Friday, 20 July 2012

The Way We Weren't

A couple of months ago I was having dinner with friends when one of them (Gerard Langley of the Blue Aeroplanes) mentioned a record he’d recently picked up which he, knowing I am a huge John Lennon fan, was convinced would intrigue me. That record was the 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand which contains cover versions of two Lennon compositions: Love and Mother, both of which originally appeared on his startling, brilliant debut solo album John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band.

Yes, you read that right: Barbra Streisand singing songs written by John Lennon.

I don’t get Barbra Streisand. I know she’s won a brace of Oscars; I know she’s sold countless albums and that she holds the record for the most top-ten albums of any female recording artist, but all I hear when she opens her mouth is that nasal, Brooklyn whine. I know that she has raised more than $25 million for charity; I know she’s as gay-friendly as they come. I should like her...but I don’t. Maybe it’s because of Meet the Fockers, or because she uses a teleprompter during her live shows (that’s just lazy). I know that a great many people love her fractured, bruised style; that the tragic longing in her voice has a diva-like quality which has endeared her to gay men of a certain age but – like that other icon Bette Midler (if I hear that bum note at the end of the Wind Beneath my Wings once more I think I’ll strangle someone) – I can’t stand her.

And I especially can’t stand this.

In the hands of John Lennon Mother is a heart-wrenching, guttural, angst-ridden plea to his parents not to leave. Influenced by his experience with Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream therapy, it tells how John was abandoned by both his parents: his father Fred, who walked out of his life when he was little more than a toddler (and who resurfaced once his son had become a global superstar) and his mother Julia who had begrudgingly handed her son over to his aunt Mimi and who was run over and killed by a drunk, off-duty policeman shortly after she and John had been reconciled. It’s a pained, painful and brilliant performance from John, accompanied by Ringo Starr on drums and long-time friend Klaus Voormann on bass. It’s one of the best things ever released by a solo Beatle; if it doesn’t move you then you don’t have a soul.

However when Babs takes on the song it becomes anodyne and boring. She doesn’t understand the pain of the composer: although her own father died when she was 15 months old her mother remarried when she was seven and she enjoyed a poor but settled family life. She turns Lennon’s anguish and anger into something insipid and radio-friendly: it starts off as a hymn, complete with church organ, but by the third verse she’s really into her stride, bleating, shrieking and honking her way through the song. It jars when, on several occasions, she misses her marks. Producer Richard Perry would later do great work for Ringo and Harry Nilsson but here he’s so far off the mark it’s ridiculous.

It’s a rock song sung by someone who has no idea how to rock. Opera singers should not attempt to interpret pop songs. Streisand, perfectly at home with power ballads and show-stopping stage standards should never, never, never try to cover material written by one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time. Some genius at Columbia even thought it wise to release this as a single in several countries. What were they thinking?


Enjoy



17 comments:

  1. SHUCKS! It won't play... Finally you get somebody who REALLY sucks & the damn player won't play the damn song. I wish I could revel in Bab's horrid renderring of a Lennon classic.

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  2. 7/21/12
    RobGems.ca wrote:
    Then again, maybe it is the endless lampooning of Babs on countless episodes of "South Park" that may take your lack of respect for her. Southe Park creators Trey Parker & Matt stone LOATHES Babs Striesand,and make every cringe-inducing moment she appears on an episode a target of ridicule (they even turned her into a Godzilla-like monster once,for example.) As for me, I don't really hate Babs, but I feel like she's more at home with singing Broadway musicals & movie themes than singing rock & roll. Listen to her cover Joe Cocker's "Space Captain" (1972) or the Harry Nillsson & Randy Newman songs on the "Stoney End" album for proof that she can sing pop-rock a little bit, if not spectacularly, it just depends on your open mind. On the other hand, she can sing Carole King and Laura Nyro compositions without hardly any problems. It just depends on your tolerance. Parker & Stones' hatred of her to me seems a bit cold-blooded.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Rob, thanks, as always, for the input. I thought the MechaStreisand episode was quite funny myself, especially when Robert Smith of the Cure comes in. My tolerance of Lenon covers will always be quite limited I reckon!

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  3. Ow, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Awful! To be fair to Babs and her nasal honking though, I'm struggling to imagine John Lennon pulling off a version of, say, Don't Rain On My Parade either.

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    Replies
    1. But he'd have more sense than to attempt it. No, he'd leave that to David Sylvian...

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  4. Darryl, you have now struck "BOTTOM". with this BABling womanizing woman, she should never have been allowed to aproach the microphone during this recording session. What next? HELLen Ready?
    As always, Darryl, God bless you for all you do here in Cyberland. I shall play this song over & over again at all my little tea parties.

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  5. Give her credit for taking on this song which was hardly ever a chart-topper. It lacks Lennon's sincere intensity of course, but could have been much worse.

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  6. The only way this COULD have been worse, is if YOU would have sung it, Keir.

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    Replies
    1. WHAT?! I'll have you know I won 10 quid singing I Gotta be Me in some pub in Co. Wicklow once...

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. The problem with Barbra Streisand, methinks, is that someone said she was the best singer in the Universe and she believed it. That "someone" might even have been herself.

    Her so-called sense of humour doesn't help much: a windbreaking noise in her version of the Beatles' "Honey Pie", an album called "Barbra Streisand and other musical instruments" and another album titled "Songbird" which sports her on cover with a... dog with a handwritten note "sorry, couldn't find a bird". All this on mighty Columbia Records; as an indie artist she would have a little excuse for such tackiness. There are other examples, but please spare me from trying to remember.

    That said, I admit I like one or two of her recordings, like "People" - but then again I never said I was perfect.

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  9. Im sorry but John Lennon couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. I'm not a fan of Barbara Streisand, but her doing his songs is just like something bad doing something rotten. Lennon was overrated, and he couldnt sing. And he had no talent other than being pompous and arrogant and marrying Yoko Ono.

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  10. SOUNDED FINE TO ME-
    I THINK YOU JUST WANT TO BE A FOLLOWER AND PLAY BASH THE BABS.

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  11. BARBRA RULES! YOU ARE JUST TONE DEAF!

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  12. You're DEAF. Barbra's version was so much better than his bland version. She created a sense of longing through them "shrieks" that you described. Her vocal ability is UNMATCHED. As an actress she carried this song better than Lennon could on his best day. Barbra isn't an opera singer, she's the best pop vocalist of all time. At the time Barbra was considered pop and Lennon wasn't. So I don't get that "Barbra shouldn't sing pop" part.

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    Replies
    1. You're right Alex, Barbra isn't an opera singer, as was proved on her dreadful Classical Barbra album - which the Washington Post critic Joseph McLellan compared to Florence Foster Jenkins.

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