- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

LAS VEGAS — On his last two albums, Barry Manilow tackled songs made famous by Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and other greats. But his new album presented a real challenge: covering himself.

“Trying to redo ‘Mandy,’ trying to redo ‘I Write the Songs’ — it was the most complicated thing I’d ever done in my life,” he says.

It was inevitable that Mr. Manilow would end up redoing songs from his own career, given his recent artistic direction. In January 2006, he released “The Greatest Songs of the Fifties”— which promptly debuted at the top of the charts and sold more than 1 million copies. Months later, he was at it again, this time with “The Greatest Songs of the Sixties,” also a top seller.

On Tuesday, he reached into the past once again with the release of “The Greatest Songs of the Seventies,” which includes songs made famous by the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, the Carpenters and Carole King.

“These songs that I’m doing on the ‘Seventies’ album, they were competition (then),” Mr. Manilow says. was kind of an inreting experience for me, because a lot of these songs, we were battling it out up at the top of the charts. Now I realize how wonderfully written they are.”

But given that his career-defining hits also helped to define that decade, Mr. Manilow performs Manilow as well.

“I had to redo mine, and I decided I would do it like an ‘Unplugged’ ” Mr. Manilow said last month sitting backstage after a performance of his Las Vegas revue.

Mr. Manilow’s voice hasn’t changed much since his initial recordings, but he thinks that audiences will still hear a difference: “I think there’s a maturity there that wasn’t there 30 years ago. Thirty years ago it was a young boy singing a pop song.”

Though the album features a range of songs, it doesn’t feature a range of styles — most notably, there are no disco songs, even though the genre defined that decade. It wasn’t for lack of trying, at least on Mr. Manilow’s part: He admits he really wanted to sing K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s classic, “Get Down Tonight.”

But music mogul Clive Davis, who co-produced the album with Mr. Manilow and David Benson, wasn’t having it.

“Clive had a lot of trouble with me doing disco,” Mr. Manilow says. “(‘Get Down Tonight’) was a great idea, but it just didn’t make it. A lot of them are great …I’m so disappointed they just didn’t make it.”

Mr. Davis wasn’t the only one who had input on the album’s direction. Mr. Manilow sent an e-mail list of some 200 songs to “everybody that I had ever met in my life,” he jokes —a list that included Jay Leno, Martha Stewart and Rosie O’Donnell.

“I said, ‘Pick your 13 favorite songs’ and they all answered me … and I tallied them all up.”

“What is emerging out of all the songs we recorded is a very intimate, romantic album,” Mr. Manilow adds.

And, perhaps, another hit album, if the “Seventies” album follows the trend of its predecessors. At 61, Mr. Manilow is excited to still be in the pop mix.

“It was fun going up against ‘Hannah Montana,’” he said. “I hadn’t even heard of ‘Hannah Montana,’ but it was fun.”

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