This early Barry Manilow hit is a dramatic ballad full of passionate longing, just like he intended it to be. But it took a few years to get it right. It all started one evening in 1971 when Manilow was playing Chopin's "Prelude Op. 28, No. 20 in C Minor" at his Manhattan studio apartment. After taking a dinner break, he sat down at his spinet piano and wrote "Could It Be Magic," unaware he'd lifted the chord changes from the classic piece's chorus until he played back the recording.
"Thank goodness the melody and verses were my own," he wrote in the liner notes to his 1992 compilation, The Complete Collection and Then Some
He sent the cassette tape to his songwriting collaborator Adrienne Anderson, who immediately stopped what she was doing and wrote the lyrics.
Around this time, Manilow was a member of Featherbed, a group of session musicians who had a minor hit with the Anderson-penned single "Amy," featuring Manilow's vocals, earlier that year on Bell Records. The song was produced by Tony Orlando, whose band Dawn was making the charts with bright pop hits like "Knock Three Times
With the record label itching for a follow-up to "Amy," Manilow brought "Could It Be Magic" to Orlando and told the producer "it should be very romantic and build slowly to a climax that makes you feel as if the performer is totally carried away with passion." Orlando agreed, then proceeded to refashion Manilow's ballad into an uptempo, "Knock Three Times"-style piece of bubblegum.
"When I showed up at the recording studio and heard the bubblegum-sounding track (complete with cowbells and a girl trio!) I was thrown for a loop," Manilow recalled. "He had treated 'Could It Be Magic' in a young-sounding uptempo way that in no way resembled the style I had hoped for."
It's important to note that Manilow never wanted to be a performer, but Bell Records was so impressed with his voice on the two Featherbed tracks, they offered him a solo contract. With his solo debut album on the horizon, he was determined to bring his original vision to life. Working with producer Ron Dante (of The Archies), he created a soaring, eight-minute epic ballad (which he describes as a "musical orgasm") for the 1973 release. Few people bought the album, but he broke through the following year with Barry Manilow II
and its hit singles, "Mandy
" and "It's A Miracle."
As a result, Arista Records, which had swallowed up Bell Records in a merger, re-issued Manilow's debut album as Barry Manilow I
and released an edited version of "Could It Be Magic" as a single. It went to #6 on the Hot 100 in September 1975.