In 1976, just as his career as a pop superstar was taking off, Barry Manilow moved into an apartment in the San Remo on Central Park West.
His neighbor was Broadway’s Fred Ebb, the lyricist who, with composer John Kander, wrote “Cabaret” and “Chicago.”
Through the wall in one of his bathrooms, Manilow could hear Kander and Ebb banging out a new song on the piano. One day, a riff Kander was playing caught his attention.
“Listen to this,” Manilow said to a friend. “I think they’re writing something, and it sounds pretty good.”
What they were writing was “New York, New York,” which, recorded by Frank Sinatra, would become the enduring anthem of the Big Apple.
Manilow gives the song his own swinging flourish on his new album, “This Is My Town: Songs of New York,” out Friday from Verve Records. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the former Barry Pincus, now 73, assembled and arranged the collection as a tribute to his hometown.
Not all are as famous as “New York, New York.” A haunting rendition of “Lonely Town,” from Leonard Bernstein’s 1944 musical “On the Town,” stands out, as does a silky, sultry arrangement of “Lovin’ at Birdland.”
“My instinct is not to go commercial,” says Manilow, who to date has sold 80 million records worldwide. (His instinct seems to have failed him.)
“I developed a taste for the off-center stuff when I played piano in cabarets in New York in the early ’70s,” he tells The Post. “The good singers never sang what everybody else was doing on TV or radio. They’d find these cockamamie songs from some Broadway show that didn’t make it and then just crawl into the lyric.
“I cannot spot a hit song even if I write it,” he adds. “That is not my strength at all. I think the only song I heard that I knew would be a hit was ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ — and who couldn’t pick that one?”
Manilow made headlines recently, acknowledging publicly his nearly 40-year romantic relationship with his manager, Garry Kief. It wasn’t exactly a secret — tabloids reported their marriage in 2015 — but Manilow was reluctant to join the parade of celebrities who’ve proudly come out of the closet in the last 10 years. That’s partly because he feared he’d alienate his millions of female fans, but also because he’s intensely private.
“What you have to understand about Barry,” says a longtime friend, “is that he’s the guy at the piano who looks after the singer. He loves composing. He loves arranging. The fact that he become a superstar surprised him as much as anyone.”
Says Manilow: “I’m not that great a piano player, but I’m a really good accompanist. I can be a one-man band for a singer.”
His early and now-legendary partnership was with Bette Midler at the Continental Baths in the Ansonia Hotel. Midler heard about him through friends in the cabaret world, and asked him to…