not in a million years, not on a bet.
TVGuide.com: But you do have a new PBS special.
Manilow: Yeah, this is more like a VH1's Storytellers because it's very intimate. I get to do songs from that decade like "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," "You've Got a Friend," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," beautiful songs we all know, and then my old stuff, which is fun.
TVGuide.com: I see they just released some of your classic '70s variety specials on DVD, I'm sure you enjoy looking back at those.
Oh god, I wish they would have released those after I died so that I didn't have to see myself in that friggin' Copacabana jacket ever again.
TVGuide.com: Well, fans still love seeing it. What do fans want to say when they meet you?
People always say "thank you" and I don't know what to say, so I just let them talk. Somehow these songs have had a deep impact on people and some of the personal stories they tell me… well, they're just gorgeous.
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