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April 23, 2012

On Streisand's 70th birthday, my list of her 10 most exquisite recordings

Barbra Streisand turns 70 on Tuesday. Her music-making still sounds as young and vital as ever.

Her exalted standing among pop vocalists is unchallenged, five decades after the "kooky" girl from Brooklyn first started generating a buzz in New York nightclubs.

I won't bore you with tales of how Streisand played a major role in my musical awakening, how she became one of the most important and consistent sources of inspiration to me. But I will mark the birthday milestone by offering a sampling of what I consider some of her greatest recordings.

I intentionally avoided the usual and uncontested choices, such as her brilliant deconstructionist "Happy Days Are Here Again," and all the spine-tingling, big-dramatic-finish songs or frenetic up-tempo numbers. There are so many fabulous examples to choose from in those categories.

I decided instead to concentrate here on some of her subtlest, most affecting interpretations, material that shows off the distinctively beautiful color of her tone, the extraordinary security of her technique, her exemplary articulation, and, above all, her ability to sculpt a phrase with poetic eloquence.

It wasn't easy choosing, but here is my list -- in chronological, not necessarily qualitative, order -- of THE 10 MOST EXQUISITE STREISAND RECORDINGS:

"Who Are You Now?" (from the original cast recording of "Funny Girl")

"Who Will Buy?" (from "The Second Barbra Streisand Album")

"Where Is the Wonder?" (from "My Name Is Barbra")

"Why Did I Choose You?" (from "My Name is Barbra")

"One Kiss" (from "Color Me Barbra")

"He Isn't You" (from the soundtrack of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever")

"Love is Only Love" (from the soundtrack to "Hello, Dolly")

"My Buddy/How About Me?" (from "The Way We Were" album)

"If I Love Again" (from the soundtrack of "Funny Lady")

"Lazy Afternoon" (from the album of that name)

These are not necessarily the most obvious contenders for "greatest hits" status, but they should be. And if any are new to you, I hope you will agree how priceless they are once you've searched them out.

Thanks to the fellow Streisand admirer I live with who created these audio examples, I offer these five examples from my Top 10 list as a grateful birthday salute to this amazing "actress who sings" -- and thrills, and touches, and enriches.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:02 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Clef Notes, Drama Queens


Love this post - thanks! Great to hear some of the less known songs, but equally beautiful! . Happy Birthday to Barbra! Lucky me...I am going to see her sister, Rosalind Kind, perform at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts this Saturday evening.

Cool. I'm glad to hear that Rosalind is still in the game. TIM

Ms. Barbra Streisand for me is simply the greatest American singer of all time. Her golden voice commands so much splendor that listening to it is just pure bliss. She is more than a singer, she is also a fine actress and the advocacy that she is fighting for deserves no less than a Nobel Prize. I love her popular songs and those from the musicals. From Manila, The Philippines on the auspicious occasion of her 70th Birthday, I wish her and pray for more fruitful and blessed birthdays to come so that she may continue to make this world a much better place to live.

Thanks for the wonderful comments from far off (from here) Manila. TIM

There are lots of jewels like these that are sprinkled throughout her oeuvre. I found her work on the "Love Is The Answer" recording to be as good as anything she's done - better than the jazz recording. There's a husky note here and there, but overall that voice is in fine fettle and she sings those romantic songs beautifully. Today is her birthday and I wish her a very long, long life until I can catch with her (I'm 58).

I want to wish Barbra Streisand a very happy and healthy birthday , i am a huge fan and have to been to a majority of concerts and ever uk concert she has ever performed , she is without doubt the world greatest female entertainer of all time , her voice is the best there is , whenever she sings i am verclempt ( Jewish word for being touched ) Thank you Barbra for all the years you have entertained us , you are the greatest star , i so wish i could present you with 70 red roses , i love and adore you to bits and respect you in every way . G-d Bless you Barbra , long may you entertain us with your stunning voice
All my Love
Bruce Silverman

Thank you for posting this wonderful tribute to Barbra. Some of my favorites are on your list. Beautiful photos in those videos, as well. She really has inspired such a wide range of people throughout her astonishing career. It's nice to read these words of praise about the woman so many of us love with such devotion.

Thanks for writing. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. TIM

Most of your top ten made my list of 100.

It sure was hard whittling down to 10. I would have had a much easier time going for 100. Thanks for the link. TIM

Over forty years ago I heard Barbra Streisand sing "I'm The Greatest Star" in her movie debut in Funny Girl. Forty years later she still is.
Best Wishes and many thanks for sharing your many talents with us all.

Happy 70th Birthday, to Barbra. She is one of a kind, pure, perfect pitch, gorgeous resonance, beautiful soul!
Please keep giving the world your amazing interpretations.

John La Spina

Happy Birthday Dear Barbra. Thank you for the music in our lives.

Tim, nice job with saluting and selecting one of our greatest entertainers of today. For some reason, since I was 20, I have seen her every six years, either personally or, as most of the time, in concert. She is a class act, always above diving for nasty jokes or using curse words, and her voice is better than ever. I closed my eyes and listened to her at the last concert, and she sounded like 40 years ago. Your list is quite good, yet I would also opt for The Music That Makes Me Dance, also on her Funny Girl Cast album. Keep up the good work Tim, and a very Happy and Healthy Birhtday to Barbra. She deserves it. May this be her best year yet!

The continued quality of the voice is something to celebrate. I hope she will be back in the recording studio soon. TIM

These are some very good selections. I would suggest...I'll Tell the Man in the Street from her first album, and her live 1966 performance of Autumn Leaves which is floating around the Internet. But I can think of about 100 others off the top of my head....

All lists are doomed to disappoint someone. I hasten to say that I had 'I'll Tell the Man in the Street' on my short list -- consider it No. 11. It is a great performance of an unjustly neglected song. That live 'Autumn Leaves' is fascinating, too; the studio version holds up beautifully as well. TIM

What about "Pieces of Dreams"?

Thanks so much for both your article and the beautiful tribute. I saw Barbara Cook on Saturday evening and she sang "If I Love Again" which I adore. Two more I would add to your list are "I Remember Sky" and "Where Do You Start".

Great choices, both. (I wish she had recorded an alternate version of 'I Remember Sky' without the new Christmas intro, but it is still fab.) TIM

Don;t forget these hard-to-find duets she did with Walter Matthau (left on the cutting room floor from "Hello Dolly"):
1. "Stop Correcting Me"
2. "You're Blocking My Shot"
3. "If You Sing In My Face Again, I'm Quitting the Picture"

Happy 70th Birthday Babs!! Cheers!!

"how wonderful the moment when the boy became a man", "i've been so many places and i've opened every door".
I like your selection, Tim. I saw Barbra when she closed the Newport Jazz Festival many years ago. It was the same format as "A Happening in Central Park. Lately, i've been listening to a lot of opera lately but it's always nice to put on Streisand.
I hope (rumors) that she does "Gypsy". Happy Birthday Barbra. Welcome to the seventies. P. Dow

For years, my two favorite Streisand recordings have been "He Isn't You" and "If I Love Again," both of which are included in your list. Viewing your top ten list was a joy to behold, reminding me to listen, once again, to some extraordinary tracks I haven't enjoyed for a while. Thanks!

I'm so glad you shared my enthusiasm for those two performances. Thanks for commenting. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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