Pop legend

You find that kind of songwriting in the catalog of Christmas music, and I so love that, and I love arranging and producing songs like that. I was born too late, I was. So whenever I get an opportunity to do a Christmas album, I jump at it, because you know, recording Irving Berlin’s “Happy Holiday” or “White Christmas” or “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” — these are beautifully written songs, and I just love diving into them.

So, I think that’s the difference between the kind of songs that I’ve been doing all of my career. I listen to the lyric of “Mandy,” I try to put myself in that situation, and then I sing the song.

Pop legend Barry Manilow spoke with Morning Edition host David Greene about the Great American Songbook, Broadway and “Mandy.” Hear the radio version at the audio link and read more of their conversation below.

DAVID GREENE: So, you’ve recorded three Christmas albums over the years.

BARRY MANILOW: I have. For a Jewish guy, I’ve recorded a lot of Christmas albums.

GREENE: What got a Jewish guy into recording Christmas albums?

MANILOW: First of all — I love the time of the season. It’s the only time of the year that everyone stops hollering at each other, so that’s one thing. And everybody thinks about giving and receiving, and I love the whole feel of this time of the year.

But, musically, the reason I love these Christmas songs is that these songs, most of the standard Christmas songs, were written during the era that we call the Great American Songbook. These songs were written by composers and lyricists who knew how to write a song. They knew how to write a melody, they knew how to write a lyric, and we don’t do that anymore these days. I am a big fan of the Great American Songbook, with people like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin and the rest.

I love the time of the season. It’s the only time of the year that everyone stops hollering at each other.

GREENE: You don’t think, in general, that a lot of musicians know how to write songs these days?

MANILOW: No, and it’s very sad to listen to the pop radio, because writing a melody and a lyric is gone out the window. What we hear now is great-sounding records with great-sounding grooves and loops. And the sound of these records is irresistible, but the craft of songwriting is just about over. That’s why, whenever I get an opportunity to do an album full of standards, I jump at it because I miss it.

GREENE: What defines a classic Barry Manilow song?

MANILOW: Well, it needs to have — as a musician, you’d think I would say it’s gotta have a great melody. And it does. But as a performer, it really needs to have a lyric that I can crawl into.

And I think that’s the difference between what I do and what a lot of other people do: I tell the story of the lyric. You know, when I did American Idol the three times, I tried to tell these kids you have to tell the story of the lyric. Otherwise, closing your eyes and trying to show us how many notes you can fit into a bar, no one’s gonna feel — no one’s gonna care about it. But, if you tell the story of a lyric, then I think you’ve got a chance of connecting with an audience.