The Seattle Times
Bette Midler revisits â€˜old friendsâ€™ â€” her star-making songs
Originally published October 17, 2016 at 7:25 am
By MARK KENNEDY
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) â€” Bette Midler is going back to the beginning of her career â€” the divine beginning.
The Grammy- and Emmy Award-winner is re-releasing a deluxe version of â€œThe Divine Miss M,â€ her 1972 debut album that included the hits â€œDo You Want To Dance,â€ â€Chapel Of Love,â€ â€Friendsâ€ and â€œBoogie Woogie Bugle Boy.â€
â€œThey were the songs that launched me, really. They were the foundation on which I built my career,â€ Midler said. â€œIâ€™m always happy to sing them because theyâ€™re friends. Theyâ€™re old friends.â€
Midler made a name for herself in the early 1970s singing high-energy concerts downtown with Barry Manilow as her pianist. In vintage clothing and with her bawdy personality, she breathed new life into old songs and made torch songs scalding.
â€œShe was, and is, the most brilliant performer we have in my lifetime,â€ Manilow said. â€œWhen it came to the music, her taste in songs and her choices were so odd â€” what was on the radio those days was nothing like what she wanted to do. Her taste was very much my taste.â€
Midler and Manilow put together a solid hour of music and one night lured Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun to a swanky midtown nightclub to hear it. â€œThe audience was so crazy that at the end of the show they carried her out on their shoulders,â€ Manilow recalled.
Midler soon signed with Atlantic and released â€œThe Divine Miss Mâ€ based on her act. She won a best new artist Grammy in 1973 and went on to get two more, plus four Golden Globes and three Emmys. This spring she returns to Broadway in a revival of the musical â€œHello, Dolly!â€
She admitted to being a little shocked revisiting the platinum-selling album that made it all possible 44 years later: â€œItâ€™s just unbelievable the way that time passes. And yet I still look fabulous. What can I say?â€
Midler was hands-on with the re-release by Rhino Records, including selecting the bonus disc of singles, outtakes and demos. There are five unreleased recordings, including â€œMr. Freedom And I,â€ and an alternate version of â€œSuperstar.â€
She recalled that recording the album was stressful because co-producers Joel Dorn and Manilow didnâ€™t get along: â€œIn those days, I was really caught between a rock and a hard place. I couldnâ€™t really stand up for myself.â€
Dorn, who had produced Roberta Flack, was the first to take a crack at it. He threw out Manilowâ€™s tried-and-true arrangements and started from scratch. When it was finished, Midler stopped by to play it for Manilow.
â€œSure enough, she sounded like Roberta Flack. She sounded beautiful and professional and boring,â€ said Manilow. â€œShe was never boring. Thatâ€™s the last word you would ever describe Bette Midler, especially in those days.â€
Manilow vowed to not let that album out â€” â€œI was this young, punk musician but I believed so much in her,â€ he said â€” and lobbied Ertegun to let him produce a handful of the songs his way. It was a bluff: Heâ€™d never produced an album.
Manilow tried to re-create a live vibe in the studio, inviting an audience and stringing some lights. â€œI wanted to get that wonderful personality on this record,â€ he said. â€œNo, she didnâ€™t sound like Roberta Flack.â€ His tracks were melded with Dornâ€™s for the final album.
â€œOver the years she has sounded much better on other albums. But this album was so special and so unique and so individual and the performances are so brilliant â€” theyâ€™re funny and theyâ€™re moving, just the way it should be,â€ said Manilow. â€œI was glad that I fought for her.â€
The power and pizazz of â€œThe Divine Miss Mâ€ was one reason Midler was asked by Blake Shelton to mentor his picks on â€œThe Voiceâ€ this season. In a segment already taped, she advised them to take the stage with authority.
â€œThey get really brilliant voices but theyâ€™re very self-effacing people. Theyâ€™re not personality-driven. They donâ€™t come fully charged. Thatâ€™s a piece of the puzzle that they sometimes miss,â€ Midler said. â€œThe old school is to be able to do it all and to be a compelling presence on the stage.â€
Midlerâ€™s next project will show off all those skills â€” Broadwayâ€™s revival of â€œHello, Dolly!â€ Demand for her is big â€” the box office took in $9 million the day tickets went on sale.
â€œIâ€™m in training. I can honestly say that. I know thereâ€™s a lot of expectations and people are looking forward to it. Iâ€™m looking forward to it, too, but I have a lot of weight on my shoulders,â€ she said. â€œI want to make sure my iâ€™s are dotted and my tâ€™s are crossed.â€