Barbra Streisand – Woman in Love

First Hit #1: October 25, 1980

It only makes sense that one of the biggest artists of the 70s – Barbra Streisand – would want to work with one of the other biggest artists of the 70s – the Bee Gees. She’s already collaborated with Donna Summer after all, she isn’t shy about collaborating. And even if tastes are changing, that collaboration does result in a hit, Woman in Love, which sounds exactly like what it is: Barbra Streisand singing a Bee Gees song.

That sounds dismissive but it really isn’t, it’s just the case where the Gibb brothers definitely have certain tricks and it’s not always what Streisand would do herself. The arrangement is complex, you’ve got the Gibbs’ distinct style of vocal harmony in the chorus, and all around it could be a Bee Gees hit, even if the Gibbs are much too hairy to be a woman in love. Streisand seems to take that as a challenge more than anything, and puts in a valiant effort to make it a Barbra Streisand song. It doesn’t sound typical of her at all, but she’s definitely pushing through and putting in her most soaring vocal performance that I’ve heard. And it works, her voice is a twist on what the Gibbs usually do and actually reinforces the themes of the song. She’s a woman in love who will do anything to keep the man in question, and she’s a woman in song who would do anything to keep the listener. It’s not an easy thing to do, but she manages to make a song that has all the markers of another artist into her own.

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One Response to Barbra Streisand – Woman in Love

  1. Robert Berman says:

    Like many pop singers, Streisand’s final big hits (this is the last of her five #1s) were a string of gentle and melancholy ballads. But 15 years earlier, she’d also been known for big, brassy Broadway numbers like this one( from her Oscar-winning performance in “Funny Girl” (1968). Defining Barbra Streisand by her late 70s output would be like defining Aerosmith by “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” but certainly she knows her way around a ballad.

    Then there are the Bee Gees. Between the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack and their “Spirits Have Flown” albums, they scored a drool-worthy six #1 songs between October 1977 and April 1979, mainly in various flavors of disco style. Not a bad 18 months. They couldn’t have anticipated the critical and commercial backlash awaiting them, with only one Top Ten single ahead for the rest of their career. And yet Streisand’s “Guilty” album, which as you’ve noted is really a Bee Gees album f/ Barbra Streisand on lead vocals, features only one disco track (“Promises”) which wasn’t even released as a single. The rest are legato ballads leavened with a couple of gentle midtempo pop numbers, which could have been really monotonous but turned out pretty well. Was that a conscious songwriting/arranging choice to give Barbra a venue for showcasing her famous vocal control on long notes, like the one stretching from 2:25 to 2:36 in the “Woman Love” clip above? Or had things changed that quickly, with the music industry abuzz in the death of disco and the advent of New Wave?

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