Barry Manilow Surprised by 'Copacabana' Success

Barry Manilow reflects on unexpected hits and enduring fame.

by Nouman Rasool
Barry Manilow Surprised by 'Copacabana' Success
© Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The much-loved pop icon, Barry Manilow, has just dropped a bombshell about his classic hit, "Copacabana," while speaking to NBC News. The singer has admitted to the fact that he really didn't believe the song was going to be a hit, even though it was such a big one.

His colorful track, which tells about a love story set in the famous Copacabana club in New York, was a far cry from the trends of those days, so its success was really surprising. "Copacabana," written with Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman in 1978, turned out to be a unique synthesis of pop and disco, very much in the vivacious spirit of the 1940s dance scene.

"It was fun to write and to make a great record of it, but that was it," Manilow remembers. He and co-producer Ron Dante were somewhat dubious of its radio play potential because of its novelty-style. But a test run at a disco proved them wrong.

"Everybody ran to the dance floor. They were dipping the girls and all, because, you know, it's 'Copa,'" Manilow remembers. This sudden move to the dance floor unexpectedly pointed to the future success of the song.

Copacabana's Cultural Impact

The fame of the song went beyond the dance floors, and, in 1979, Manilow got his only Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for the same.

More than a gold single, "Copacabana" became the stuff of cultural lore, which inevitably led to a musical TV movie in 1985 and a stage musical that launched in London's West End. As he looks back, the 80-year-old artist is grateful and astonished by the fact that he has been able to dodge success for such a long time and still be doing fairly okay.

To Manilow, who has enjoyed a series of hits, creation still brings him joy even if it does not warm up commercially. "I love creating. I'm happiest when I'm coming up with ideas, even if they never see the light of day," he said.

Manilow's music has touched the heart of his fans around the world with a commitment to writing timeless music. The most recent of which was his five-sold-out engagement at Radio City Music Hall, breaking the record for most shows an artist has performed at that esteemed venue. His staying power says a lot about his talent as a musician and his way of reaching audiences with his music.