Officially, Barbra Streisand signed her very first Columbia Records contract on October 1, 1962. However, it was really in 1963 that Barbra Streisand became a “new singing sensation,” as Look Magazine put it.
With that in mind, it’s the right time to look back at the Streisand recording legacy, album-by-album, starting with her first solo LP, “The Barbra Streisand Album.”
Released on February 23, 1963, “The Barbra Streisand Album” was never supposed to be a hit. In fact, Columbia Records didn’t know what they had with Barbra Streisand when she went into the studio to record “The Barbra Streisand Album.”
Her previous efforts for the label had been two soundtracks. One was the original cast album for “I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” in which she had one solo and joined in with a few chorale numbers. The other was “Pins & Needles,” an anniversary LP to commemorate the Harold Rome revue about the garment industry. Streisand had more to do on “Pins & Needles,” including a couple of solos. To this day, the only reason these two albums are remembered is because of her participation.
Columbia Records also issued two Streisand singles in November 1962; “Happy Days Are Here Again”/”When The Sun Comes Out” and “My Coloring Book”/”Lover, Come Back to Me.” The promotion was tepid, with only 500 copies of the first single pressed, and little circulation to radio stations of either disk.
Therefore, the label did not have great expectations for “The Barbra Streisand Album.” You can only imagine how ecstatic the executives were when they discovered that they’d stumbled upon the greatest female vocalist of the 20th century — and beyond.
Essentially, the first album is the music that Barbra had honed in the short time that she’d been singing in nightclubs like the Bon Soir and the Caucus Club. But unlike other singers of that era, Streisand’s choice of material was eclectic. Because of the terms of her contract with Columbia Records, in which she had artistic control over the songs she’d put on vinyl, nobody could foist popular hits of the day or novelty songs at her.
Streisand’s choices were story songs, numbers that showcased her as an actress in song. There were two songs from the off-Broadway musical by Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones, “The Fantasticks,” called “Much More” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain.” Both still resonate with passion and give Streisand a platform to perform. Listening to these character songs, it also makes you wonder why Lore Noto, the producer of the show, didn’t cast Barbra in the show when she auditioned for the role.
There were Broadway songs on Streisand’s first album, too, a preview of her life-long love affair with theater music. Barbra’s delicate versions of “A Sleepin’ Bee” and “A Taste of Honey” were spellbinding. The former was composed by Harold Arlen, who wrote the liner notes for the album and predicted that Barbra’s star was on the rise.
Another musical gem was the song “I’ll Tell the Man in the Street,” from a 1938 little known show by Rodgers and Hart, “I Married An Angel.”
Perhaps the most famous popular song on “The Barbra Streisand Album” was “Cry Me A River,” which she sang in a completely unique way that separated her from any other singer’s interpretation. “Happy Days Are Here Again” was well known, but only as an uptempo ditty associated with the Democratic party.
Building on her first performance of the song when she appeared on “The Garry Moore Show,” Streisand’s version of “Happy Days” was a bittersweet ballad about loss. It became Barbra’s first signature song.
Variety also marks “The Barbra Streisand Album,” giving listeners a substantial view of Streisand as a complete artist. In addition to the great singing, there’s the comic element found in songs like “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” and “Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking.”
And perhaps the funniest of all is “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf,” a song from a Disney movie which Barbra turns into a riotous thrill ride of vocal acrobatics.
Today, nearly 50 years since “The Barbra Streisand Album” landed in record shops around the country, it remains a seminal recording. Spend an hour to listen to this album again, if you haven’t in a while, or if you’ve never had the pleasure, do yourself a favor and buy the CD. “The Barbra Streisand Album” is superb.
Cry Me A River
My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms
I’ll Tell the Man In the Street
A Taste of Honey
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf
Soon It’s Gonna Rain
Happy Days Are Here Again
Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now
Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking
A Sleepin’ Bee