DNA of a pop song: Barry Manilow's started with Chopin

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Now, I was never much of a Barry Manilow fan, but I have to say he melted my heart — along with everybody else’s there that night — at the Staples Center in L.A. on Valentine’s Day a few years back. Part of the emotional balm was so many people feeling love at the same time. He is truly an amazing performer, and I appreciate him now more than before (I was too much of a jazz snob, sorry).

He’s a wonderful human being too. I once got a call from him asking about a Brazilian project he wanted to do. It was very flattering, to say the least; Barry once recorded an album in Portuguese and it was to be a follow-up. Later we would see each other at the KCRW World Festival shows, a series I helped establish and worked on for ten years. It was always nice to see him. He has a warm and friendly personality, no pretense or anything like it. He also knows how to move a crowd and make people fall in love all over again. At least for an evening.

I discovered that his big hit “Could it Be Magic” was in fact inspired by the melody and chord progressions of Chopin’s Prelude in C minor op. 28, no. 20. If you listen carefully, you should be able to discern the musical connections.

But wait! There’s more: Rachmaninov did a variation on it, in his Variations on a theme of Chopin. And it appears to me that the late bassist Charlie Haden was inspired by Chopin’s rich, dark chords in his often-recorded song “Silence.” What is it about this Chopin prelude that is so inspiring for so many?

Anyway, Barry, please don’t worry. Frédéric Chopin is not planning on suing you. Au contraire, he is probably flattered.

Here is the original Chopin prelude: It’s amazing that such a sad and somber piece could be transformed into such a rousing pop megahit.

Here are Barry and Donna performing “Could it Be Magic.”

Here is Russian pianist Daniel Trifonov (btw, his new album of the Paganini Rhapsody, which includes the Chopin Variations, is extraordinary) performing the Chopin prelude — advance to 22’57” for it:

And, finally, Charlie Haden’s beautiful song, “Silence” (featuring Chet Baker):