About a week ago, Mom and I went out to the Rose Center Theater in Westminster to see Spamalot; it was basically community theater with a slightly larger-than-usual budget, but the tickets were cheap and it wasn’t that far away). It was quite fun. Musicals aren’t really my thing, but spoof musicals do have their place and there were enough Monty Python jokes to keep my twisted little heart happy. (Thanks, Eric Idle!) The funniest part to me was when Lancelot gets outed. Since I couldn’t find a good live recording of “His Name is Lancelot,” I decided to settle for the song that obviously inspired it.
This song isn’t just cheesy: It’s freakin’ Velveeta. But its extreme lack of coolness is part of what makes it so much fun. I thought I remembered seeing “Copacabana” performed on The Muppet Show with Rita Moreno and (obviously) a bunch of Muppets, but I think it was probably this version with Liza Minnelli; all the elements I remember are there, but the details are different. (I would’ve preferred Rita Moreno, frankly.) But that’s the beauty of this song. It lends itself to theatricality and melodrama. Story songs are a whole wonderfully weird little subgenre of music that I don’t think gets explored enough. They can pack a lot of emotion and plot into three and a half minutes (give or take).
Anyone who says “Mandy” isn’t sentimental and maudlin is stupid or lying. Or both. The cheese practically drips from this song. (And the ooey gooey goodness is only enhanced by the soft focus, rhinestones, and fake tan in the video. And, hey, isn’t Barry wearing almost as much eye make-up as Tammy Faye Bakker? Awesome.) “Mandy” should come with a Surgeon General’s warning so diabetics can avoid the sugar coma that is sure to result from listening to it too often.
But I don’t care. I love it anyway.
“Mandy” is my all-time favorite Barry Manilow song, and it really is terrible. I don’t mean terrible in terms of craft. If there’s one thing Manilow knows how to do, it’s write a successful Pop song. (Which always made it so amusing that he didn’t write one of his biggest hits, “I Write the Songs.”) His hooks aren’t particularly sharp or barbed, but they get under your skin like a bad rash. You just can’t stop yourself from listening. (Well, maybe you can; that would make you a stronger person than me.) And while the emotion is wielded like a sledgehammer, it’s also quite effective, and in my mind, sincere. I don’t think he could pull off performing it if he didn’t mean it.
But this song really does deserve a special place in the pantheon of terrible 70s music. There would be a whole wing devoted to Barry Manilow if there actually were a cheesy 70s music museum (and wouldn’t that be a hoot). As much as I love it, “Mandy” does make me cringe a little on the inside, with all those soaring strings and clichéd lyrics. This is indeed musical junk food. Cotton candy, I think. All fluff, no substance.