Could It Be Magic

Album: Barry Manilow I (1975)
Charted: 25 6
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Songfacts®:

  • 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.
  • Manilow wasn't surprised when the song finally became a hit because he'd consistently wowed huge audiences with the tune before it ever landed on the radio. At the time, he was Bette Midler's music director and piano player, so when Bell Records wanted him to hit the road to promote his debut album, he felt guilty at the thought of abandoning Midler. Instead, he asked if she'd be willing to let him perform some songs during her own shows - to audiences of thousands of people. She agreed, and he brought down the house every time he sang the ballad.

    One of the first times was at Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, Colorado. Midler's vocals weren't reaching the crowd at the open-air venue, so Manilow was sure his own performance would bomb, only to be rewarded with his first standing ovation. He recalled in Steve Baltin's Anthems We Love:

    "And I went out there and thought, This is going to be dreadful. After I finished 'Could It Be Magic,' I saw people standing up and I thought they were running, they were running to get out. But they were giving me a standing ovation. And it was the first standing ovation I ever had. And it was because of 'Could It Be Magic.'"
  • The "sweet Melissa" that Manilow sings about is said to be Melissa Manchester, his Arista labelmate who was also Bette Midler's backing singer.
  • Manilow thinks the best songs are the ones the come the quickest, like this one. "I knew I was onto something. Sometimes you just know it. It came so fast - the ones that come fast I know that I have something going," he told Steve Baltin. "The ones that I struggle with never work. But the ones that come fast, something’s in it. All I could tell you was that I loved this song."
  • Donna Summer recorded an uptempo disco version, produced by Giorgio Moroder, for her 1976 album, A Love Trilogy. The single went to #3 on the US Dance chart, #21 on the Hot Soul Singles chart, and #52 on the Hot 100. It also peaked at #4 on the UK Singles chart.

    Her rendition changed the "sweet Melissa" lyric to "sweet Peter," as a nod to her then-boyfriend, Peter Muhldorfer.
  • The English pop group Take That recorded a cover based on Summer's 1976 arrangement for their debut album, Take That & Party, in 1992. The single peaked at #3 in the UK and won the award for Best British Single at the 1993 Brit Awards.
  • Manilow's opinion of the Orlando-produced original has softened over time. "Now years later I play his rendition of it and it's just a great record," he told Steve Baltin. "It's a great rendition of 'Could It Be Magic.'"
  • A reworked version pairing the brass and strings orchestration with new drums, bass, and synthesizers was included on Manilow's 1993 Greatest Hits: The Platinum Collection.
  • This was used in these movies:

    Game Of Thrones: The Last Watch (2019)
    Rachel Getting Married (2008)
    Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977)

    And these TV shows:

    Doctor Who ("Partners In Crime" - 2008)
    Gavin & Stacey ("Episode #2.2" - 2008)
    Jonathan Creek ("The Eyes Of Tiresias" - 1999)
    Moonlighting ("North By North DiPesto" - 1986)

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