Despite the title of one of Barry Manilow’s most beloved hits, he doesn’t write all the songs. But his fans couldn’t care less. The legendary singer — one of the few artists to chart an incredible 50 Top 40 hits — is consistently a top concert draw, as evidenced by his seven-year stay on the Las Vegas hotel circuit that ended in 2011.
Manilow — who began his career by writing famous commercial jingles for State Farm, Band-Aid and McDonald’s, among many others — takes the stage Friday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. He’ll perform favorites from his four-decade-plus career including I Write the Songs, Mandy, Can’t Smile Without You, Even Now, Weekend in New England, Could It Be Magic and Copacabana.
Manilow talked with Miami.com about the show, his unyielding creative drive even at age 70, and his proudest career achievement.
It’s been about three years since your last show down here, right?
Whatever you say [laughs]. I’m looking forward to it. I know you think I say that all the time, but Miami and that area has always been great to me.
So what can we expect this time?
On this tour, I’m trying to do as many of the hits as I can. I learned my lesson over the years that as I get older, the audiences really want to hear the songs that they grew up with, the songs that they love, and I’m happy to give it to them. I remember when I went to see a Sinatra concert years and years ago when I was younger, I just wanted to hear all those great songs that I had grown up with, that my parents had shown me — those swing things that he had done with Nelson Riddle. And whenever he did an album cut, it wasn’t as exciting as when he did all those wonderful things that I wanted him to do. I think I’m in that place right now with my audiences. … I’m one of the lucky guys that have enough of those songs that I can fill up an evening with it, so that’s what I’m planning on doing.
I know you like to play some of the more obscure songs sometimes, but what are your three favorite hits to perform live?
Mandy, I Write the Songs and, most of all, Copacabana. Those are the three.
I imagine the place lights up with energy during Copa.
And it was such a surprise, when I think back on releasing that song. The record company didn’t like it, and they didn’t think it could be a hit for me because I was releasing so many ballads. They didn’t promote it, and suddenly I looked at the Billboard charts and it was No.1 on the dance charts. And the next week it was in the Top 20 on the pop charts. It was the public that made that song a hit record. And the record company kept pushing the other songs, but the public loved Copa. And here, all these years later, that’s the one they want to hear the most.
Have you completely phased out performing any of your famous commercial jingles live?
Yeah, I tried it a couple years ago, and it died a death! [Laughs] Because nobody remembered those commercials. The only two that people do remember are “State Farm is there” because they keep playing it, and now and again they play the “I am stuck on Band-Aid” thing. But the rest of them that I did all those years ago — they don’t play them anymore, so I was met with crickets, the sound of crickets. No applause, no laughs, no nothing — so that was the only time I tried the old commercial medley.
You recently surpassed 50 Top 40 hits — how important is that to you?
I’ve always just wanted to be associated with songs that would outlive me. I’ve never really been trendy. I just want to write great songs and be associated with well-written records. You know, Weekend in New England and Even Now and Tryin’ to Get the Feeling — these are, I think, songs that will have a longer life than just a pop song of the day. I hope. That’s all I can do is put it out there.
Have you been musical since you were a young child?
Yeah. Yeah, I was. But you know, I come from Brooklyn with no money and no sophisticated family or any of that kind of thing, I was the only guy that even thought about making a career in music, and frankly, that didn’t happen until way into my 20s. I was raised to get that Friday afternoon paycheck and pay the rent — that was the most important thing in my family. So going into the music business was like insanity. But music was coming out of my years, so I just had to give it a try.
And you’re 70 now, an age when most artists either run out of gas or cruise along kind of resting on their laurels.
I know — I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I feel like I’m 35 — I’ve still got the same energy, the same ideas, the same passion for the work I’ve done. I’m just waiting to get old and sit around and drool [laughs] and limp, and it just doesn’t seem to be happening to me. But any day now, but so far so good.
So tell us about your new musical, “Harmony”.
Well, Bruce Sussman, my collaborator who wrote lyrics for me for years, wrote the script to “Harmony”. We’ve been working on it for quite a while, and it’s probably my proudest project that I’ve ever, ever been involved with, and I have been involved with a lot of projects. But this is the one that I would like to go down being remembered for — “Harmony”. It’s a beautiful, beautiful musical, and something I’ve always wanted to do, but I started off in the music business, way back when I really wanted to be a songwriter for Broadway. And then this pop career exploded and I just never had the time to do that. But over the years, Bruce and I put this together, and it’s a beauty. A real beauty.
It tells a very wonderful story about the first boy band, back in the 1930s in Germany, and it’s a very interesting story with a beautiful score and a beautiful book, and it opened in Atlanta a couple months ago, and we got wonderful, wonderful reviews. And the audience responded great, and we open in L.A. next month. With a little luck, it’ll do well there, and who knows what happens after that. But I’m very proud of it.
Maybe it will make its way to South Florida.
Boy, would they love this down in South Florida — wow!