Barry Manilow is known for his more romantic songs, like “Mandy” and “I Can’t Smile Without You”, but one of his songs actually works as a pretty good narrative and is surprisingly tragic. Supposedly Manilow and co-writer Bruce Sussman were in the Copacabana hotel in Rio de Janeiro. Manilow also used to enjoy visiting the Copacabana nightclub in New York. Wondering if a song called “Copacabana” was ever made they decided to make one, joined by Jack Feldman. The result came to them surprisingly fast and so “Copacabana” would be the third single of Manilow’s 1978 album Even Now. I know the song because my mom had one of his “best of” albums and the song was on there.
Yes, the nightclub in the song was and still is a real place, though they’ve had a few different locations and their own shares of controversies and bar fights. Look up the history sometime. It’s quite interesting. They reopened in 2022 after the 2020 plague in their latest location. The song even inspired a movie, though while other movies were actually filmed at the Copacabana there was no confirmation from Wikipedia if the movie, which Manilow starred in and shouldn’t be confused with the Marx Brothers movie of the same name, was one of them.
Let us travel back to I think the 1940s, doing the math from when the song was released to the time that passed before the final verse, and meet a showgirl whose world was about to fall apart because one guy couldn’t handle that some girl wouldn’t want to jump into his pants and her boyfriend objected.
The original club was named after the hotel and the theme, before actually being turned into a discoteque in the 1970s, was built around Rio de Janeiro. Lola would have been one of the chorus girls known as the Copacabana Girls. I’m not so sure Manilow was there thirty years prior to making the song so it’s possible he knew the club’s history was around when the change was made.
It’s a surprisingly bouncy tune for the subject matter. but it’s a combination of disco and Latin flair, which wouldn’t have been too far off with the club itself I imagine. It captures the spirit of the nightclub acts at the time and eases into the disco that the club would become. So despite what should be a tonal difference, which I complained about when it came to “Mack The Knife“, it actually works here.
One disappointment, and you can make the claim that it didn’t matter since it’s about Lola losing Tony (played by Manilow in the movie) when Rico became more than just a fan of her performance, is that we don’t know what happened to Rico. Did he go to prison? Given a seat in ol’ sparky? Did he escape? Was he in the mob? We don’t know. We only know Tony died and Lola went crazy with grief, still visiting the disco in her showgirl outfit just to drink her pain away…and in thirty years it hasn’t left yet. It’s a sad end to a happy couple and a promising showbusiness career because one dude couldn’t handle being turned down. It’s easy to accept, Rico. I did for years. Now I just made myself sad.
Credit to Manilow and his contributors. For a song they claimed to put together in a day because it just flowed out of them the end result is a really good story. I haven’t seen the movie but at least it had a good starting point.