Barbra Streisand is one of the strongest vocalists of her generation, imbuing her reality into the songs that have littered her life and lit our stages. The songs, usually thumping tracks from the American songbook, embody a certain level of engagement and adulation, so her vocals are always committed to the cause they have engaged with.
In a career that has lasted decades, the vocalist has emerged as one of the most important artists of her generation. The singer has embellished her body of work with a series of striking vocals that shows growth and development as a person and a woman.
She has never tied herself to one genre alone, and this list shows her versatility, vulnerability and valiance as a person of great composition and poise. Such is the vastness of the work, it goes beyond the restrictions and trappings of mere padding.
This list looks at ten of her most impressive vocal deliveries. Although some of the vocals feature in films, this list doesn’t look at her work as an actor, but looks at her vocal abilities and vocal growth, not forgetting her longevity and professionalism.
The 10 greatest Barba Streisand vocals:
10. ‘Woman in Love’
This shimmering ballad showcases the singer covering the Bee Gees, and does so quite well, deviating from a purr to a roaring, boisterous vocal that surrounds the instruments that coast the voices, making it more intricate to listen to. Streisand was strong enough to capture an entirely new form of music, and this tune is neither pop nor funk, but makes for something in between. It’s a strong vocal delivery from the singer, and she acquits herself nicely to Barry Gibb‘s melody.
She sings with a withering sense of loyalty to the man who has consumed her soul and her mind, which is why the protagonist isn’t as important as the feeling in question. Deeply beautiful, and cut with great interest in the work itself, this is something that works well in her standing.
9. ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’
Streisand getting disco. This is actually a duet, as she trades verses with disco favourite Donna Summer, and they enjoy a good rapport. Since 2012, Streisand has sung it in tribute to the deceased Summer and has lamented the fact that the disco singer is no longer around to breathe new life and perspective into the track that defined both women in the earlier parts of their lives and careers.
But if this is the one and only time they performed it, it’s certainly more than enough. The two women spark off one another, brimming with energy and infectiousness, the two revering one another, keenly egging each other on to hit those helium high notes, never wasting the moments or the emotions that were propelled from the truthfulness of the work in question.
8. ‘The Way We Were’
If any track deserves to be Streisand’s signature number, then ‘The Way We Were’ makes a strong go of it. Indeed, it showcases her voice in angelic, even childlike, form, and the song suggests that there is the power to sing down the scales. It’s a shimmering, sincere vocal from the singer.
“It was cut live,” bassist Carole Kaye said. “They told me for the longest time, they said, ‘Don’t add any notes to the part.’ And it was a very boom-de-boom part. Very simple part. Because I think that they wanted to let the strings shine and for it to sound more like the movie version, which is very sweet and subtle and all that kind of stuff. Well, the band was playing some important lines, and in the middle of the bridge there, I couldn’t play sweet. It’s the role of the bass to pump up the band. And in that sense, yes, I had to pump up the band.”
7. ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’
Streisand isn’t the painfully nice artist that this list might make her out to be. There’s a lot more depth and density to her work, not least in this duet with Neil Diamond, the man who penned the tune. The vocals come from a place of vulnerability and truth, as both singers sing from their past experiences to carve one of the more engaging vocals in their canon. The two sang it together live on television, bringing an added ballast that wasn’t heard on the studio cut.
The live performance made an impression on James Bond vocalist Alicia Keys. “It might very well have been the first Grammy moment,” she recalled, “they [had] never performed the song ‘live’ together, so on February 27th, 1980, the lights dimmed at the Shrine Auditorium and Barbra and Neil took the stage to sing one of the classic television duets of all time.”
It was nearly impossible to avoid the Bee Gees by the late 1970s, so it said something about Streisand’s prowess that she got to sing this number with Barry Gibb. She sings the first verse, he tackles the second, and the chorus is decorated with the helium falsettos that had littered the Bee Gees back catalogue during the more pop-oriented era. It’s tailored for Gibb’s vocal style, but Streisand makes her presence known without too much effort. It’s a malleable voice that only grows grander with every passing verse.
The song is decidedly romantic, leading some to speculate that Streisand enjoyed something more than a professional friendship with Gibb. Whatever the subtext, it’s a scintillating vocal that shimmers and soars in equal measure, the melodies carving a place for themselves in the world at large.
5. ‘Ma Première Chanson’
Elle chante en francais, elle chante en francais. Elle chante tres bien en francais…That’s enough French. One of the earliest recordings in her career, the song nonetheless shows the singer making her mark on a language that was alien to many of her listeners. Her pronunciation is a little stilted, but that’s not a reflection of her singing, gushing from the bottom of her gut to the highest strands of her vocal abilities. It’s a striking performance and one that aims for something more enjoyable than the average pop performance.
She should sing more often in French, because it’s a language that suits her, much as it suits Mick Jagger, the eminent frontman for The Rolling Stones. French suits the form of rock, largely because it ebbs and flows like the barrelling guitars that burst out underneath. Such is life, such is life, c’est la vie.
4. ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’
Animated, angular, agitated, aspiration: it’s simply wonderful. Streisand makes her stamp on this song that has since gone on to become a favourite in the halls of the music theatres. It features in the 1968 musical Funny Girl, and showed Streisand at her most frenzied, and excited. It’s a deeply bouncy vocal, capturing the essence of the playful nature of the track in question. The track makes her seem younger than she is, and allows her to return to a place of great youth in concert whenever she sings it live.
Streisand also featured on the original 1964 recordings that typified the soundtrack of the modern-day musical. She helped cement the joie de vivre and bonhomie of the recording, cementing her imprint on the track as a whole. Indeed, an article on Funny Face could take up the rest of the article, but we’ll be sensible, and say this is a strong vocal.
3. ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’
This recording is notable for slowing down the pace of the song, putting emphasis on the words in question, as the feelings that cement the song are what lead to such a strong, committed vocal from the singer in question. She’s strident, singular and shimmering in her resolve, capturing the propensity and the proclivities of the original tune to bring her truth to the forefront. It’s a vocal performance of integrity and assurance, making it one of her most notable performances.
Indeed, the emotion soaks through the vocal, veering into more intellectual territories, as the song creates a new pathway for the singer to express herself, both as a musician and more importantly, as a woman. It’s a striking, even career-best, performance from the singer.
2. ‘The Christmas Song’
In some ways, this is the hardest to critique, because it’s the most seasonal, and therefore the hardest to view outside the season it is so intrinsically associated with the festivities. Such is the strength of the vocal it becomes one of the highlights of an otherwise tawdry time of year. And so it comes to pass that Streisand creates a vocal of yearning, romance, contradiction and pathos, steering her career into a more contemporary spin.
Where Streisand goes next has yet to be seen. She has plans up her sleeve: “It’s one of the reasons I could focus on my book, because I couldn’t get Gypsy made. I wanted it as a bookend to Funny Girl. It was meant to be. It was the perfect thing to end my film career, but you can’t control things like that. You can control a book, but you can’t control getting a movie made, like making the Margaret Bourke-White story. I couldn’t make those films. And that’s when I said, ‘Fuck it. I’m going to really settle down and finish my book.’”
1. ‘Tell Him’
The final song on this list is also one of the more impressive and intricate of the numbers placed in the list, as it brings about change in generations and suggests the aspiration of the fads, fixations and furies of the world at large, giving balance and contrast to the recording.
Celine Dion sings the harmony vocal, and the two bounce off well, pushing Streisand to the realm of opera in her effort to create a passionate, piercing vocal performance that is heavy on duty and high on destiny and feature. The two singers sing well together, and it’s nice to see another artist treat her with the respect she deserves.