In terms of both record sales and career longevity, Barry Manilow is one of the most successful adult contemporary singers ever. He conceived of himself as a pop entertainer and all-around showman in the classic mold, and his performances and stage shows were accordingly theatrical. Manilow went to the studio in 2005 to record a diverse collection of tracks from the 1950s with producer and music mogul Clive Davis. The resulting The Greatest Songs of the Fifties was released in 2006. Barry Manilow breathes new life and vitality into these truly wonderful songs and they sound fresh and timeless. The album arrives just in time for St. Valentine's Day. Most of the song lyrics on it celebrate the glories of romantic love and first became hits in an era when intimacy was a private matter. It is a collection of songs made famous by crooners Johnny Mathis, Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and others and by harmony groups such as The Four Aces and The McGuire Sisters. One of the best aspects of Barry Manilow's exploration of classic songs from the 1950's is that it reminds us all that rock’n’roll was only one part of the pop music of the decade. The 10 years that gave us Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly is also the same period that gave us such evergreen tunes as Love Is a Many Splendored Thing, Young at Heart, and Sincerely.
Manilow covers a collection of songs that were squarely in the mainstream of pop music 50 years ago. This light, breezy affair showcases Manilow's easy-going charm, as revealed on his gentle versions of the Righteous Brothers' Unchained Melody and the Everly Brothers' All I Have to Do Is Dream. Wisely avoiding over-the-top arrangements, this record presents a lush, restrained sound that allows Manilow's velvety voice to shine, making it one of the performer's finest studio albums in decades. Although The Greatest Songs of the Fifties is unlikely to convert the legions of Barry Manilow skeptics, it is a rewarding album to hear with a number of pleasant surprises. The McGuire Sisters' Phyllis McGuire makes a guest appearance on a medley of two hits, Sincerely - Teach Me Tonight, made famous by she and her sisters over 50 years ago. Barry Manilow's arrangement of Are You Lonesome Tonight drops the sticky sentimentality of Elvis Presley's version in favor of an elegant production reminiscent of Henry Mancini's classic movie themes. Manilow's arrangement of Beyond the Sea as a ballad rather than as Bobby Darin's hip, upbeat, finger-snapper restores the poignancy and beauty of this song about a soldier yearning to be reunited with his beloved. This is a top-notch playlist, and these songs are always good to hear.
You have to admire Barry Manilow's courage. Making an album of 13 covers of pop classics that have endured for 50 years and risking comparison with their beloved – even sacred – original versions takes plenty of guts. Manilow has recorded an album similar in approach to Rod Stewart's bestselling set of The Great American Songbook albums. However, Manilow is more tightly focused on the 1950's, and he avoids any attempts at cute gimmickry resulting in a straightforward and pleasing collection. It will be difficult to avoid singing along. Of course, The Greatest Songs of the Fifties is a 2006 release, so it has a slick, semi-synthesized sheen and a warm, hazy glaze of nostalgia which, truth be told, isn't all that far removed from Manilow's big hits of the '70s. The Greatest Songs of the Fifties bowed this week at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 with sales of 156,000 copies in the United States. It is Manilow's second trip to the top of the chart, and first in nearly 30 years. Clive Davis says the success of this album is due to a compatible marriage among the artist, song, arrangement and production.