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One Voice

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Album Review

One Voice, Barry Manilow's sixth studio album of new material, marked a decline in his commercial fortunes despite being a considerable hit. It reached the Top Ten and went platinum, while his previous five releases (including a live album and a greatest-hits collection) had all gone multi-platinum. But this commercial disappointment (which would not be reversed) did not reflect any fall-off in musical quality; One Voice was another well-constructed collection that balanced songs composed by Manilow and his various regular lyric partners (Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman, Adrienne Anderson, Marty Panzer, and Enoch Anderson) with outside material suggested by Arista Records President Clive Davis in a two-for-one ratio. (If you include "They Gave in to the Blues," the non-LP B-side added to the 1998 reissue of the album, there were 12 songs, eight written by Manilow & co., four brought in by Davis.) As usual, Davis' selections held sway when it came to singles. All three of the 45's issued from the album — "Ships," "When I Wanted You," and "I Don't Want to Walk Without You" — were covers. (And if there had been a fourth, no doubt it would have been the melancholy ballad "Where Are They Now," co-written by Richard Kerr, author of the Manilow hits "Mandy" and "Looks Like We Made It," and John Bettis, Richard Carpenter's lyricist.) The most successful of these on the Hot 100 was "Ships," a song Davis found on ex-Mott the Hoople leader Ian Hunter's solo album You're Never Alone With a Schizophrenic. This ballad about the distance between fathers and sons did not resonate with Manilow, who had lost his father as an infant. (When he put the song on his box set The Complete Collection and Then Some..., he used a live take, confessing that he only got into the song after performing it in concert.) But he gave it the kind of arrangement meant to make it the "Mandy" of the collection, and so it became, more or less. He felt a greater affinity for the 1942 Jule Styne-Frank Loesser standard "I Don't Want to Walk Without You," which he performed frequently despite its relative low placing at number 36, and indeed his original "(Why Don't We Try) A Slow Dance" was his own approximation of the style. That song began with a disco arrangement broken by a piano riff to indicate the composer's true sentiments, but he still bowed to the current fad with "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed" and the dance-rock paean to a prostitute, "Bobbie Lee (What's the Difference, I Gotta Live)." These indifferently performed numbers were only included to break up the ballads with up-tempo tracks, however. Manilow clearly placed the greatest store by the lead-off title song, a choral work with vaguely anthemic lyrics he wrote himself in a dream. But that kind of overblown fluff wasn't what put the food on his table. The sales drop-off suggested that Manilow's time was passing and he might have been well advised to try something different next time out. He didn't, though. [One Voice was reissued with remastered sound in 2006 and sported four extra tracks including never before released demos for "Learning to Live Without You", "Where I Want to Be" and "I Let Myself Believe".]


Born: 17 June 1943 in Brooklyn, NY

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

In terms of record sales and career longevity, Barry Manilow is one of the most successful adult contemporary singers ever. That success hasn't necessarily translated to respect (or even ironic hipster appreciation) in most quarters; instead, Manilow's music has been much maligned by critics and listeners alike, particularly the romantic ballads that defined his career, which were derided as maudlin schlock even during his heyday. It's true that Manilow's taste for swelling choruses and lush arrangements...
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One Voice, Barry Manilow
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