On 5 January 1980, “Ships” by Barry Manilow was at #64, its highest position in the 80s. Its peak position was #9 in 1979.
Because he’s been the target of so many jokes, it’s hard to talk about Barry Manilow without any prejudice, but really listening to “Ships” doesn’t do much to dispel those prejudices either. It’s all the overwrought drama that you come to expect from him. The lyrics at least try to be interesting. Instead of the broken-hearted love song you might brace for when that forlorn trumpet pulses over the gentle piano, it’s a lament at the emotional gap that develops between parents and their adult children, drawing a comparison to ships passing in the night. I’m not sure the simile works — ships in the night don’t really have any reason to care much about each other, whereas family members really should. Ships in the night certainly don’t “smile and say it’s all right” when they communicate their positions over the radio.
So, instead of going on any more because I really can’t get any traction on this song mentally or emotionally, I’ll pass on one of those Barry Manilow jokes: Here’s “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow” by Ray Stevens, whose ficus plant has lost its will to live.
“Ships” was written and originally performed by Ian Hunter, in a similarly slow, sappy, and lugubrious manner, albeit in a raspier voice and with some backup singers. I’m not sure that Manilow did any damage to it, but he sure didn’t improve on it.