Released: May 1977
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 67
Certified 3x Platinum: 9/2/87
The Uris Theater was packed for this one-man show by Barry Manilow, a composer-performer who worked with Bette Midler as her accompanist, musical director, sparring partner, and what-have-you earlier in his career and has more recently become a star in his own right. Not only has he written such songs as "Mandy" and "Weekend in New England," he has a high-key, genuinely friendly performing matter that's half unregenerate New York City street kid and half Bloomingdale's glitter.
Up to "A Very Strange Melody," Manilow's show is just a highly professional, lavishly produced revue, enlivened by a dynamic back-up group called the City Rhythm Band and three gorgeous, funny girls collectively called Lady Flash. The audience has clearly and audibly loved every moment of it. Then, shushing everyone, Manilow confides that his "ahtsy-fahtsy" friends are always shocked by the number he's about to do, but his "trashy" friends think it's just great.
Well, I must be trash, because I loved the next six minutes: a full-scale run-through of his (are you ready?) TV commercials! Barry Manilow's brilliant odes to and come-ons for brands of fried chicken, auto insurance, cosmetics, bandages, toilet-bowl cleaners, soft drinks, and hamburgers are already such a firm part of the national consciousness that I almost felt, as his audience must have, that I should join in. In the show they are all done straightforwardly (with just a little camping on the toilet-bowl number) as the new "folk" music they are. Aside from being authentically entertaining, these songs are as much works of popular commercial art as the fashion drawings of Erté or such famous advertising one-liners as "Does she or doesn't she?" from the Clairol campaign.
Of course, Manilow is a lot more than just another Madison Avenue comet, as he proves here particularly in his final version of "Beautiful Music," a song he weaves throughout the show, in which he displays the kind of showmanship and performing grace that will probably keep him at the top for as long as he wants to stay there. Barry Manilow Live has got to be the final, flip Seventies answer to the messiahs and prophets of the Sixties who have been boring the hell out of all of us for much too long with their messages of doom and gloom. Manilow's courage in confessing that he likes to pick up a few bucks once in a while requires more honesty than most of them were ever capable of in the first place.
- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 9/77.
The state of the art of live concert recording comes together with an acoustically excellent Broadway theatre and a high-voltage audience response to carry off one of the strongest of the current two-disk live sets capturing some of the most exciting tours of 1976. Manilow's first live album presents some of the singer/pianist/writer's uniquely individualistic between-songs patter as well as his concert trademark of a medley of the commercial jingles he worked on during his studio musician days. Interestingly, some of these live versions of Manilow hits are done with more restrained, quieter treatments than on the studio records, while other live arrangements bring high levels of performing energy to what were tender ballads in the studio. Though not all of these varied treatments work equally well, at least the live set presents considerably more than mere carbon copies of songs already cut in the studio. Manilow has deservedly become one of the nation's biggest pop-rock attractions and this LP clearly demonstrates why. He has a rare audience rapport and musical creativity that blazes forth in a stage presentation, boosted by his cooking band.
- Billboard, 1977
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Live was Manilow's only number one album. The performances are so seamless that it's practically a faithfully performed greatest-hits album. It includes the hit "Daybreak." * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
In January 1975, Barry Manilow became a star whe "Mandy" topped the Billboard Hot 100. A year later, Manilow scored his second Number One single with "I Write the Songs." While the Brooklyn-born singer scored three top 10 albums with 1974's Barry Manilow II, 1975's Tryin' to Get the Feeling, and 1976's This One's For You, he didn't reach the peak of the Top LPs & Tapes chart until Arista released an album of some of this best-known songs recorded live.
Recorded primarily at New York's Uris Theatre in December 1976, Live captured Manilow in the middle of a 98-city tour at the height of his newfound fame. Yet despite his enormous popularity, Manilow was having trouble dealing with the success. "I remember it being the worst time of my life, and the best of times," he says. "It was the first peak of this pop career of mine and it was a very confusing and unnatural thing to go through at the time."
Live features in-concert versions of the big hits, "Looks Like We Made It," "This One's for You," "Could It Be Magic," "Mandy," and "I Write the Songs." Yet Manilow also turned to some other familiar material. "A Very Strange Melody (V.S.M.)" featured commercial jingles form Kentucky Fried Chicken, State Farm Insurance, Stridex facial pads, Band-Aids, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, Bowlene toilet cleaner, and McDonald's. Manilow had written some of the jingles, but compiled his own creations and others into "V.S.M." for its campy appeal.
Says Manilow, "Before 'Mandy,' I didn't feel that I could keep the audience's attention with a whole hour of original material, also in desperation I put that together and the crowd went nuts. It was still in the stage show when we recorded Live."
Also included on Live was "Jump Shout Boogie Medley," another collection, which featured a Manilow original from This One's For You, covers of a few standards, and "Bandstand Boogie," better known as theme to Dick Clark's American Bandstand, which Manilow also co-wrote.
The combination of hits, jingles, and TV themes, all recorded live, proved to be potent. Live entered the chart at number 10 on May 28, 1977. It wasn't the only Manilow title on the list that week, as all four of the singer-songwriter's previous albums were still on the album chart.
Eight weeks after its impressive debut, Live hit the top, becoming Manilow's first and only chart-topping LP and the second live album of 1977 to hit Number One, with Wings' Wings Over America topping the list in January.
- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums, 1996.
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