468. ‘Woman in Love’, by Barbra Streisand

Is there a softer-rock intro than that of this next #1? Woozy guitars, soaring strings, a gentle riff…

Woman in Love, by Barbra Streisand (her 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 19th October – 9th November 1980

We came through the plodding soft-rock of the mid-to-late seventies – the David Souls, the Commodores, ‘If You Leave Me Now’ and more – and made it to the promised land of New-Wave. But any fears I have that this record might be the start of another soggy patch of MOR balladry are banished pretty quickly. Yes, this is glossy, and soppy, but if it isn’t a bit of an earworm too…

Life is a moment in space, When the dream is gone, It’s a lonelier place… OK, the lyrics are the usual love-song piffle: grand imagery that actually means very little. But Barbra Streisand sells it, cooing the verses and belting the chorus… It’s a right I defend…! she hollers. The right to be a woman in love. It’s hard to dislike any song when the singer goes for it as she does.

Also on this record’s side is the fact that it was written by two out of the three Bee Gees, who had spent the last couple of years ruling the charts (in the US in particular.) Pair the Gibb brothers’ pop nous with Streisand’s vocal chops and you’re on to a winner. Sometimes, yes, the Broadway-ness of ‘Woman In Love’ gets a little too much. It’s not subtle but, if you’re in the mood for it, perhaps three or four glasses of wine deep into a karaoke evening, then it’s a classic.

Streisand was of course already a huge star by this point in her career. ‘Woman In Love’, and the album it came from – ‘Guilty’, which features her and Barry Gibb clinching on the cover – was definitely the peak of her pop chart powers, in the UK at least. (In the US she had been charting since the mid-sixties, and had scored four chart-toppers before this, her last.)

While you could, and I did, draw a line from this back to seventies soft-rock, I feel like this is a different proposition from David Soul or Leo Sayer. Bigger, bolder, more muscular. Aggressive soft-rock? Can that be a thing? It’s definitely a window into what awaits later in this decade. In my post on David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’, I wrote that that record was the most ‘eighties’ moment yet at the top of the charts. I’d add ‘Woman in Love’ here – for completely different reasons. In fact, this is something of a template, a ‘Women Singing Power Ballads 101’, that will last on through Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera, well into the next century.

Not only has 1980 had a lot of #1 singles, it’s had a wide variety too. Ska-punk from The Specials, TV-show weirdness from M*A*S*H, pop-perfection from ABBA… now this. Is it too early, ten months in, to name 1980 as the best year of the entire decade…??

9 thoughts on “468. ‘Woman in Love’, by Barbra Streisand

  1. In terms of the US, the success of “Woman In Love” and the Guilty album showed that Americans weren’t as sick of The Bee Gees as they thought they were. While the group had fallen dramatically after the disco backlash set in, they were smart enough to focus on their behind the scenes work writing and producing for others and became successful there through the ‘80s. As many critics have noted, Guilty is basically a Bee Gees album with Barbra Streisand singing considering the cover and songs that have a strong Barry Gibb presence whether in the backing vocals or straight up duets. I’m with you on the song that it can be boring but can also be a bit catchy at points. Tom Breihan pointed out in his review of the song how Barry Gibb has this Max Martin style talent for writing lyrics that don’t make much sense but help to serve the melody which explains the opening line about space, “Did Streisand know that these lyrics are ridiculous? I have no idea. But she sang them like she believed them completely. Maybe that’s the actress in her. On “Woman In Love,” she commits herself, doing the full-bore diva-histrionic thing the entire time. This is the right decision, and it’s also the only thing she could’ve done.” And he also points out how the melody in parts sounds like “Night Fever” especially with the line “I turn away from the wall/I stumble and fall” sounding like “Bourne on the wind/Making it mine.” “Woman In Love” wound up being Streisand’s fifth and final #1 over here for three weeks notably being the biggest song the week of Ronald Reagan’s election as President. Streisand is one of those artists that seemed to conquer a whole bunch of mediums at once whether it was Broadway, film, or pop music in a way reminiscent of what we’re seeing with Lady Gaga today which is also helped by the two of them acting in their versions of A Star Is Born. She broke out on Broadway and almost immediately landed on the Hot 100 at #5 with “People” from the Funny Girl musical in 1964 even during the initial excitement of Beatlemania and the British Invasion that made the song sound out of place. But she wouldn’t hit big on the Hot 100 again until the ‘70s where she really hit her peak as a singer and an all around celebrity so getting The Bee Gees to work on her album was something she could afford to get. After the Guilty album, Streisand wouldn’t make much in the way of hits except until 1996 when she landed her final Top 10 hit with the schlocky Bryan Adams collab “I Finally Found Someone” from her movie The Mirror Has Two Faces.

    • That’s an interesting comparison with ‘Night Fever’ – I hear it now… Streisand isn’t someone I’m that aware of away from he big moments and, to be honest, I think she was much more of a chart presence in the US than the UK. And i agree, there is only one way to approach singing this song and that is to give it an all-out eleven out of ten

      • Yeah music wise Streisand is largely bigger in the US though you might know some of her films like Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, The Way We Were, Yentl, and the 1976 A Star Is Born version. Arguably while Streisand has always been known as a singer, pop chart success has never been a big goal for her at least at first considering in the ‘60s context she wasn’t making much pop music even with “People” being a big hit and her first album winning a Grammy for Album of the Year.

  2. Great record and interesting 80s power ballad take on it, tho i always saw it as a Bee Gees record with Babs fronting. During the non hit years they struck gold with classic divas like streisand, warwick, parton and ross. I always preferred pop barbra to showtune barbra with the exception of dont rain on my parade. Which is fab. Also her laura nyro covers, evergreen, main event, no more tears and guilty. She knows how to sing! Not so great at picking the right material though. Same with movies. Love the whats up doc whacky unpredictable persona, not so much the serious artist persona…

  3. I never was a fan of Barbra Streisand but she is very talented. Not my cup of tea but she does it well and the music is on the mark for what it is.

  4. This is another 45 I bought. I loved this song. Once I became an adult, I learned just what a insufferable jerk she really is. Beautiful voice. Nasty personality. I’d like to believe she is the sweet, wonderful goof from What’s Up Doc but…she isn’t.

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