The Ear-worm; or Why I Hate Barry Manilow

1975 was a very good year for some; not so for others. But that takes into account the whole of humanity. In 1975 I was unemployed and living with my brother and his family. I slept on the livingroom couch.

It seems I’ve been sleeping on various couches for much of my life.

In late Spring 1975 I was volunteered to repaint all the trim on my brothers’ house. This old style house, technically a one storey cottage, had two bedrooms on the first floor and two small bedrooms built on the attic floor. Built in 1923, a time when finish carpenters apparently took pride in their work, it had lots of dark, attractive woodwork and built-in cabinetry throughout.

At some point in the house’s history a previous owner decided to enclose the full-face front porch with numerous double-hung windows. The house had aluminum siding so all I concerned myself with were the window casings and sashes, along with the front and back doors. It was my task to re-paint just the windows and trim.

The porch enclosure added much to the total number of windows in the house, consisting as it did of (now) two sets of exterior windows and storms. Before I even began I went around and counted all the windows (including an interior one that overlooked the attic stairwell and also one on the garage) only to discover there was a grand total of 62 wooden windows – old style, mostly double-hung with six lights in the upper sashes.

Undaunted, I gathered up the various tools of the trade: gallons of primer and paint, various brushes and drop-cloths, screwdrivers, paint scrapers, sandpaper, putty knives and putty, glazier’s points and a glass cutter, new cordage for the lost sash weights, ladders and a set of old clothes. And also a radio.

I set about my business slowly and deliberately, after all, it was my brothers’ house. I scraped, sanded, cut my own glass and re-glazed where needed, replaced rotted sash cords and rehung the weights. I puttied, primered and painted (two coats each, green and white) every window frame, sill, stile, rail and muntin.

I spent the better part of that summer perched atop a ladder – for six or eight hours a day – just working away and listening to the radio.

The radio was a small plastic transistorized table-model radio; not much by way of sound; but it was good enough to distract me from my own internal turmoil. But as I listened hour after hour after hour I detected a certain pattern in the playlists.

That was the year Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana (At the Copa)” was supposedly topping the charts. At the time there was some criticism about him either swiping it or somehow basing it on Desi Arnaz – (Ricky Ricardo) who played at the NYC nightclub of the same name or some such thing but I’ve found no evidence to substantiate that connection.

It seemed the radio stations were playing that same damned song ad absurdum, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. I just got sick of hearing it over and over and over again. I switched to another radio station – and there it was, again. I found a third radio station – same song. Getting frustrated I found a fourth radio station and was amazed!

All four radio stations were playing the same damned Barry Manilow song all at the same time. Granted, the weren’t exactly synchronous but they were playing the very same song all at the very same time.

These four broadcast radio stations all touted themselves as “Top 40” radio stations; meaning the played the top forty hits of the period. I got me a pencil and pad of paper and started writing down the names of each song. I discovered they were cheating a bit on their billing.

Each and every one of them was playing a song rotation of eight. No Top 40 songs for you – you got eight. What that meant was, you heard the same eight songs at least once an hour or less.

One might suppose that, if you heard the same four or five songs played over and over you’d recognize the fact and protest. But a rotation of eight gives one “time enough to forget (short term) yet still remember (long term)“. The music industry promoters want very much to burn their product into your brain, but not too hotly – and not so you’ll notice.

Eight songs is no where near forty.

About that time there were allegations of payola floating around in which payment was made in the form of cocaine instead of money. One of the local radio DJs (Disk Jockeys) categorically denied it over the air – ending his statement with an audible nasal sniff.

As for Barry Manilow himself, I will not question his musical (instrumental) or compositional skills; but I will question his vocal range. He had none. Even with a full orchestra for backup he still couldn’t sing.

It’s said Enrico Caruso had a vocal range of four octaves – but Barry, on the other hand, was a “Johnny-one-note” to the point where I would have liked to say to him: “Barry. Barry. Get off that note. You’re gonna wear it out.” No vocal range what-so-ever.

Another thing I have against Barry Manilow was that he wrote several television commercial jingles – you know, those catchy little ditties that are meant to stick in your brain just through raw repetition? If anyone would know about earworms it’s him.

A few years ago he had the chutzpah to say “How do you get a record on the radio theses days? I don’t know.”

Barry Manilow was obviously in the thick of the advertising industry. I’d like to know just how many commercial jingles he actually wrote.

(Jingle: interesting term, that.)

There is a huge difference between a person, a thing or an idea that is “popular” and someone or something that has been “popularized” by a propagandist. Repetition is all that is necessary for mass media brainwashing to work.

Caveat Emptor

The next time you develop an earworm (a tune stuck in your head; an advertising song or slogan; a punch-line or clichéd product association) and can’t seem to get rid of it; ask yourself where it came from, who put it there and what their motive really was for putting it there.

Do you really like that song/idea or was it just shoved down your throat?

It wasn’t just the Barry Manilow campaign or the radio stations chiseling on the playlist, but also several obnoxious DJ’s and advertisers who felt they had a right to barge into your home and scream in your ear. I could name names.

Perhaps I was just naïve as all young people are. Perhaps they’d been doing it more or less all along and I finally took notice.

In 1975 I stopped listening to the radio altogether. I grew up and refused to be abused.


About The Twentieth Man

Age 72
This entry was posted in Mass Media, Observations, Personal History, The Twentieth Man, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Ear-worm; or Why I Hate Barry Manilow

  1. Pingback: 73rd Favorite Album | 100 Favorite Albums

  2. Pingback: #73: "Extraordinary Machine," by Fiona Apple. | 100 Favorite Albums

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.