Barry Manilow: The Surprise Jingle Hitmaker

Before “Mandy” and “Copacabana,” there was State Farm and Green Bowlene.

Barry Manilow flanked by several company logos
(Nicholas Gilmore; Shutterstock)

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Just hearing the opening line “Like a good neighbor…” necessarily invokes the rest of the earworm: “State Farm is there!” Although the lyrics aren’t currently in use in State Farm advertisements (ditched two years ago for the “Here to help life go right” campaign), the “Like a Good Neighbor” jingle has seemingly been the lifeblood of the State Farm brand for decades, like a radio hit that won’t go away. It makes sense, then, that the jingle was written by Barry Manilow at the start of his career in 1971.

He made 500 dollars for writing the song that would be used for years in different capacities in the insurance company’s advertising campaigns. It wasn’t his only foray into the industry, though. A young, prolific Manilow in the ’60s and ’70s wrote and recorded heaps of famous jingles. When he received an honorary award at the 2009 CLIO advertising awards, Manilow noted that writing advertising jingles was “the best music college I could ever imagine,” despite having studied at New York College of Music and Juilliard. “What I learned most of all in my jingle days was how to write a catchy melody,” Manilow said in an interview.

So the pop superstar’s hits like “Copacabana” and “Could It Be Magic” might not exist if he hadn’t spent years composing commercial tunes.

Manilow began his collegiate studies in night classes at City College of New York. He majored in advertising, because, as he claimed (in Patricia Butler’s 2002 biography), “The choices were listed alphabetically and advertising was first under A.” He didn’t stay with it long, however, taking a job in the CBS mailroom and eventually enrolling in the New York College of Music. Manilow stayed busy in the early years, taking piano gigs and composing a full musical score (The Drunkard) while maintaining his position at CBS. He also began writing and performing jingles for some leading brands.

His first paid tune was with Dodge. Then, Manilow wrote “Like a Good Neighbor” for State Farm and “Stuck on Band-Aid” for Band-Aid. He also sang in “Give Your Face Something to Smile About” for Stridex and “Finger-Lickin’ Good Day” for KFC. His big break, according to an interview with Chicago’s ABC 7, was the dramatic showstopper “You Deserve a Break Today” Manilow sang for McDonald’s.

While he was performing with Bette Midler at the Continental Baths in Manhattan and trying to jumpstart his own recording career, Manilow performed in Dr. Pepper’s “The Most Original Soft Drink” (written by Randy Newman) and “Join the Pepsi People,” and he even wrote “Bathroom Bowl Blues” for Green Bowlene.

Manilow often plays his famed jingles at concerts to his “Fanilows” who don’t mind if he stumbles over a lyric or two. While the enterprise of jingle-writing led to a lucrative recording career for Manilow, he scarcely made residuals on any of the still-familiar commercial tunes. State Farm still uses the nine-note hook Manilow wrote for them — now as a lo-fi, 16-bit soundtrack — but he hasn’t seen a dime from them since the initial 500.

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  1. Gave Mr Manilow credit. first you talk about his looks, sorry to tell you. Many millions of women have found him easy to look at. And his singing is what pulls these women and their husband’s in every show. He use to say I will get them going and you take them home guys. Not only does he sing the way he does, beautifully. but he is a
    Performer, when you leave his show, you feel as if you went to a Broadway Musical. He doesn’t stop! Even when he married his partner of many many years. We his fans, still love him, and always will.

  2. I will love his music, and lyrics forever. I want to express my admiration for his craft; his love of music, and how he inspires me as a writer and a person. I would love for him to sing “Even Now” as the soundtrack of the screenplay I am writing. “Even Now” resonates with me in every way.

  3. To all of the “Barry Bashers” out there, first let me say he’s definitely not perfect. I do want to point out a couple of things.
    First, he has a net worth of over $100 million. He must have done something right. We know he didn’t get a break because of his looks! Ask yourself, what is your own net worth.
    Second, for all of the credit you say he “takes”, how many of those you say he is taking the credit from are complaining about it? There are a lot of folks out there who have made a lot of money off of Barry!
    Don’t like him? OK, but why waste your time? The guy is 79! Respect your elders!

  4. Barry makes it seem like he wrote a ton of commercial jingles. He says before a medley that he had ‘something’ to do with each one of the songs he’s about to sing. Technically and legally he’s correct, but he bills himself as the writer when he had only written a few.

  5. I have watched Barry in concert and heard him interviewed. Sorry all, but he never claimed that he wrote Mandy, or I Write the Songs or the McDonald’s jingle. He has on many occasions, introduced a song by acknowledging the composers. Granted, that’s hard to do in a medley, like his jungle medley. So you’ll just have to forgive a performer of he doesn’t stop the show at every song to list every composer. Of artists who perform a mix of their own music and songs written by other composers, I don’t recall that they call out who’s who either. Barry sang some, he wrote some, he arranged some. Enough said. It doesn’t detract from the fact that he is a talented, versatile musician who indeed does give credit where credit is due.

  6. It makes your face do that thing your doggie does when confused.
    He so routinely performed songs that he that he did not write, while implying he did.

    His two #1s?

    Mandy? -Richard Kerr & Scott English.
    Looks like we made it? -Richard Kerr & Will Jennings.

    The list goes on.

    Time in New England? -Randy Edelman.

    Let’s talk jingles.

    He implies writing credit for so many other writers work that it’s hard to believe.

    And his ‘Here are my jingles’ set”? Crushes it with ‘I like the sprite in you’ & ‘Be all that you can be’ -Jake Holmes. (Jake Holmes = Ledge btw) OK, maybe Barry was on keys and/or vox, but he ownership of it all. Yes, writers know.

    Was the reason he only got 5 hunge and no residuals on State Farm was because the music house just scooped up his composition (that was pretty freakin’ common) Or did he just did a key sesh. Maybe that’s why he just decided writing credit was there for the taking? Lots of that will always be going around. Publishing? Another day.

    A huge bright shining star, Barry Manilow was a mofo and first call player and vocalist as well as a killer writer. But it always bugged everyone who knew that he took stuff that didn’t belong to him. That his show included a set of the jingles presented as ‘his’.

    Yes, it will, of course, define his legacy in the writing community. Barry wrote so many amazing songs that will last forever, but took credit for so very many he didn’t. Maybe it’s not too late. What if he shines light on his fellow songwriters by fessing up in a grand musical fashion. I didn’t write the song that…How much fun would that be?

    P.S. I write the songs? -Bruce Johnston

  7. I’m not sure what the going rate for jingles was in ’71. $500 sounds low, but was A LOT more than it is now. I feel he should have gotten some kind of residuals over the past several decades from State Farm. Unfortunately, it’s likely he was just so happy to have gotten that big break and the $500, the other never entered his mind. We don’t know what kind of paperwork/contract he signed, or if his lawyer (if he had one) looked it over. Also, it might have been a campaign intended only for short use, with it’s future as THEIR permanent signature unknown.

    The ‘Stuck on Band-Aid’ ad is among the most clever ads ever created. It’s stuck with me since new in ’75. My personal favorite is the ‘Join the Pepsi People Feelin’ Free’ ad series. The tune, arrangement, style sung and images are very happy and upbeat. They’re also sad for me to watch now with the U.S. having fallen so far as to be nearly unrecognizable from then.

    The McDonald’s ad is a masterpiece from that bygone era, of course. I don’t recall this Dr. Pepper ad, but do remember the “I’m a Pepper” (David Naughton) series from the late ’70s.

    Barry Manilow was kind of the Norman Rockwell of TV jingles/commercials, being in the right field at the right time, with the write stuff. He wouldn’t have much of a career in the 21st century where ad jingles barely exist at all. McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ with the distinctive 5 notes at the end, is about it. It’s mainly taking rock music from decades ago and applying a cut-down version of it to the commercial. Still, that’s better than what most do, using generic, bad hard rock that’s screaming at you. No, commercial jingles ads have gone the way of opening and closing TV show themes and too much else to start listing. You also mentioned Randy Newman here, whom I also like. He’s more of an acquired taste (per controversies) than Manilow, but has written, sung and collaborated on a lot of great things too.


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