“Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” was released in 1972 by the New Jersey band Looking Glass, reaching number one on the Billboard chart after a DC program director put a test-pressing of the disc into his station’s rotation and received an overwhelming response from listeners. Our deep dive into the lyrics begins with the third verse:
Brandy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the North of Spain
A locket that bears the name
Of the man that Brandy loved
The “locket” around Brandy’s neck “bears the name of the man that Brandy loved.” That name is “Barry Manilow.” The locket also bears proof of rabies vaccination and a license number provided by the City of Las Vegas. This is because, as is widely known among the pop star’s supporters and groupies (“Fan-ilows” and “Stan-ilows,” respectively), the song is about Barry Manilow’s dog.
Now, you might be one of those casual or indifferent Barry Manilow fans (“Rando-lows”) who have never felt goosebumps climbing in stack formation up the back of your neck in anticipation of the three-minute rap interlude during the Vegas stage version of “Copacabana,” in which case you are no doubt thinking, “This story can’t be true. I’ve heard ‘Brandy’ hundreds of times on Sirius XM’s Low-Vol Office Cubicle Channel. No one has ever mentioned Barry Manilow’s dog.”
A close read of the text, however, makes that conclusion undeniable.
He came on a summer’s day
Bringin’ gifts from far away
But he made it clear he couldn’t stay
No Harbour was his home
Manilow adopted Brandy during the hot summer months, and showered the puppy with expensive toys from his worldwide travels. “But he made it clear he couldn’t stay.” At the time, Manilow was on tour more than two hundred days each year, and often lodged in hotels with strict no pets policies, leaving Brandy in the care of a large staff of competent but joyless valets.
“No Harbour was his home” refers to Manilow’s childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is adjacent to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Brooklyn Navy Yard, in turn, is adjacent to “Stranger Things: The Experience NYC.” Stranger Things character Jim Hopper is played by the actor David Harbour.
There’s a girl in this Harbour town
And she works layin’ whiskey down
They say, Brandy, fetch another round
She serves them whiskey and wine
Despite the telltale inclusion of the word “fetch” (if you know only one thing about the band Looking Glass, you know they selected every word in their lyrics with the precision of a rubidium ion on a quantum computer chip), here’s where many skeptics say, “This song couldn’t be about a dog. Dogs can’t tend bar.” But haven’t you seen the internet video of the dog who brings his owner a beer from the fridge? It’s hilarious! And how many hit songs and commercial jingles did that guy write? None, probably. We’re talking about Barry Freaking Manilow! He can afford a dog trainer every bit as good as some “Rando-low” who makes TikToks.
Now, look at the chorus:
The sailors say, “Brandy, you’re a fine girl” (you’re a fine girl)
“What a good wife you would be” (such a fine girl)
“Yeah, your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea”
Sailors from the Navy Yard would walk by the Manilow house on their way to the Brooklyn dance halls and see Brandy playing in the yard. While it might seem odd that these sailors wanted to marry an actual canine dog, remember that Barry Manilow wouldn’t have adopted the mangiest mutt off the streets of Akron. Brandy almost certainly would be a purebred whose physical traits conform to the official American Kennel Club standards, which were written by people who spend a peculiar amount of time thinking about what makes a dog look hot. Brandy probably seemed quite attractive to sailors who had passed many lonely months on the ocean, lusting after manatees. For some of these randy old sea tars, an elegant, registered show dog, who also knows how to mix drinks, might seem like the perfect life partner.
At last, in the final repetition of the chorus, we come to the heartbreaking twist.
He said, “Brandy, you’re a fine girl” (you’re a fine girl)
“What a good wife you would be” (such a fine girl)
“But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea”
Brandy has been convinced by passing sailors that she might make a “good wife” for the man she loves. But in these final words, Barry breaks the news that they cannot be married. Not only is she a dog and he a Man-ilow, but his heart belongs to another.
Even though Barry’s version of Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” is in every way superior to the original (and Barry’s version of “Ships” is far better than Ian Hunter’s), the final line shouldn’t be read as being literally about the briny deep. Here “My life, my lover, my lady is the sea” has been traditionally deciphered as “My life, my lover, my lady is The C.” Only one person in Barry Manilow’s orbit could be referred to by a single initial (and also whose best-known song is about drowning). This is how the tune “Brandy” by Looking Glass revealed to the world that Barry Manilow has been in a committed, long-term romantic relationship with Celine Dion. Now that’s a Las Vegas power couple!
So if you happen to see one of Barry Manilow’s manservants walking Brandy down the Las Vegas Strip, don’t hesitate to give her belly rubs and say, “Who’s a fine girl? (You’re a fine girl!) Yes, you are!”
Maybe don’t bring up the wife thing, though. Brandy bites.
Read Volume I:
“Interpreting Symbolism and Allegory
in the Other Songs of Don McLean”