Forty years after singer-songwriter Barry Manilow won the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for “Copacabana,” his melodic and still-popular music is now being used to shoo people away.
Away from the outside of a store, that is. The pharmacy chain Rite Aid is trying to weaponize Manilow’s music against local panhandlers and vagrants in California. A handful of Rite Aids in that state have been playing Manilow’s music outside their stores in an effort to get homeless people to set up somewhere else — as The Wall Street Journal reported a few days ago in a piece lightly titled “He Writes the Songs That Make the Neighbors Cry ‘No More Barry Manilow!'” (That’s a play, of course, on Manilow’s 1975 smash hit “I Write the Songs.”)
“The Ingraham Angle” on Fox News addressed the topic Friday night with a few smiles and laughs — and Fox News contributor Raymond Arroyo, who said Manilow killed it in concert recently, shared his thoughts on why Barry Manilow might be a compelling choice for trying to chase away vagrants from storefronts.
“What’s the chemistry that’s making this work?” he said to host Laura Ingraham. “Why is [Manilow’s music] repelling vagrants? Here’s what I think it is: He has romantic, tuneful songs, many of which are based on classical pieces, and a lot of people don’t realize that. I think that it’s so opposite of the chaotic hip-hop music [today] that it drives people away — but I think a lot of people walking into Rite Aid might like to bop along to some music.”
Music producer John Fields, who’s worked alongside the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, was one of the first people to publicize the phenomenon in a YouTube video back in January.
He recorded a video of himself walking out of the store at night while “Somewhere Down the Road” was playing in the background.
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Customers had a difficult time entering those California Rite Aids due to the heavy presence of loiterers surrounding the door, the New York Post reported. Lisa Masters, a drummer from Long Beach, called the store to ask about it and said one of the employees explained it had been highly effective, the publication also reported.
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“His attitude was ‘Would we rather have panhandlers or Manilow?'” Masters said.
There are roughly 55,000 homeless people in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times, so this is no small thing — and that number represents a 75 percent spike in the city’s homeless population over the past six years. The state of California also has 24 percent of the nation’s homeless population (or 134,000 people), according to the state’s auditor office. Californians are about twice as likely to be homeless as their peers across the country.
If this Manilow music strategy is actually working at select stories in California, could it be used across the country in other cities with homelessness problems?
“We are in the early stages of exploring this approach and have not made any decision about the potential rollout of this to additional stores,” a Rite Aid spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal.
The store also said it has a deal with a digital music company that allows the playing of Manilow music without the stores’ being sued. However, Manilow’s publicist, whom The Journal did not name, hardly seemed thrilled with what Rite Aid’s been doing.
“It’s not very kind that people don’t want to stand around and listen to his music,” she said. “It’s odd. He wouldn’t comment on something like this. I don’t think he knows about it.”
The Brooklyn-born Manilow, 75, has sold more than 85 million albums during his career, with hits such as “Mandy,” “I Made It Through the Rain,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” and “Even Now” to his credit. Also an arranger, producer, and music writer for television and advertising early in his career, he has been touring successfully again in recent years. He notched at least one top-40 album in each of the five decades from the 1970s through the 2010s, according to Billboard.
It wouldn’t be the oddest thing to happen if the strategy wound up leading to increased sales of Manilow’s music.
Rite Aid is likely to keep up its strategy of Manilow music-blaring as long as it’s accomplishing its goals.
And it wouldn’t be the oddest thing to happen if the strategy led to increased sales of Manilow’s music.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.