Did you know that Melissa Manchester co-wrote Kenny Loggins and Stevie Nicks’ “Whenever I Call You Friend”? It was impossible to grow up in the 1970s and 1980s and not be aware of Melissa Manchester’s music. Her ubiquitous radio hits and prolific hit songs for other artists punctuated airwaves with a high level of professionalism and song craft. From her breakthrough hit “Midnight Blue” (summer of 1975), to her troika of treacly (but essential) ballads: “(Theme From ‘Ice Castles’) Through the Eyes of Love”; “Come in From the Rain”; and “Don’t Cry Out Loud”; and 1982’s jaunty, Grammy-winning “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” are just a few of her more well-known hits. Melissa’s powerful voice periodically wafted through the AM radio ether like a favorite cousin you’re always glad to see on special occasions.
One of my favorite Melissa Manchester songs is the fairly obscure and curiously titled Working Girl (For The)—at least that is how the track was listed on the label copy of its parent LP For the Working Girl (I’m certain the Arista Records art department had a wonderful time on this project). Co-written by Melissa and Elton John’s partner Bernie Taupin, Working Girl (For The) was intended as a feminist anthem in the tradition of Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman. The soaring ballad, which sounded like the 11-o’clock-number from a Broadway musical, in retrospect seems like a long shot for Top 40 success—even in AC-heavy 1980—and maybe that’s why I love it so much. And Taupin’s lyrics? All I can say is “wow!”
“From Detroit to Des Moines, it’s the same ugly scene
I’m a cog, you’re a wheel, he’s a king, she’s a queen
From the smokestacks to the meat racks, where you’re eyelined and curled
There’s a lot to be said for the working girl”
There were big plans for Working Girl (For The), including a film based on the song to star Melissa and presumably titled For The Working Girl, but one would assume all that was jettisoned when Arista ended up bypassing the title song and went to radio with other tracks (with mixed results, incidentally). I discovered it quite by accident in 1981 when, drawn to the George Hurrell cover and my love for Melissa, I rented it from the East Brunswick Public Library (yes, we used to rent LPs from the library!) and played the song over and over one day when I was home from school with a bad cold. I recall so vividly how the song transported me from dolorous East Brunswick, New Jersey and for that single day that I played the song continuously, I soared across America—from Detroit to Des Moines—on a magic carpet woven of Melissa’s mellifluous vibrato and DayQuil. I have no doubt that if Working Girl (For The), which in hindsight is so obviously a showtune, would still be remembered today if it had been written for say Studs Terkel’s Working instead of Clive Davis’ Arista.
As an added bonus, here is a thrillingly bombastic live performance of the song from 1980. In what I affectionately refer to as the “Minnelli Syndrome,” Melissa starts pretty big out of the gate, maybe a bit too big, so the only place to go is bigger. Fortunately this is not a problem for the Manchester voice and, in this instance, the song’s narrative arc and big melody can ably support the barrage of sound, like a suspension bridge constructed to sway and not snap.
Listening today I can in some hard to define way feel all of the hope and deep intention that went into the creation of this song. I can only surmise that the lack of the success of the song Working Girl (For The) and its proposed spin-off feature film must have proven very disappointing to Melissa on many levels, not the least of which is that “a working girl’s world is the size of her purse.” For those reasons and because I just really like it, it’s gratifying to shine the spotlight on the “eyelined and curled” Miss Manchester standing in the center of the stage representing.
Luckily it all somehow works out in the end. Though I was disoriented from the catharsis of so much intense musical empathy—I couldn’t for the life of me told you whether I’m actually a cog or a wheel by the last brassy flourish of this performance, only that this working girl was exhausted and hungry.
Speaking of food, after all this working, feeling, and, God knows, belting, there’s a lot to be said for Melissa’s lovely summery seafood salad.
Melissa Manchester’s Summery Seafood Salad
The wonderful accompanying text from the original publication of Melissa’s recipe:
Melissa Manchester, as ever, is keeping busy on all fronts—writing, recording, and performing live dates across the country with a full orchestra. And she starred in her first hour-long television special, titled “The Music of Melissa Manchester.” Her recent appearance in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel was a smashing success!
1 cup converted rice
3/4 lb. clean shrimp cut into pieces
1/2 lb. crab meat cut into pieces
1/2 lb. bay scallops
2 Tbsp. chopped canned green chilies
2 green onions, thinly sliced
salad green and garnish
Cook rice according to package’s directions. While still hot, toss with dressing. Cover and chill well. Add shrimp, crab, scallops, and green chilies. Toss lightly. Serve on greens. Garnish with cherry tomatoes.
Recipe for Tarragon Dressing
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. tarragon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper