Barry Manilow – “Live” (1977)

barrymanilowliveIf you say “Barry Manilow’s music sucks”, people don’t expect you to expound upon that with a reason.  They’ll probably just nod in general agreement.  Manilow is there alongside Kenny G and Nickelback in being performers that it is perfectly acceptable to hate simply on general principle, as if their existence in the world is all the proof needed to support one’s disdain.  But you know what else these artists have in common?  All of them have sold an insane amount of albums – Nickelback over 50 million, and Kenny and Barry 75 million… each.  Yes,  Nickelback, Kenny G, and Barry Manilow have sold more albums than there are people in the UK, France, and Germany… combined.  If album sales were people they would be the seventh most populated country in the world, nestled between Brazil and Nigeria.

Challenge someone on their feelings about Nickel-Barry-G with the above and chances are the response will be something along the lines of, “just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good” and/or “most people have crap taste in music”.  But is this true?  I mean really true.  If the goal of art is to reach people, these guys are doing it about as well as anyone ever has.  You can absolutely dislike their music; that’s personal taste.  If you want to say Nickelback songs are formulaic, fine.  But a lot of people love them.  Chuck Klosterman tackled this in a Grantland article in 2012 way more articulately and entertainingly than I ever could, but the one thing that always stuck with me was his description of the band’s sold out show at Madison Square Garden.  “More surprising is the degree to which the security staff at MSG clearly loves this music; you don’t often see ushers singing along with the band that’s onstage, but that’s what was happening here. They knew every word to every chorus.”

Now I too at times in my life have been a hater of things, including Barry Manilow and Nickelback.  But as I’ve gotten older I find it just makes less and less sense to be this way.  I mean, who cares? (♠)  Maybe you’re a very casual music fan who buys one or two albums a year, and whenever Kenny G puts out a new CD, you buy it.  And you enjoy it.  That’s fantastic.  Find some music you like and listen to it.  And if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.  Generally speaking you can avoid it.  And if you happen to hear “Rockstar” or “Copacabana”, it’s four minutes of your life.  You’ll probably survive.

As for Live, we snagged a clean copy of this double album from the dollar bin down at Ranch Records on our recent trip to Bend, Oregon.  Unfortunately it came out a year before “Copacabana”, so it does not include the story of Tony, Lola, and an unfortunate shooting.  But we do get “Looks Like We Made It”, “I Write the Songs”, and a medley of jingles that Manilow was involved in (KFC, McDonalds, State Farm Insurance…).  Frankly it sounds like it was a fun show.  And for a buck I’m glad to have a copy and become a citizen of Nickel-Barry-G-land.

(♠) That being said, the funniest thing I ever heard someone say at a show was back in 2009 and involved Nickelback.  A woman was with her group of 5-6 friends (all guys) and talking shit about everything and everyone for hours, just being annoyingly pretentious.  I can’t remember the band that hit the stage at the time, but her dismissive response within 20 seconds of them starting their set was “these guys are the Nickelback of techno”.  “Nickelback of Techno” is still a phrase Holly and I use to describe all kinds of things to this day.  Anything generic can be dubbed the Nickelback of Techno.