Ask the Flying Monkey! (November 16, 2009)
by Brent Hartinger, Contributing Writer
November 15, 2009
Q: This is probably the gayest question ever. Barry Manilow: The Biography refers to Mr. Manilow hearing and owning an “illicit” live recording of Bette’s pre-stardom, 1972 concert at Carnegie Hall. For the hardcore fans, having a copy would be akin to holding the Holy Grail. O, super simian, my chatty chimp, can you uncover the truth. Is there a tape? Will it ever be released? ”“ Art, Clovis, CA
A: The gayest question? Oh, please. Have you been reading Ask the Flying Monkey? I just answered a question about Lucy Lawless’s hair color!
It was in 1971 that rising star Bette Midler hired Manilow, then the unknown piano player for New York’s gay Continental Baths, to be her accompanist and musical director. On June 23, 1972, after some successful appearances on The Tonight Show, Midler rented out Carnegie Hall. It was a big risk, but a wildly enthusiastic audience showed up, and Midler sizzled.
And when Manilow took the stage to perform three songs of his own, he stopped the show, getting his first standing ovation ”“ his first taste of real success as a performer in his own right.
(Incidentally, Carnegie Hall seats almost 3000 people, but, like Woodstock, the number of people who now claim to have been at that star-making concert numbers in the hundreds of thousands.)
There is, in fact, a recording of this concert, but while it was an unauthorized recording, it’s not exactly “illicit”: Barry had it recorded himself. Later, he played it for Bette, who then played it for Arif Mardin, then the president of Atlantic Records which was currently recording Bette’s first album, The Divine Miss M, but had been disappointed with the results so far.
Arif loved what he heard and hired Barry to produce and arrange six tracks on the album ”“ which went on to win a Grammy for Best Newcomer and establish Midler as a major star. Manilow’s success at the concert and in producing Midler’s first album led to a recording contract of his own ”“ and the rest is history.
I asked a number of Barry Manilow experts, and they all agreed that Barry almost certainly still has the concert recording, but that he would never release it.
I’m not so sure I agree. As Manilow (and Midler) get older, they have to be thinking about their musical legacies ”“ and there would be no better way to get people talking about those legacies than by releasing this legendary recording. After all, musical legacy was the thing that finally got the Beatles back “together,” right?
Of course, the recording can’t possibly live up to its reputation ”“ or can it? One way or another, I predict we’ll find out in the years to come.