At the time, Manilow recalled, he wasn't convinced he wanted to be a singer. After all, he had established himself as a leading composer of TV ad jingles (including the iconic McDonald's ditty that began, "You deserve a break today"), and he was having fun serving as the then relatively unknown Midler's musical director.
His first foray as a front man at a Boston venue called Paul's Mall hardly changed his mind.
Remembering the club as "a dump," he compared his singing debut - as the ostensible opener for jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard - to such disasters as the San Francisco earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic. The booking, he explained, proved particularly nettlesome to Hubbard.
"Freddie Hubbard hated me," recalled Manilow. "He said, 'I will not go onstage following anyone who does [commercial jingles].' So we had to make a deal with him that I would do the early show and he would do the late show."
Manilow struggled through the engagement and was ready to declare his singing career DOA. "And then my manager said, 'Just give it one more week.' And we were coming to the Bijou. So we got to the Bijou, and . . . you know who was opening for me? [The late absurdist comic] Andy Kaufman! Another great booking!"
According to Manilow, Kaufman did not put the opening night audience in a receptive mood. "By the time he's done, people are throwing rolls at him. They're throwing food at him! Now I have to come out."
And there at the Bijou, Manilow struck gold.
"We came out [and the audience] liked it. By the end of the week, we were sold out, and people were on their feet screaming . . . It was wildly successful by the end. The reviews were like love letters.
"It started for me right then. If Philadelphia hadn't done that, you would have never heard from me again. I would have gone back to Bette, I would have gone back to doing commercials.
"From there on in . . . my life changed."
- Chuck Darrow