Barbra Streisand: 80

Today marks the 80th birthday of global superstar Barbra Streisand. The Recs decided to pay tribute to this enduring and formidable singer-actress-activist.

To honour her on this special day, The Recs has complied BARBRA STREISAND: 80 – a specially-compiled playlist of 80 of our favourite songs by The Greatest Star: from musicals to movies, from iconic hits to lesser-known gems. It truly showcases the range and scale of Barbra’s boundless musical talent.
Plus, to enhance your listening pleasure, we present the first part of our listen-along Curators Notes so as you listen, you can read more about each song and why we love them (Disclaimer: it’s the first part as we were time limited but we wanted to do the notes justice – and we’ll complete them in the coming days)
So settle back, press play and enjoy our tribute to an American icon.


1. Starting Here, Starting Now

From Colour Me Barbra

The title song from a 1977 off-Broadway musical revue by the Tony-nominated team of Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics) and David Shire (music) was used as the epic ending to Barbra’s Emmy-winning 1966 television special Color Me Barbra (in part titled because the concert special was one of the first to be filmed in colour).

We love how the song starts restrained and then builds and builds to a storming crescendo. Starting Here, Starting Now is the perfect way to start our Barbra 80 celebration.

‘Starting here
Starting now
Now take my hand
For the greatest journey
Heaven can allow’
Sort of sums up our journey through Barbra’s back catalogue. 

2.You’ll Never Know

From Just For The Record

You’ll Never Know  was written by Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (lyrics) and was performed in the 1943 movie Hello Frisco Hello by Alice Faye.
It was the first song Barbra ever recorded when she was 13 years old. This version of the song sees an older Streisand (she was 45) duetting with her younger self.
On an already sentimental song, there’s something very evocative hearing the innocence of her younger self contrasted with the experienced voice of an established superstar singer. Not a dry eye in the house.

3.Happy Days Are Here Again

From The Barbra Streisand Album

Happy Days Are Here Again  was written by Milton Ager (music) and Jack Yellen (lyrics) and was performed in the 1930 film Chasing Rainbows. It became the campaign song for Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successful 1932 presidential campaign.
A true American standard, Barbra has threaded the song throughout her career. She first recorded the song in October 1962 to became her first commercially available single (500 copies were pressed). She re-recorded the song in January the following year for her debut album. In October 1963, Streisand sang the song in counterpoint to Judy Garland singing ‘Get Happy’ for The Judy Garland Show on television. 
Introducing the song in her One Voice concert in 1987, Barbra told her audience: “In 1960, I sang it in the spirit in which it was originally written in the midst of the depression; ironically, cynically. And tonight I’d like to sing it with hope. The hope that one day soon we’ll all be able to sing it and mean every word“. 

4. I’ve Been Here

From Je M’Appelle Barbra

I’ve Been Here was written by  Charles Dumont (music) and Michel Vaucaire as “Le Mur” (‘The Wall’) for French singer Edith Piaf but she died before recording it. They reportedly deliberated long whether to give the song to Streisand.
Nat Shapiro, the then A & R at Columbia Records believed that Barbra singing French songs would be classier than Italian – and it helped that the record company had a more active division in France, namely Disques CBS.
Throw into the mix Michel Legrand who was considered one of the best composers and orchestrators in the world. Additionally Earl Shuman wrote the English lyrics.  He said “My approach to writing a lyric to a foreign song was to ignore the original lyric and just get infused with the melody.” 
A bolero 3/4 time signature steadily builds to a thrilling conclusion with Streisand serving up maximum drama with an incredible vocal performance. 
Barbra Streisand in Yentl

5. A Piece of Sky

From Yentl

A Piece of Sky was written by Michel Legrand (music) with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman from the Streisand-directed 1983 film, Yentl
What’s wrong with wanting more?
If you can fly, then soar
With all there is, why settle for
Just a piece of sky?
The song comes at the end of the Oscar-winning movie where Yentl has chosen a life of learning rather than a life as a wife. Wandering through a crowded boat heading from Europe towards an America full of possibilities, she sings a goosebump-evoking A Piece of Sky filled with hope and urgency (and a 19-second note). Not the last time this playlist will feature a ship-based crescendo. 

6. Don’t Lie To Me

From Walls

Don’t Lie To Me was written by Barbra, Carole Bayer Sager, Jonas Myrin and Jay Landers for her acclaimed 2018 album. 
Always a fiercely political activist, Streisand aims some very pointed barbs at the then-American President. Although Trump is not mentioned by name, lyrics such as ‘You can build towers of bronze and gold‘ leave no doubt who her quarry is. 
In her first studio album of original material for thirteen years, Streisand decided that the unprecedented divisiveness in her home country compelled her to address her political beliefs directly in her music.
How do you win if we all lose?
You change the facts to justify
Your lips move but your words get in the way‘ is an excoriating attack on the 45th US President’s tenuous relationship with the truth. 

7. Places That Belong To You

From The Prince of Tides Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Places That Belong To You, a sumptuous ballad of love and loss, was written by James Newton Howard (music) and Alan & Marilyn Bergman (lyrics). Although the song is on the soundtrack, the sung version wasn’t used in the film. Streisand felt it would be wrong for her or her character, Dr. Lowenstein, to sing at the end of the movie as she considered her character secondary within the film. Speaking to the Boston Globe, Streisand insisted that Nick Nolte’s character, Tom Wingo, is the central character “It was his story and what right would I have to come in and sing this song?”

8. Just In Time

From The Third Album

Just In Time originated from the 1956 Judy Holliday musical, Bells Are Ringing, and was written by Jule Styne (music) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics).

Peggy Lee, Blossom Dearie, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra all recorded versions of the song before Barbra did her unusual take of the song for her The Third Album.

Recorded one week before she previewed Funny Girl in Boston, Streisand gives a wonderfully-controlled, almost hypnotic performance that really demonstrates the purity of her voice. 

9. I Don’t Care Much

From The Second Barbra Streisand Album

I Don’t Care Much, by Kander and Ebb, had an interesting origin. The song emerged as a result of a bet at a dinner party whether the songwriters could create a song between dessert and coffee.

Streisand was the first singer to record the song and it’s a dramatic, impassioned rendition of feigned indifference.

The song itself was one of 26 that were potentially available for the original Broadway production of Cabaret in 1966 – although the song was dropped before the musical launched. It did make a return to the 1987 Broadway revival. 

10. Non C’est Rien

From Color Me Barbra

From the French sounding accordions on I Don’t Care Much, we keep the français vibe going with Non C’est Rien

Written by Armand Canfora, Joss Baselli and Michel Jourdan, the song was originally recorded by French singer and actress, Jacqueline Danno (no, we don’t remember her either) in 1965. Streisand first recorded this track for Color Me Barbra before reworking an English translation of the song, as Free Again, for her Je M’Appelle Barbra album.

Barbra more than delivers on the Gallic passion against Michel Legrand’s dramatic, swoonsome strings. And that final sombre piano note – dark! 

11. Cry Me a River

From The Barbra Streisand Album

Cry Me A River was written by Arthur Hamilton and published in 1953. An eternally popular torch song with (at the time of writing) 592 recorded versions, it is the opening song of Barbra’s first studio album. 

A jazz vibe underpins Streisand’s breathless dramatics and idiosyncratic take on the song. It’s very much a Marmite interpretation. The Financial Times disliked what it termed Barbra’s “shoulder-heaving dramatics and high camp” but maybe they should stick to money matters. 

12. Since I Don’t Have You

From ButterFly

Since I Don’t Have You was written by Jackie Taylor, James Beaumont, Janet Vogel, Joseph Rock, Joe Verscharen, Lennie Martin and Wally Lester. Yes, you read correctly. Seven writers! Share those royalties. They were a doo-wop group called the Skyliners.

While the Butterfly albuma collection of cover songs produced by Streisand’s then boyfriend Jon Peters, got a decidedly mixed reception, Since I Don’t Have You fares rather better with Barbra playfully riffing up and down her vocal range with a carefree abandon. 

13. My Man

From My Name Is Barbra

My Man was written by Maurice Yvain (music) with original French lyrics by Jacques-Charles and Albert Willemetz and later English lyrics by Channing Pollock. It became a hit in the 1920s for one Fanny Brice.

While My Man provides a fitting climax to her My Name Is Barbra album, it is probably Streisand’s tearful performance in the theatre wings at the end of the film, Funny Girl, that stays in the mind. It certainly helped cement her Oscar win for Best Actress at the 41st Academy Awards. 

14. Mother

From Barbra Joan Streisand

Mother was written by John Lennon about his abandonment by his parents. 

Mother, you had me but I never had you /
I wanted you, you didn’t want me

Father, you left me but I never left you
I needed you, you didn’t need me“.

Barbra’s interpretation is a powerful, emotional track with Streisand vocally letting rip with almost a gospel fervour. 

15. Simple Man

From ButterFly

Simple Man was written by Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills and Nash fame) according to legend on the day he split up from Joni Mitchell. 

I’ve never been so much in love
And never hurt so bad
At the same time

A beautiful song that speaks of the longing found in that moment of loss, her version finds Streisand gently delivering the tenderest vocal with some beguiling harmonies. A thing of loveliness.


16. A Quiet Thing/There Won’t Be Trumpets

From Just For The Record

A Quiet Thing was written by John Kander (music) & Fred Ebb (lyrics) for their first Broadway musical, Flora the Red Menace.

There Won’t Be Trumpets was written by Stephen Sondheim for the musical, Anyone Can Whistle. While it was cut from the original production, it did make it onto the original Broadway cast recording. (And is a highlight in the current Southwark Playhouse production which The Recs reviewed here)

It was Barbra’s idea to combine both songs as she felt they told a dramatic story. She recorded the track in 1974 for the ButterFly album but the record company baulked at the idea of musical theatre songs on what was intended to be a ‘contemporary’ collection. The Recs loves the gradual build up of the track starting as, ahem, a quiet thing to a full-throated crowd-pleasing belter and back down to an intimate whisper. 

17. Before The Parade Passes By

From Hello Dolly!

Staying with the musical theatre groove, Before The Parade Passes By was originally written by Jerry Herman for the 1964 musical, Hello Dolly! It was added into the score as a rousing Act I closer after some particularly iffy tryouts of the show in Detroit, Michigan and Washington D.C.

In the 1969 movie, the staging of Before The Parade Passes By is a huge production number. I mean HUGE! It’s no wonder that the movie was the most expensive film musical ever produced at the time of the film’s release. The breathtaking sequence features the biggest use of extras in modern filmmaking: a 16-unit parade of 657 people watched by 3,108 extras. And even then they still cannot upstage Barbra Streisand at her commanding best.

18. After The Rain

From Wet

If the before was the bombast of Before The Parade Passes By, the after is the quiet rumination of After The Rain

After The Rain was written by Michel Legrand (music), Alan and Marilyn Bergman (lyrics) for Barbra’s water-themed concept album. It is a lovely tender addition to the Streisand back catalogue. 

19. I’ve Dreamed of You

From A Love Like Ours

I’ve Dreamed of You was written by Rolf Lovland (music) & Ann Hampton Callaway (lyrics) at the request of Barbra herself. She wanted to present actor (and second husband) James Brolin with a wedding song. 

Unashamedly sentimental, it celebrates love found later in life.

And just when I thought love had passed me by
We met
That first look in your eyes
I can’t forget

Too mushy for some, dreamy for others, it unfolds softly like a lullaby. 

20. Woman in Love

From Guilty

Our Barbra Streisand: 80 playlist’s first duet (if we don’t count her singing with her younger self).

Woman in Love written by Barry and Robin Gibb is a Streisand classic – though one which she originally wasn’t entirely convinced of herself. She didn’t believe the lyric “It’s a right I defend / Over and over again” was something that she would say and was possibly rather a strong sentiment for a pop song. It went on to earn the Gibb brothers the 1980 Ivor Novello award for ‘Best Song Musically and Lyrically’. The single topped the charts in 19 countries and was her only UK #1. We’re guessing Streisand’s reservations may have gone by now. 

Our Curator’s Notes will continue shortly.