By Sean Daly
Times Pop Music Critic
You know a party is getting loose when someone busts out the Barry Manilow.
I'm serious. I've seen it happen. The 67-year-old schmaltzmeister is pop culture's greatest, gooiest secret pleasure — ranking just above our desperate national thirst for Marshmallow Fluff and Nicholas Sparks books. And when a big burst of Barry Love happens in the unlikeliest of places, it's a thing of beauty — and some really bad sing-alongs.
A few years ago, I was stuck at a snotty, initially unlikable soiree in a Washington, D.C., brownstone. I was feeling like an unrefined goon among the well-read, well-showered Capitol Hill mucketies, when suddenly boredom and/or the chaos theory made me ask a rigid elitist stiff standing nearby: "What's your favorite Barry Manilow song?" The Ivy League drone gave me a nervous look, assessing if I were serious or not: "Uh, not really my thing."
I was having none of that, though: "C'mon, dude, everyone has a favorite Barry Manilow song. It's okay. You can tell me."
He looked around, snickering in case anyone was in earshot. Then, locking eyes with me — his look basically saying, Dude, you better not be messing with me — he leaned in and whispered: "Weekend in New England."
I nodded in confidential Barry brotherhood: "Yes, of course, great pick. But you can't go wrong with Somewhere Down the Road, either." My new friend gave a solemn nod and quoted from the gospel: "We had the right love at the wrong time."
As the wine continued to flow, our Barry Appreciation Society grew to include the whole shindig. Tired discourse on the latest Dave Eggers essay shifted to an impromptu symposium on the true meaning of Tryin' to Get the Feeling Again. It felt sinful, strangely corrupt, the flowing of such intense revelation among people who consider Ladysmith Black Mambazo to be "too commercial." But hey, that's the power of Barry; he taps into our inner-weepies and stirs things up.
Someone at that party eventually procured a copy of 2002's Ultimate Manilow hits collection, and tortured renditions of Mandy and Daybreak soon followed. Say what you want about a Barry-fueled party, but one thing's for sure: You'll never forget it.