Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You Should Hear How Melissa Sings - Part One

During my teen years I was sometimes faced with the difficult choice as to which of the latest various artist compilations to purchase. In Australia, these compilation albums generally came out in pairs - Festival/EMI/RCA and subsidiaries would release one, whilst CBS/Polygram/WEA and their subsidiaries the other. More often that not, both albums would be released to coincide with a school or summer holiday period. Sometimes I’d be fortunate enough to be able to purchase both, but on other occasions budgetary considerations meant I’d have to choose just one (and hopefully track down the other album at a later date). In the latter part of 1982 I was fronted with the choice between ‘1982 Up In Lights’ and ‘1982 The Winners’. Check out the link to the fantastic ‘80s Tapes’ website for a full track listing of both albums. For me it came down comparing notes of my half dozen favourite songs from each album. One of the tracks that finally swayed me to make the initial purchase choice of ‘1982 Up In Lights’, was the irresistible dance-pop song ‘You Should Hear How She Talks About You’, by Melissa Manchester. It repeatedly tested the rewind capacity of my trusty old tape deck, not to mention the elasticity limits of the cassette itself. Thankfully, I scored a copy of ‘1982 The Winners’ at a later date.

‘You Should Hear How She Talks About You’ was the biggest hit single of Melissa Manchester’s career, but it wasn’t necessarily indicative of her style and career path as a whole. Manchester was born in the Bronx, New York during 1951, and was exposed to music of all styles from an early age. Her father was the bassoon player with the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, but rather than pursuing a career in classical music, young Melissa was, like so many of her generation, caught up in the appeal and lure of popular music. From the age of fifteen she was performing jingles and popular tunes, and soon thereafter attended the High School of Performing Arts during the late 60s (where she actually studied acting), whilst gaining a job as a staff writer with the Chappell Music publishing company (a career path not unlike Carole King and Carole Bayer Sager).

Following graduation from high school, Melissa Manchester enrolled at the New York University in the early 70s. One of the subjects she took was on the craft of song writing, and included seminars taught by one Paul Simon (not a bad mentor to have). Like many performing arts students, Manchester began working professionally whilst still engaged in her studies. She began singing regularly at New York club venue, whereupon she was ‘discovered’ by Bette Midler - ‘The Divine Miss M’, and her then accompanist Barry Manilow - ‘The Notorious Mr. N’. They hired Manchester to perform as a backing singer during 1971, and during this period she began writing songs with another friend of Bette’s, Carole Bayer Sager (see previous post). During 1972 Melissa Manchester scored a recording gig as the vocalist on a hit novelty song by the then up and coming comedy troupe National Lampoon (they of the ‘Animal House’ and ‘Vacation’ variety). The song ‘Deteriorate’ only reached #91 on the U.S. Hot 100, but it gave Manchester her first taste of chart action.

In 1972 Melissa Manchester was signed to a recording contract of her own, with the independent Bell Records label. With a considerable cache of songs to choose from, many of which were penned with Carole Bayer Sager, Manchester recorded her debut album ‘Home To Myself’, during 1973. She already had established enough of a following for the album to reach #156 on the U.S. charts., with the 1974 follow up ‘Bright Eyes’, peaking at #159, but it would take a romantic ballad from her third album to prove the breakthrough.

After two low key albums for Bell, Manchester was identified by record guru Clive Davis as being one artist who could get his new enterprise Arista off to a flying start. Davis spared no expense in providing the singer with the a high profile production environment for her 1975 album ‘Melissa’. Up until that point, Manchester had sung pretty much her own material, which presented a bit of an eclectic edge stylistically, but for the latest album the name of the game was to get some commercial radio airplay. The track that would prove the catalyst to launch Melissa Manchester’s career to new heights, was the ballad ‘Midnight Blue’. It was your characteristic romantic ballad, with impeccable production values, and a structure that suited Manchester’s vocal range perfectly. ‘Midnight Blue’ peaked at #6 on the U.S. Hot 100 (OZ#78). The album ‘Melissa’ achieved a gold certification (US#12), and also spawned the Philly soul styled hit ‘Just Too Many People’ (US#30). But would the rush for more gold compromise Manchester’s own artistic voice.

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