Author: CHUCK TAYLOR
YORK - Barry Manilow recalls waking from a dream earlier this year with Bette
Midler on his mind.
was the 1950s in my dream, and Bette was singing Rosemary Clooney songs,"
Manilow says with a smile. "Bette and I hadn't spoken in years, but I picked
up the phone and told her I had an idea for a tribute album. I knew there was
absolutely no one else who could do this."
says, "The concept was absolutely brilliant. I loved Rosemary. I had a lot
of respect for her, and I missed Barry. And those songs are magical."
resulting "Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook," released
Sept. 30 under a one-album deal with Columbia, is a loving tribute to the cherished
singer, who died June 29, 2002.
also showcases some of the most intimate and cultivated vocals of Midler's lengthy
set has obviously connected with fans, too. "Songbook" debuted at No.
14 on this issue's Billboard 200, boasting her biggest opening week ever, with
71,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Midler, the timing couldn't have been better. Her longtime contract with Atlantic
ended in 2000, and Midler hadn't made a record in a couple of years. "It
was time," she says.
a big believer that coincidences happen for a reason. I just decided it was meant
to be; there was no reason to pluck the idea to death and think it to dust,"
easily from reverent elegance to a loose, frolicsome swagger, the 11-track disc—Midler's
19th—covers Clooney's heyday, from 1951 to 1958.
includes her No. 1 Hot 100 hits "Hey There" and "This Ole House,"
along with "Sisters," originally recorded with Clooney's sister Betty
and now a jamming big-band duet between Midler and Linda Ronstadt.
Clooney's pairing with Bing Crosby on "On a Slow Boat to China," Manilow
sings playfully with Midler. She also daintily covers "White Christmas,"
from the 1954 film starring Clooney and Crosby.
are great songs to sing, with really good lyrics, great charts and fun melodies,"
Midler says. "It was a wonderful experience."
opens a new chapter for the world-class entertainer. Her 35-year sojourn in show
business has taken her from New York's bawdy bathhouses to an Academy Award-nominated
role as a drug-addled blues rocker in 1980's "The Rose."
there, it was double Grammy Award wins for song of the year with power ballads
"Wind Beneath My Wings" (1989) and "From a Distance" (1990).
all, Midler has earned four Grammys, three Emmys, a Tony, three Golden Globes
and nine American Comedy awards and has been nominated for two Oscars. Her worldwide
album sales total more than 14 million, according to Columbia.
new project brings Midler full circle. Manilow was her arranger in the early New
York days, and he produced her first two albums: "The Divine Miss M,"
which won her the first Grammy for best new artist in 1973, and "Bette Midler,"
the platinum follow-up.
was with me for the whole ride up," Midler says. "We didn't talk about
what was happening to us at the time. We just kept doing this date and that date.
We never once stopped to say how amazing it all was."
two perfectionists also gained infamy for their fuel-injected disagreements. Midler
smiles, remaining at ease, and recalls, "Epic battles. Very stressful times.
We argued a lot, especially during the live shows.
were also some wonderful times, but we ended badly. He sort of stomped off—really
to start his own career—and I said, 'Ah, let him go,' " she adds, waving
was pissed off, and I didn't want to confront what had happened," Midler
says. "I figured that if Barry was irreplaceable, I couldn't go on."
adds, "We're both high-strung and passionate and opinionated." And 30
years later, he remains a man with a clear vision: "I put the 'p' in prepared,"
design for "Songbook" began with demos, which Manilow would take to
Midler's house: "Little by little, we began to crawl into it."
knew exactly what he was doing," Midler continues. "Barry would say,
'This is how I hear it,' and then I'd say, 'I would add two more bars here, the
brass is too early here.' "
co-producer Robbie Buchanan, Manilow then assembled an 84-piece orchestra in Los
Angeles and recorded the bulk of the instrumentals in three days.
rehearsed and then stepped in to record her vocals in only two days.
days!" Midler exclaims. "I tell you, Barry took all of the agony out
of it. He chose the material, hired the band, called the arrangers, booked the
studio, did the mixes. It was like I was the girl singer—like Rosemary was at
be told, it was a great relief," she adds. "Barry is a very musical
man, he has great taste and he's a tremendous arranger and piano player. And he's
lots of fun."
the experience, Midler says she never again intends to agonize over a recording
note by note.
just not that precious. It's music, not cancer research. It's meant to give joy
and to have a certain amount of spontaneity and fun behind it. I think I had gotten
uptight, and Barry kind of told me off until I was able to let it all hang out,
to swing along with the band," she says.
course, a central goal was to conjure the magic of Clooney's original songs while
gently stamping them with Midler's signature.
didn't want to annoy anybody by taking on these songs," she says. "But
these arrangements are more contemporary. The tempos are quicker. And I added
my own humor and sarcasm."
adds, "There is only one Bette. She's just as inventive and creative and
as talented as ever. She can act a song and make it her own. She was able to interpret
these songs so uniquely that you always know she's there.
her voice sounds so beautiful on this album. There's a maturity since we last
worked together that's energetic and fun."
Midler, there was also the self-conscious edge that came from being friends with
Clooney. The two met in the early 1980s at the Fairmont in San Francisco, where
the latter was performing.
remembers, "She was kind enough to see me backstage, and we just sat down
and started talking and kept on for a couple hours. She was as lovely as they
came—generous, warm, affectionate, with no attitude. She put me at ease immediately."
also knew Clooney; they met at a surprise birthday party for her hosted by Midler.
She dueted with him on "Green Eyes" for his 1994 album, "Singin'
With the Big Bands."
share the experience, Columbia is executing a marketing campaign to open "Storybook"
to adult consumers.
the midst of filming Paramount's anticipated remake of the 1970s cult classic
"The Stepford Wives" (co-starring Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick,
Glenn Close and Faith Hill), Midler made stops at "Today," "The
View" and "Late Show With David Letterman" during release week.
Manilow accompanied her on piano.
label also relaunched bettemidler.com, which currently promotes the album but
is scheduled to cover her career history in the near future.
addition, lifestyle, women's and gay Web sites were targeted for streaming and
is a void in the marketplace for this kind of music," says Rocco Lanzilotte,
VP of creative marketing for Columbia.
the first moment I heard it, I knew it was a pot of gold, the way it was orchestrated,
the production, the choice of songs and Bette's voice," he says.
will bring the "Songbook" to life with her upcoming Kiss My Brass tour
of North America. It opens Dec. 10 in Chicago and is scheduled to run through
February. The tour, her first extended run in four years, comprises 40 dates so
far, including two nights at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Manilow, the creation of "Songbook" with Midler is a dream come true
and marks the latest in a line of creative endeavors with some of the world's
collaborations with Dionne Warwick and Nancy Wilson garnered Grammy nominations.
before reteaming with Midler, he produced (with Eddie Arkin) Diane Schuur's "Midnight,"
an album of original songs co-written by Manilow for the jazz great.
is pleased with this latest experience. "Bette is still funny as hell and
inventive and just a doll to work with," he says. "We laughed, and we
learned a lot from each other."
he adds with a wink, "We're still talking to each other afterward."
says, "We had a fabulous, fun-filled time. This album makes me very happy.
If Rosemary could hear it, I think she'd say, 'Nice try, kid.' "