In Which Barry Brings Me to Gerry, Sarah, Stan, and Mel

Barry Manilow - 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe

Even from the few pieces posted here on RV so far, it’s probably obvious that both M and I are children of the 1970s, thoroughly steeped in its music from early childhood.  Even though it’s always been unfashionable among my peers, I’ve never been ashamed to admit that I’m an unabashed, lifelong fan of Barry Manilow.  His “Greatest Hits” album was one of the records I ‘borrowed’ from my older sister (see here for more confessions on that subject) and it was rarely off my turntable during my childhood.

Consequently, any new release from Barry was a reason for excitement, and when my sister learned that Barry was touring in support of his 1984 release “2:00 AM Paradise Cafe” and was including Wichita in his stops, she grabbed tickets for us – it was my first live pop concert experience.  Barry performed plenty of his hits, but the new songs especially claimed my attention.  They were so different from his previous material that it was difficult not to notice, and when I got the new record home, I played it almost nonstop.

I learned later that this particular album was recorded live in one take, with no edits – which seems incredible to me.  I remember sharing the album with a classmate (one who was actually willing to try some Barry!) and when he returned it, he complained that there were no breaks between songs… something which I’d always considered a delight, that seamless transition from tune to tune.  Being contrarian in nature (I never have liked to go with the cultural flow!), I also drew from this album for one of my high school talent show appearances, choosing the title track for my junior year performance.

I find it difficult to pick particular favorites from an album I love so much in its entirety, but “When October Goes” has always tugged at my heartstrings, no matter when or where I’ve heard it.  With its melancholy lyrics by Johnny Mercer (unpublished and unused until Barry set them to music for this album), the song is gorgeous in its simplicity.  (And if you think you don’t know any songs by Johnny Mercer, if you’ve ever heard “Moon River” or “Days of Wine and Roses,” you do – while many of us know the music was composed by Henry Mancini, it was Johnny Mercer who penned the lyrics.)

Although my parents were both big-band devotees, I’d never before been exposed to what might be classified as ‘real’ jazz.  And while this album might not qualify for that classification, it nevertheless introduced me to artists who did – Sarah Vaughan, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Tormé, Shelley Manne.  (Barry’s next album, “Swing Street,” introduced me to Stan Getz.)  Not only did this particular album become one of my all-time favorites, but it opened me up to a whole new world of artists and music.  Music is so often a ‘six degrees of separation’ affair – if a listener spends any time at all with liner notes, it’s likely that they’ll go in search of other projects with those musicians.  So it was for me – I found albums by several of the artists on this projects, and then albums by other artists with whom they played/sang, and so on.

I’ve been thrilled to hear this album on vinyl once again, to revisit an important musical milestone from my teenage years.  No matter what you think of Barry Manilow (most people either absolutely love him or loathe him, nothing in between), this project is worth a spin should you ever find it – and make sure to listen to the other musicians too.

~ L

Not the same, of course, but you can listen to “2:00 AM Paradise Cafe” on Spotify.