As you learned from my recent review of 15 Minutes, I’m a Barry Manilow fan. Much as I love 15 Minutes, one thing I thought it was missing was a really good “loved her and lost her” song at the climax of the story arc–and I commented that it’s not as though Barry doesn’t have plenty of songs like that to choose from.
That got me wondering about just how many he does have. And in the process, I think I discovered a great example of a good lesson in writing.
I don’t have access to every Barry Manilow song, so I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I can tell you how many I have. I have about 170 songs sung by Barry Manilow, probably around 140 of them original. I went through my collection to pull out all the “loved and lost” songs, using a fairly strict criteria. Essentially: the storyline of the song is that two people were at some point happily in love; somehow things went awry, and now the singer is singing from a perspective of still loving a girl he has lost.
And the total count: thirty-eight songs. That’s about 20% of my total Barry Manilow collection.
Of course there’s an obvious gibe here that Barry only ever sings one kind of song (which isn’t even true–after all, I have over 130 songs with a different storyline) but the point I actually want to make is how impressed I am by this–because that’s thirty-eight very different songs, all playing off of the same essential story. I don’t know whether to compliment Barry or his lyricist, but either way–I am impressed.
Somewhere I read that there are no new stories. It’s also been said that there are really only seven stories in the world. So what’s the lesson for a writer, looking for something original? It’s all in what you do with the story–how you interpret it–how you can put a different angle on it.
Let’s look at some of those “loved and lost” songs, and all the different angles. There is, of course, the classic, “Mandy.” Mandy used to be there for him, he got “caught up in a world of uphill climbing,” sent her away and now he realizes “I need you today, oh Mandy.” A straight-forward tale of regret, loneliness and lost love.
Sometimes the singer has found someone new, but “Even Now” yearns for the girl he used to have. Possibly he sought out this second girl in the interest of being “Lonely Together,” but I think she ought to pay some attention to “If I Should Love Again,” with its dreadful lines, “Although I hold her close, and want her now and then, I’ll still be loving you, if I should love again.”
At least one song borders on suicidal, with nothing to do but “Lay Me Down,” while other times there’s confident hope that “Somewhere Down the Road” they’ll be together again. The romance in “London” apparently ended amicably but still leaves him wistful, while there may be a girl waiting for him “In Some Bar by the Harbor.”
Sometimes we see the romance still falling apart, and might yet be saved. He feels that “We’re Losing Touch” but suggests, “Let’s Take Some Time to Say Good-bye,” and if she’d just “Talk to Me,” it all might work out. Especially if he starts playing “The Old Songs.”
You can also find love lost at the holidays. I have one Barry Manilow Christmas CD, and even there the same theme recurs. It’s bleak December, but he remembers “When the Meadow Was Blooming” and they were together, and “The Bells of Christmas” are ringing for a past romance. I also have to make a comment on “I Guess There Ain’t No Santa Claus.” I don’t technically include this one in my list–the singer is clearly alone and lonely, but I can’t find any indication he was ever in love in the past. It does, however, contain some real gems of lines, like “Sugar plums in my head, only me in my bed,” and “They sure got it right when they sing ‘Silent Night.’”
Occasionally the focus is on “Where Do I Go From Here?” when “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You,” and in fact, “I Can’t Smile Without You.” Alas, sometimes, “When Love Is Gone,” all you can do is say, “Good-bye My Love.”
Point made? Trust me when I say that this just scratches the surface. One essential story line. Thirty-eight songs. Thirty-eight different angles on one theme.
Some things can get over-done, of course. I think an awful lot of angles on paranormal teen romance have been explored recently. But it’s still something to think about. Writers sometimes beat themselves up looking for a new story–when maybe what they really need is a new angle on an old story.