Sunday, February 25, 2024

Kat's Korner: Melissa Manchester's back

Kat:  "Whatever it is, it'll keep till the morning.  Haven't we both got better things to do?" Beautiful sentiment right.  Great song.  But when I think of the song, I think of Magic Mountain and my first journey as an aunt.  "Aunt Kat, Aunt Kat, we want to go to Magic Mountain!" But my sister and her husband were working constantly so it was left to the aunt or it wasn't happening.  Going to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or something similar, no problem.  But Valencia?  

It's not Los Angeles, let's not pretend.  Yeah, it's LA county.  And like most spots in LA county, you might as well toss the maps out the window because they're really not going to help.  Same with advice from friends.  My boyfriend at the time agreed to drive, then bailed and told me, "It's just off Interstate 5." ,Turns out, that's a bit like saying you can get straight to The Golden Gate Bridge via The Castro District.  You can't really, you have to maneuver a great deal, but people will tell you that you can -- and they are wrong.

At some point, you get off I-5 and it's like four or five turns (and I think it used to be more turns back in the day that we're talking about).  It took forever to get there and we left at seven in the morning.  We then did the rides, my niece wanted a t-shirt with Farrah Fawcett on it, my nephew wanted a poster (I think it was The Eagles, he will correct me if I'm wrong), we saw some sort of animatronic puppet show and, again, rode the rides.  We're getting some food at this mammoth complex when my other niece starts crying (when she found out I was doing this review, she said to put that in) and I'm like, "What, what?"  She pulls some nice earrings out of her pant pocket and explains she swiped them.  "S**t!" is my response.  She's wanting to go back and, I'm sorry, we couldn't find our way back if we tried.  And she wouldn't stop crying because we had to return them.  I told them to stay at the table.  Walked around the other side of the food court.  Found a young woman in a Jefferson Starship t-shirt, gave her five dollars and she walked back to the table with me and explained she was in charge of the store and would take the earrings back and everything was fine.  And it was.  My niece stopped crying and a stranger got five bucks and a new pair of earrings. 

Now to address the damage.  Bribe them all not to relate that story to the parents.  And all could be bought but one nephew (I have five kids with me) but then I thought of Maggie.  Friend forever and someone who -- at that point -- had dreamed of doing hair.  She loved fixing our hair in high school.  And she fixed everyone's hair.  And loved it.  Until she started getting paid for it and dealing with people who weren't friends and who thought they could bring in a photo of, say, Raquel Welch and say, "Cut my hair like this" and that they would then look like Raquel.  No.  They looked like exactly the same woman but with a haircut like Raquel had.

This was either while she was getting ready to quit or right after she had and I told my nephew that Maggie would cut the hair on his Sabrina Duncan CHARLIE'S ANGEL doll so that it looked right (the doll did not have the bob Kate Jackson wore on the show but something similar to what she wore in the TV movie).  At last, everyone's going to keep the secret.  By now it's starting to get dark and we need to go.  But I don't know the direct way out.  And anyone carrying five kids through an amusement park knows that it is not a straight shoot with no stops.  

By the time we got to the car, it was no longer getting dark, it was dark.  And we've got five to six hours still to go to get home.  If we can make it to Interstate 5.  One wrong turn after another and I'm getting frustrated but saying we're going the right way.

Then that song comes on and, yes, "I think we can make it."  Melissa Manchester was singing that and we were finally heading in the right direction.  And we were in the car all singing along with Melissa.

You told me you need meNeeding me nowIs something I could useMidnight blue
Wouldn't you giveYour hand to a friend?Maybe it's not the end
And I think we can make itOne more timeIf we try
One more timeFor all the old timesMidnight blue

Someone else is singing it now.  Melissa still.  But also Dolly Parton.

That is the most beautiful duet.  And it's from Melissa Manchester's brand new studio album RE:VIEW.  It's her 25th studio album and she's revisiting some of her favorite songs.  Like her big hit "You Should Hear How She Talks About You."  I should say big pop hit -- the song, written by Dean Pitchford and Tom Snow, made it to number five on BILLBOARD's Hot 100.  Melissa had seven top forty pop hits and placed sixteen songs in the Hot 100.  But she wasn't a pop star.  She, like Anita Baker, was more of an artist for adults, charting the road of love and life, not of crushes and high school.  She had 18 top forty hits on the adult contemporary chart -- seven of which went top ten. 

Clive Davis ran ARISTA when Melissa started recording and his opinion was that her songwriting was good enough for album tracks but that she needed to record songs written by other people in order to have a hit.  Clive's very smart but that was a dumb opinion.  He wanted her to be a pop singer and that was a very limited road for her.  Her voice went beyond what was allowed in most pop songs.   And leaving aside singers like Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin who could not only take a song onto the pop chart but also to adult contemporary, dance  and soul charts, female pop singers did not have long careers as hitmakers.  As the seventies wound down, it was noted that Olivia Newton-John was one of the few female singers to have a hit pop song each year -- that would end in the 80s with "Soul Kiss" ("The Rumour" would go top forty in 1988 but even if 1985's "Soul Kiss" stayed on the chart for one week or more in 1986, she had no song in the top forty during the year of 1987).

Not only was Clive overestimating the career of a female pop star, he also underestimated Melissa's songwriting chops.  She co-wrote "Midnight Blue" with Carole Bayer Sager and it went to number one on the adult contemporary chart.

RE:VIEW finds Melissa exploring her discography and finding new meaning.  And listeners should love it.  "Just Too Many People" was an adult contemporary hit in in 1975 making it all the way to number two and it made it to number thirty on the pop top forty.  I'm sorry, I do not recall that song from back then.  I first heard it a few weeks back when C.I. posted Melissa's new version of it here at THE COMMON ILLS.

And I thought it was a great song, could tell by the way she sang it that she wrote it or co-wrote it (she co-wrote it with Vini Poncia).  Was not aware it was a song from the seventies or that Melissa was re-exploring her catalogue.  The song is perfect for today and that's probably one of the reasons she elected to redo it.

But this album should not just be about Melissa reconsidering her own work.  It should be about listeners, critics and the industry reconsidering Melissa.

She's an amazing singer.  She was and she still is.  She got her musical start as a backup singer and backup singers rarely have success when moving to the front of the stage.  Sheryl Crow managed it, PP Arnold managed it (in England) . . .  Probably the most famous example is Cher who started out singing backup on the Ronettes' "Be My Baby," on Darlene Love's "Christmas Baby Please Come Home," on Darlene Love's "A Fine Fine Boy," on the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and on the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."  The skill required to sing back up can't often derail the ability to sing upfront and hold the audience's attention.  So Melissa going from backing up Bette Midler to a successful solo artist was not a sure thing.  But her talent was so immense that she pulled it off.  Both as a singer-songwriter and also as an interpreter of songs written by others.  On RE:VIEW, she revisits her hit song "Don't Cry Out Loud" written by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager.

Let's not "baby cried the day the circus came to town"?  I loved the song when it first came out.  But it came back to life for me because of THE COMMON ILLS and Rebecca's SEX AND POLITICS AND SCREEDS AND ATTITUDE.  At those sites, and in real life, they use that phrase repeatedly.  Some outlet drops their coverage of war resisters in November of 2008 to avoid embarrassing Barack Obama -- and to abandon Ivan Brobeck who returned from Canada on election day 2008 to draw attention to the plight of war resisters?  Well didn't that outlet just "baby cried the day the circus came to town."  

And I'd think about that song each time and I wonder what was Melissa doing now.  Why did I have to wonder that.  Cher is finally up for induction in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (she better get inducted this year) and I'm looking at the males also in the running and thinking, "What a sad bunch of nobodies."  Not all of them.  But, a number of them.  And yet they're covered and discussed endlessly.

Why has Melissa Manchester not gotten her flowers?


When C.I. went into the hospital in 2021 and was in and out of consciousness for about a week, she kept muttering about a bad book and then wrote "DUMB BITCHES or SISTERHOOD IS NO EXCUSE FOR PRAISING A BAD BOOK" about Gillian G. Gaar's 'classic' 1992 book -- according to Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi and others who didn't read the awful book or read it but didn't know one damn thing about music history.  In her review -- her return to the internet after a week of hospitalization -- C.I. ripped that book apart for its racism, its sexism (the author played by men's rules on inclusion, not very feminist) and its many, many never-ending errors.  Here's C.I.:

Song writing is an area that Gillian is particularly ignorant in. In the midst of a (brief) section on the legendary Laura Nyro, she types:

While none of these albums achieved great chart success (though Melissa Manchester's version of "Midnight Blue" from SMILE gave Manchester her first top ten hit) . . .

How stupid do you have to be to type that?

You clearly didn't listen to what you're pretending to be an expert on. Yes, on SMILE, Laura Nyro has a song about midnight and blue. It is not the same song that Melissa took into the top ten. Melissa's song was written by Melissa and Carole Bayer and appeared first on Melissa's January 1975 album MELISSA. Laura's album? SMILE? Released in February so it's hard to see how Melissa could have recorded the song first. If that's not obvious to you, let's note the year as well -- SMILE was released in February of 1976 -- a year and one month after MELISSA was released.

SMILE was Laura's return to recording after a four year absence. No, she wasn't giving songs away during her semi-retirement. Equally true, Laura's song is "Midnite Blue," not "Midnight Blue." Let's include both songs here so there's no further confusion.

This is Laura Nyro's "Midnite Blue" from 1976's SMILE.

This is Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer's "Midnight Blue" from 1975's MELISSA.

Sorry, Gillian, they are two different songs. Next time trying doing the actual work required to write a book.


And that 1992 'classic' book error was repeated over and over so today you can find multiple books and essays repeating the lie. 

"Midnight Blue" is a classic song and was a big hit and a book by a supposed feminist took the songwriting credit from Melissa (and Carole) and gave it to Laura.

That goes to what a raw deal Melissa Manchester has gotten.  The male critics today have largely ignored her and she couldn't count on a so-called feminist to give her credit for the works she'd done.

Listening to RE:VIEW is a great experience.  I hear a song like "Fire In The Morning" and I can remember it on the radio years ago but hadn't heard it since.  It's a great song and all ten tracks are great songs and great recordings.  Gerald Albright joins her to sing "Just You And I" (another hit she co-wrote with Carole) and she sings "Whenever I Call You Friend" with Kenny Loggins and Dave Koz.  She and Kenny wrote that song which became a top five hit for Kenny and Stevie Nicks in 1978.  But Melissa and Kenny never recorded the song together until now.

"Through The Eyes Of Love," "Come In From The Rain" and "Confide In Me" round out the album and make a strong case for Melissa to finally get her flowers.  She's once again given them to her fans with RE:VIEW.