Total Pageviews

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Who Did It Better? Could It Be Magic

Who Did It Better? 
Could It Be Magic

This one is going to require some patience kids. First off, we have a very unique situation here, where the same artist took three (actually four) different swings at this particular ball. Then there is a matter of length... this is a long ass song. But couple that with a disco version? And you know it's going be a matter of time and patience. Fortunately, we are mostly dealing with edited versions, trimmed to fit the 45 format. 

But, I think it's worth it. I adore these two performers and I adore this song. And the song's history is a rather interesting one. 

Could It Be Magic was inspired by Frédéric Chopin's Prelude in C minor, Opus 28, Number 20. Written by Barry Manilow and Adrienne Anderson, it was initially released by Bell Records  in 1971 under the name Featherbed; a group of session musicians that included Manilow. The first version was produced and re-written by Tony Orlando (Knock Three Times, Tie A Yellow Ribbon). At the time, Orlando was vice president of Columbia/CBS Music. He'd caught Manilow's opening act for Bette Midler, who Manilow was accompanying at that time, and signed him to Bell Records which had been newly acquired by Columbia/CBS. 

Orlando took Manilow under his wing and began producing a number of tracks for him, under the aegis of Featherhead. Up to this point, the only thing Manilow had arranged was a series of commercial jingles, so Orlando did all the arrangements. Orlando liked Could It Be Magic, but felt it needed some tweaking and should be an up-tempo song, complete with cow bells, new lyrics and a 1970's bubblegum, feelgood pop beat. 

Manilow hated the results and was grateful when the single went nowhere. Only recently has he had a change of heart, calling Orlando's take "kind of catchy". 

After Featherbed failed to catch fire, Manilow and Ron Dante took the helm for his next stab at the song. Reinstating the original lyrics and slowing the tempo considerably, version two would appear on Manilow's 1973 debut album on Bell Records. This version would run a whopping 7:17, quite a difference when you consider that the Orlando produced version came in at 2:12. 

But then everything went pineapple upside down for Bell Records when it was acquired by Clive Davis and his label, Arista. Most of the artists on the label were jettisoned. Among the exceptions? Manilow and Melissa Manchester. Clive saw potential in both. (By the way, the line: "Sweet Melissa, angel of my lifetime..."? Yep, that's an ode to Manilow's labelmate.) 

Manilow's 1973 version, released on Bell Records had garnered enough heat and attention that Clive Davis deemed it worthy of one more swing.  In 1974, Manilow's debut album would get a makeover. Remixed and sweetened, Could It Be Magic was re-released, in an edited version, as a single a full two years after it had been originally recorded. At this point, Manilow had broken big with Mandy and Clive wanted to keep the hits coming. 

The gamble paid off handsomely, as the newly refurbished version snagged the #6 spot on Billboard's Hot 100. In 1978 it would also reach #25 in the UK. 

One would think that Manilow was all done tinkering with this particular song, but oh, no. When it came time to include it on his Greatest Hits: The Platinum Collection, the song was handed over to Trevor Horn (Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Relax) who re-edited it, piled on atmospherics, new backing vocals, a drum machine, and new vocals by Manilow (listen to his vowel sounds and how they have changed). I've included it here for a listen. My eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger the more I listened. 

But, back to 1975...

Seven months after Manilow's version was released for the third time, dance queen Donna Summer covered the song as part of her A Love Trilogy album. Her version, made for the dancefloor, would reach the #3 spot on Billboard's Dance chart in 1976. It would also manage to hit #52 on the Hot 100 in the US and #40 in the UK. 

And there you have the full story...

Now? On to the competition!

The Song: Could It Be Magic
The Competitors: Featherbed vs. Manilow vs. Manilow vs. Summer

Could It Be Magic (1971) - Featherbed

Could It Be Magic (1973)- Barry Manilow

Could It Be Magic (1975) - Barry Manilow

Could It Be Magic - Donna Summer

That intro is nothing I expected. Those are some perky strings and horns. And all at once! Oh, my. Well, early 70's AM Radio was not exactly subtle. So, this? This got my attention... like one of those glitzy variety shows. We settle down a bit, but not for long. Do you hear that bass accent? It's only really apparent after those strings stop screaming. Interesting choice for a vamp. Okay... Barry's vocals are more over-processed than my niece Shantell's hair! Man, is this peppy. By the second verse, those strings are swamping this thing, getting in the way of Manilow's vocals. I dislike it when an arrangement competes with the melody this much.  

The chorus certainly has some punch. Those signature backing vocals are there, but overwhelmed by the horns. That instrumental bridge that follows the chorus sounds like it was lifted from something else, but I can't place it. Oh, maybe: "Sooner or later, love is gonna get ya..."? The Grassroots? And that bass vamp? I know what that brings to mind; The Bee Gees would use a similar vamp on Tragedy (years later). 

Manilow sure is a trooper. You have to keep in mind what a golden boy Orlando was considered at this time. He hadn't even hit the peak of his career, which is quite impressive considering his MOR leanings. So, I can see why Manilow hopped aboard this particular train. 

It is catchy. I would say slight, but not really... there's a lot going on there with the horns and vocals and strings and backing vocals. It definitely whips up something, but nothing that's going to stick.

Barry Manilow (1973)
I used to play this Chopin piece (and lapse into Manilow's version). It's so lovely. His choice of tempo is interesting, to me... but then, my piano teacher despised my interp. I played this as part of a recital when I was in 10th grade and I knew she loathed it - she told me repeatedly. 

I love the mix, even once the classical portion is done and we move into the pop song, the piano remains on top. Manilow's vocals: people tend to either love or hate them. He does have a tendency to go nasal and he also scoops to a note, not always getting there on time ("miii-iiind"). I love his gentle, matter-of-fact delivery of the first chorus. Not pushing at all. Very sweet. His "now, now" comes off a little whiny. But it's a small complaint. I have long thought Barry is best when it is simply his voice and a piano. 

Right into the C Section, huh? Very pretty. Is that a synth or a horn? Horn. Either way, lovely. This section? Very ABC TV Movie of the Week musically, but effective none the less. I do not like the flute as we begin the second verse. But three notes? Okay. That is some lovely use of an acoustic guitar there. So subtle. Also, great entrance for the bass guitar. Now we have some bottom. Sneaking in the backing ladies and the drums. Again, very subtle. Sadly, subtlety is something Manilow would become more and more unfamiliar with as his career progressed. 

His voice. This was early in his career and he had yet to develop a means of attacking those higher notes. Here, you can hear some vibrato and feel the stretch as he's reaching. It's very vulnerable. At about the 5:10 mark, this thing feels fully cooked, but we have another two minutes to go, so... let's see where he's taking us next. I have rather enjoyed the slow build of this piece, I disagree with where he's placed the C Section, but where he placed it does play in with his plan for one long build. 

And Barry has no place to go and drowns in a sea of horns, strings and background vocals. That trumpet? Over the top. Also, I do not care for the electric guitar solo, as it appears grounded, never taking flight.

Musical arrangement? It should also follow the Coco Chanel rule. Just before you record it? Take one item off. 

All that and we end where we started with a little unadulterated Chopin. Love it.

Barry Manilow (1975)
Right off the bat you will notice that this is an edited version of the composition. Chopping the classical opening to 12 seconds? Where radio is concerned, that only makes sense. So we cut 40 seconds off right there. As we launch toward the song, the mark tree chime is missing in action, so this is indeed a new arrangement. His vocals immediately resonate with more muscle tone going into this - not necessarily a good thing. But then, the goal was to get this played on AM radio. Barry's vowel sounds? Not open enough - he tends to move to the close of a word (in this case the 'n' in 'find' and 'mind') which causes his sound to stop resonating and become very nasal. 

His vocals are brought on top of the mix for this version. They sound more immediate, for sure, brighter. However, given the breadth of the song, there's a level of interpretation on the part of the singer that has been erased. His gradual build throughout has been replaced by more of a 'this is a pop song' approach; demonstrating that what may pay off  in sales sometimes comes at the sacrifice of intrinsic artistic vision.

I don't care for Manilow's vocals in the first chorus, or for what passes as one here. He sounds weak, where, in the 1973 version, he sounded gentle, fragile. In fact, everything about this version sounds more aggressive; the strings heavier, the piano pops notes. It's not unpleasant, merely different. The song itself remains just as lovely.

He slashes the instrumental bridge to bits. What was 55 seconds is now, 30 seconds - which is still quite a bit for an instrumental break. This sounds more like a flugelhorn. I think they used a French horn before. It was certainly more melded to the arrangement than this time around. Half the second verse is cut ("Lady take me, high upon a hillside, high up where the stallion meets the sun"). The reason Manilow was probably okay with this? He didn't write the lyrics, Adrienne Anderson did. Although, since getting this song to finally chart and sell some copies was the goal, Anderson was probably onboard as well. 

Another small thing that's getting lost in this mix? In the 1973 version it sounds like the piano is constantly replying to the vocal. Here, that conversation is lost, due to the drive and the vocals riding on top. There is something I very much remember about this version that did not occur with the 1973 version. I remember checking my turntable because it frequently sounded to my ear like the needle was wobbling, as if the record was warped. You can hear it on this YouTube version as well. It sounds flat or or wobbly in two places, due to the sustained strings. It has always bothered me. 

Also.. as we continue with the chorus, in order to keep the momentum of sound building, they're resorting to doubling Manilow's vocals every once in a while at first and then straight through (they did this on the 1973 version, too, but to a lesser extent and it escaped my ear).  By the 3:13 mark there's a lot going on, here. Everything struggling for attention. The cacophony quickly, artificially, subsides - undercut by the plaintive piano. It's sudden. The 1973 version allows a much more natural removal of Manilow from the mix, allowing the backing vocals and instrumentation to carry on. While this version feels cacophonous, the 1973 version feels less truncated, abrupt, and manipulated.  

The 1973 version sounds like something played live and recorded. The 1975 edit sounds like a product of studio engineering. 

Donna Summer
No classical pretentions here. This is for the dancefloor. Strings and horns color and drive it on top of a tight, pounding rhythm track. This is early enough in Summer's career where she hadn't quite come into her own vocally. She changes 'Melissa' to 'Peter' - which I always thought she was singing 'St. Peter', but no... Peter in this case refers to her boyfriend at the time, Peter Mühldorfer. Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte keep things percolating. Lots of busy stuff running in the background, though this all feels straightforward, full speed ahead. 

The thinnest of strings take the lead at the instrumental break... or do they? No, that honor goes to Summer reenacting and bringing to mind her biggest (and only) hit up to that point, her breakthrough Love To Love You Baby. Oh, dear... 'come into my life' (cringe). You know, spoken word... it either works or  feels as stapled on as the tail pinned to a donkey's ass. Guess which category this falls into? Yes, you can try too hard. But, hey, at least this isn't the 12" extended version. Something tells me she might go on for quite a while longer on that version. 

Given that this was only her second single, we'll have to give her a break. She'd been singing a long time by then, but when it came to disco? Nobody knew where to draw the line (except on a mirror or a glass coffee table). Excess was just part of its appeal. 

That hi-hat snaps us back into place. She sounds more confident, but those vocals? Still a tad thin. She only begins to bring out the big guns at the 2:30 mark. Listen to all that lovely color in her voice. So full. Aww, she just gets started and they pull the plug. 

Truthfully? Yeah, I would have danced the hell out this thing. A mirrored ball brings out all sorts of interesting perspectives. Good taste, not being one of them.

The Verdict
I really like Manilow's 1973 version best. 

I get that the 1975 version is the one that finally charted and am glad it was a hit. The 1973 version, while significantly longer, reveals the songs original character. It sounds so much more natural and the length allows us to hear the composer's intentions. 

Yes, issues with Manilow's vocals, but when wasn't that the case? 

I would love to hear Summers doing her version minus the orgasmic spoken word bit. Still... her vocals weren't exactly up to what would become her standard quality, so I guess it's a wash.

And Featherbed? The less said the better. Catchy? Yes, in a "happy and peppy and bursting with love" sort of way (bonus points if you can name that reference - without googling it). I guess if it was on The Hudson Brothers / Helen Reddy / Paul Lynde Power Hour Variety Show, then it might work.

--- ---

Well, those are my thoughts.

Your turn. Put on your listening ears and let me know what you think via the comments section. I love to hear your opinion. 

That's it for now...

As always, thanks for listening and reading. 

Oh - wait! Bonus. Here's Manilow's 1993 version produced by Trevor Horn. You know, the guy who throws in all sorts of kitchen sink like sounds in the background as percussion. Should be worth a fun listen. Enjoy!

(Oh, and there is a live version where Manilow and Summers do it as a duet... find it on YouTube. One guess as to who 'wins'.)

Could It Be Magic (1993) - Barry Manilow

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Wonderland Burlesque's Spring Into Spring Quiz

Wonderland Burlesque's
Spring Into Spring Quiz

We're already several weeks into spring, but here, in Minnesota, weather-wise, it takes us a couple to catch up. Things are getting green out there! We have had a couple of days of April-like showers and I can see the day lilies are already poking up through the soil. 

So, let's all spring into spring... and take a little quiz while we're at it.

Who knows... maybe there's some yummy jelly beans in your future?

--- ---

1/ What's outside your window that you're watching for signs of spring? 

I have been watching the ground. The grass. Lawns. We recently had two days of rain, so things are greening up. I love to see it. It gives me hope.

Sadly, it also means my sinuses are having a terrible time coping. As my heart leaps up at the sight of all this potential new growth, I feel like I have a lead weight sitting on the bridge of my nose. It will remain so until such time as the sun burns off all the mold and the pollen stills. 

I might see some relief come July or August. 

I also look for robins. I have spotted one so far. 

I love those damn birds.

2/ Do you plant any flowers? From seed? Veggies? A garden? Do you have a lawn you have to rake?

I have three lawns to rake. Again, hell on my sinuses, but it has to get done. Other than paying for it the next day, I do enjoy it. I love being outside, doing just about anything.

This year I am going to spend some money and buy starter plants. My luck with seeds has been so hit and miss and I rather dislike waiting all those weeks only to be disappointed with the results. My approach to landscaping is very rudimentary; if it looks like a Ramada Inn? Then I am happy. 

I wish I was one of those people who knew how to stack a garden, but I am not. When I have tried, something always hangs over something else, or chokes everything else out. So now I keep it simple. 

Marigolds. I love the colors. I love how they are hearty and remain good-looking all the way into the fall. They are the flower I most admire.

I like mums, too. If I had my druthers I would have hostas everywhere. I love their low-maintenance nature. And day lilies. Not the prettiest, but man... you can not kill them. And moving them around? A breeze. You can do no wrong.

I have a small garden to the right of the back steps that I get to plant at The Boyfriend's. And I have the front yard at his place, too. Where I live? The Ex is in charge and I have learned to stay out of his way. 

I have no luck with veggies. Zero. I've tried many times and have never gotten out of them what I put into them. 

3/ Do you have a patio? Deck? Pool? Lawn furniture?

We have a patio in the back at The Boyfriend's. I clean it all up and place furniture and then... we sit at it for one evening in early summer and that's it. Why? He doesn't like the heat. I could sit out there alone, but I get bored quickly.

At my house, we have a tiny raised deck with an electric awning. I never sit out there, either, because The Ex does. And I have a limited amount of energy where he is concerned.

I don't BBQ. Although we have a nice gas grill installed at my house. I put Beyond Beef brats on there once in a blue moon. Oh, they are SOOOO good. Like out of this world. You would never know that they were plant-based. 

I wish I had a pool. The maintenance would drive me crazy, and we have a limited amount of time one can be used here, in Minnesota. Still... in July? There's nothing like it.  

4/ Walks in the park? A nice hike? Where do you go to immerse yourself in the season?

For spring? I do go to the prairie, but it's all about prepping for summer. I clear paths and clip things that block the paths. Fallen trees. I have also started seeking out certain invasive plants early in the season and yanking them out. Some of them have terrible picklers or emit some kind of histamine or acetylcholine that raise havoc with one's skin. Those plants? They are the enemy of a good time. 

I wish I knew more about them. 

Otherwise, I simply walk around the neighborhood. On my daily dog walk I notice all sorts of minor changes. It's exciting to see and always brings a smile to my face and makes me feel better.

I go to Wirth Park, too. Once a week? The lake looks so lovely and it's fun to be out there, people watching. And the trees. They change so quickly this year. Not like fall. In fall, it's one long, sad good-bye. 

5/ Spring sports are big. Participate in any? Have you? Baseball, Softball, Soccer, Lacrosse, Golf, Tennis, Fencing?

Not since I was a teen. Used to be into tennis. Used to play baseball. Have always ran and biked. 

Organized sports, like organized religion? Not my thing. Never developed the skill sets necessary and never found any of it very interesting. Though I did like getting a free t-shirt. I liked being outside. But I did not like the game or the people I had to play with. 

One exception...

We used to play baseball in the backyard of one of my best friends. Plastic bats and balls. Our family and theirs. We had a good time. And we played a lot. This was also the family that we went caroling with at Xmas time. Both our families? They struggled financially. That family? They were so nice to us. 

6/ Do you get into the whole spring cleaning thing? How intensely?

I used to. No more. I believe in constant maintenance as opposed to a one-time intense clean.

Floors and windows? Okay. But everything else should be good to go already.

I do love opening up the windows and airing the place out. Fresh air is the best air. That's why I dislike air conditioning. 

7/ Do you celebrate Easter? In a religious way or in a bunny way? Where do you stand on Peeps?

I don't celebrate anymore. 

I dislike Easter. As a holiday it makes zero sense, unless brooding and feeling bad about things is your cup of tea. 

Lent? Silly. Magical thinking.

Stations of the cross? Gruesome. Why would you expose a child to that? 

And loading up on candy for no reason? Unless your goal is early onset diabetes and obesity, I don't understand it. 

That whole Easter bunny thing? What is that all about? He's a stop-gap Santa Claus. 

And the traditional food. Blech. Ham? Eek. Not everything needs a sequel. 

Do we really need Thanksgiving II? 

It's weird. When I was a kid it all seemed innocent enough. Now? It's like Sugar-Pushing Bunny vs. Sexy BDMS Jesus.

The marketing of both, simultaneously, is weird. 

And the marketing for both is so weird.

8/ Have you ever (even as a kid) decorated/dyed eggs? Do you still do it? Participated or arranged an Easter egg hunt?

We did those little kits. PAAS. So much fun. I liked it most at the very end when all the eggs were dipped so much they turned black. 

All those little decals and stuff that came with those kits? Remember the little outfits you could cut out for your eggs? Yeah. Just weird stuff. And none of it worked.

Everything about this holiday. I mean... you... go ahead. Try and explain it to someone from another planet.

"So, Sky God knocks up impregnates this sweet lady named Mary who's already promised to or married the nicest schmuck guy in the world, Joseph. Everybody likes Joseph. Joseph and Mary. Such a nice couple. Who knows, maybe Mary made the whole thing up in an attempt to cover up the fact she stepped out on her old man, but, whatever... Joseph is cool with it. Then, Sky God completely flakes... leaving Mary and Joseph to do all the providing for this kid. Sky God, at this point? He's just another one of those Deadbeat Dads you hear about. No support. Zip.

The kid becomes an adult really fast. I mean... one moment you're celebrating his birth and four months later he's 33 years old. The rest of year? It's the same old reruns... the kid's greatest hits. See, he's a magician, doing tricks all the time (water into wine, loaves and fishes) and everybody's like... oooh, this kid's good, like Houdini  good, not Criss Angel good. 

Anyway, by the time the kid's 33, he has this posse he hangs with. The kid is always showing off and all the politicians get jealous and want him to go away because everybody likes him and they feel threatened. They infiltrate the kid's posse and pay one of them to betray him... how? Well, that's not clear. I guess he leads him somewhere and they kiss and in swoop the cops - you know, the way it used to be in the days before Stonewall? 

Anyway, you would think that at this point Sky God would step in, but, oh no... he's not speaking to the kid at this point at all. Maybe has something to do with the kid's homeboys or career choice? No one wants their kid to be a magician. I dunno. But the dude is no where to be found.

Well, the politicians all want to make an example out of the kid, except Pontius Pilot, who sings this great song about apathy while washing his hands and then disappears for the rest of the show. Then there's this whole ordeal with whips and chains... you know, like the way it was after Stonewall, and the kid ends up dying like Matthew Shepard, which is really sad. Because Elton John wasn't around to write a song for him. 

And then they seal the kid's body up in this cave with a rock rolled over the front. And when the rock is rolled away, out pops a bunny who sees his shadow or something and then Irving Berlin writes him a song and the bunny is so happy he starts giving everybody candy, and everybody loves candy... so that's how the politicians are able to control the common folk by keeping everybody poor and obese. And then... diabetes. And insulin. 

You know like how Louis B. Mayer controlled Judy Garland by feeding her a steady diet of amphetamines, coffee and cigarettes, so she'd dance real fast for him? Dance, Judy, dance! It's a damn Easter parade.

Then everybody went home and ate a ham.

And they had so much fun, they decided to do it every year because... Hallmark? 

Yeah. Hallmark.

And the cathartic church really, really got into that part with the whips and chains, know what I'm saying? So they keep re-enacting it to this day... you know, like those guys from the south with that flag where they lost but keep pretending they didn't? 

But, no... they lost, ya know.

The end."

If you have a better version of events, please leave it in the comments section, because I am pretty sure I am not doing this justice. 

And we wonder why those aliens all look at us so weird, wanting to stick things our people holes.

9/ Do you look good in pastels? Ever wear them? When, what and why?



I think Sky God was so mad the people of earth killed his kid that, to punish them, he invented pastels.

And FOX News.

And Peeps.

10/ Ella Fitzgerald, Cleo Laine, Bette Midler, and Carly Simon, among many others, have proclaimed that Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. Has it? Ever? How so?


I am going through my seasonal depression as I write this. 

It sucks so much. 

All I want to do is whine. It's weird. I am plucky as hell all through terrible January and boring February... but as we get close to spring, my body refuses to accept the sun's gentle rays. Instead, I am sad. All I want to do is stay in bed. Or be in bed. Or eat. Starch.

When I walk outside, I do not feel the warmth of the sun. I am freezing. I have to walk around wearing the exact number of layers and the exact winter clothing I wear when it is 40 below. 


My body does not acclimate to new temperatures quickly. In some ways, I feel the cold more when it is 40 or 50 degrees than I do when it is 40 below. When it's 40 below, I am invigorated. I feel the fight. When the temps are mild and wet? I have a tendency to catch a shiver or a chill that is hard for me to shake. Add on top of that my seasonal allergies and I end up having low energy and am miserable. 

So, yes, spring really does hang me up the most. It is my least favorite season. The only other time I have this issue is during the fall season when we move from 70 plus temps to those 50 and below. Again, my body doesn't acclimate and I tend to feel as if I am about to start quivering in my boots.

Thankfully, it passes. It always does. But for two weeks each spring and fall? I am a sad little monkey. 

Because of my change in demeanor, The Ex freaks out. My Mom freaks out. They kind of yell at me, what's wrong with you? I try to explain, but my words fall on deaf ears. They are all full of advice, none of which will actually help me. This is something I go through every year. 

Let me. 

Only The Boyfriend gets it. He grows concerned when I suddenly go all silent... but he, more than anyone else, understands what I am going through. He doesn't experience it anymore... his doctor put him on medication. But me? No thank you. Tried it. Hated it. 

Someone has suggested acupuncture. My insurance covers it. If you have had any experience with acupuncture - good or bad, please share your thoughts in the comments section. 

--- ---

Well, that's all for me this time. 

Your turn. Leave your answers in the comments section or post it on your blog and leave a link here. 

Thank you for listening to me whine. 

Thanks for reading. 

Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most - Ella Fitzgerald

It Might As Well Be Spring/Come Back To Me - Cleo Laine