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…??