NEW YORK (Billboard) - Thirty-four years after “Mandy” launched Barry Manilow’s career, the crooner is still racking up achievements, thanks to his series of decade-themed covers albums.
“The Greatest Songs of the Eighties,” due November 25 on Arista, is the fourth — and likely final — installment in an album series aimed squarely at pre-baby boomers. Their zest for all things Manilow offers such slam-dunk promo opportunities as Manilow’s regular appearances on QVC, where he is the best-selling artist in the retail channel’s history.
In 2006, “The Greatest Songs of the Fifties” became Manilow’s first No. 1 album chart debut, followed by “Sixties” (No. 2) in 2006 and “Seventies” (No. 6) in 2007. In total, the three collections have sold more than 2 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The new disc is led by the single “Islands in the Stream,” a 1983 No. 1 pop, country and AC hit for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Manilow’s version is a gleeful duet with Reba McEntire. Other selections include Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”
Scanning the playlist, Manilow says this was the most challenging of the four albums: “These songs are so well-known, so loved — perfectly recorded records. With the ‘50s and ‘60s, we could play around with the arrangements. The ‘70s was more difficult, because those arrangements were wonderful. How can you touch ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’? ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ was perfectly written and recorded.”
Manilow says he was determined to maintain the original writers’ and singers’ integrity, while still placing his stamp on the songs.
“It took a long time to figure out how to make them my own, to see where I could crawl inside the meaning of the lyric,” he says. “I didn’t want to do karaoke renditions. Make no mistake, I was intimidated, but I think I nailed them. Once the arrangements were done, it was one big smile after another.”
Among the most novel efforts on “Eighties” is Rick Astley’s 1988 No. 1 “Never Gonna Give You Up.” “It has the catchiest little melody, with production from Stock, Aiken and Waterman. How do you compete with that?” asks Manilow, who called on producer Michael Lloyd (the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack) for assistance. “I think it’s going to stand out on the album.”
To court Manilow’s fans, Arista set up a busy schedule of TV appearances, including “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Today,” Rosie O’Donnell’s Thanksgiving Eve special and a week’s worth of coverage on “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider.” Manilow will also return to QVC, performing five songs in an hour on November 20. Arista has print ads lined up and interviews in People and Ladies Home Journal, with Internet ads on female-leaning Web sites and radio links with syndicated adult-contemporary shows led by Delilah, John Tesh, Martha Stewart and Casey Kasem.
“I had a feeling there could be more, but no idea it would wind up being this big,” Manilow says about the new chapter in his career opened by “Fifties.” On January 16, he’ll begin his fifth sold-out yearlong residency at the Hilton. “I figure I’ll be there until they throw me out.”