Saturday, August 5, 2017

could it be magic

I've been listening to Barry Manilow's "Could It Be Magic."

Give this a listen from beginning to end. A gorgeous composition. The chorus pays homage to a Chopin prelude (C-minor, op 28 #20). The verses and other material are equal to Chopin's bewitching progression, with intelligent lyrics by Adrienne Anderson that perfectly speak Manilow's sumptuous pop melodies and harmonies.

Goodness! To think that anyone was complaining in the early 70s that the American pop song had died, or entered a dumb period! Surely Manilow was an exception (just as Porter and Gershwin were), but he was spurred on by a moment that could allow a 7-minute-long pop song.

There's so much here. First, the out-of-tune studio piano bangs out something like Chopin's original prelude, cadencing into the song itself. The verse layers one richly extended chord after another. 7ths and 9ths abound, even in the melody. The piano is set off by some nicely-recorded guitar fingerpicking. We really hear the gut of the strings, so fleshly! When the Chopinesque chorus arrives, it sounds like a deep exhale.

The arrangement itself, as performed here, doesn't stand the test of time. The drums and bass sound so constricted and not-right to us. But the vocal and string arrangement, and the overall shape of the song, is a testament to Manilow's pop genius.

Anyone who thinks of Manilow as too smooth and slick needs only to listen to the when's-it-gonna-end coda starting around the 5-minute mark. It's some of the rawest vocal work he ever did. It plays perfectly against the stately brass and strings, before being engulfed by the rest of the mix. The impression is of a man drowning in his need for his beloved. It's exactly the kind of extended coda that rock musicians hope will be overwhelming, but rarely is. (I'm looking at you, Michael W. Smith. Fade out already.) Here, it is. I'd do away with the tag ending that returns to the Chopin piano — it's unneeded and feels arty — but it works decently. By that point, we're ready for a landing, I guess.

Man, what a piece of music. Sit down and let it operate on you.

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