Joel Goldenberg: Sting and others

Barbra Streisand

We now continue with the selfless S list, starting with the former lead singer of The Police:

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Sting: Sorry. Boring. But kudos to the late Eva Cassidy for her version of Fields of Gold.

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Stories: They did the hit version of Hot Chocolate's controversial (for the time) story of a mixed-race relationship, Brother Louie, and saw it race to the top of the charts. Their version is very commercial, and kind of sounds like a Rod Stewart imitation. But Hot Chocolate's more ominous (and strongly worded) version remains definitive.

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Barbra Streisand: Without doubt, she is one of the best singers of all time, but like another great singer — Frank Sinatra — I find myself losing focus if all I hear from her are standards and standards-like songs, which were a feature of her '60s albums. But when she broke away from that, she caught my attention big time.

For instance, one day in 1980 I was listening to the radio and heard Streisand's then-new hit, Woman In Love. That normally wouldn't be my kind of song (the musical version of a romantic comedy), but the quality was unassailable, and further proof that the Bee Gees (in this case, writers Barry and Robin Gibb) were on one heck of a hot streak, chart and quality-wise. The song toughened up Streisand's sound to an extent.

But the song I like best from the album Guilty — which The Rolling Stone Record Guide from 1982 proclaimed her best album ever, and I heartily agree — was the delicate duet with Barry Gibb, What Kind of Fool. Admittedly, when I heard it around the time the album was released, I didn't pay it much attention. But when I reheard it in my car very recently, I was struck by the genius of every aspect of the song — vocal arrangement, music arrangement, when Barbra sings solo and when the duets occurs. It's just one of those perfect songs.

Aside from the songs from Guilty, here are my other Streisand favourites:

Stoney End: This Laura Nyro cover was revolutionary at the time, as it was the first big Streisand hit in which she departed from her trademark standards-ballads sound. Her voice sounded, whodathunkit, funky.

The Way We Were: A return to the standards-ballads sound, but the way her vocal comes in at the beginning of the song still sends chills up my spine.

Evergreen: One of the few songs she had a hand in writing, along with well-known '70s songwriter Paul Williams. The latter is not the greatest singer, in fact his pronunciation of some words annoys me, but he wrote high-quality pop, and this song is among his best.

Memory: In the 1980s and 1990s, I despised Broadway musicals if they were pompous or the singers sang in an irritating theatrical style (I'm looking at you, Rent). I like them better now, especially if they are sung soulfully or are of the jukebox variety, such as Motown: The Musical. I especially disliked Cats when it came out, including its signature song Memory. But Streisand removes the pomposity of the song, and the vocal climax, again, sends chills up my spine.

The same is true of the usually nauseating (in my opinion) Broadway song Try to Remember, but when I saw octogenarian Ed Ames sing it on YouTube, his still-great vocals brought a poignant quality that wasn't evident to me by others.

You Don't Bring Me Flowers: Okay, this is typical '70s schlock, with great hooks. But when you see Neil Diamond and Streisand perform at the 1980 Grammys, and Streisand caresses Diamond's face at the end, it bring another chill up the spine. Watch it on YouTube.

Next time: The Stylistics

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