Album: Till I Loved You
Artist: Barbra Streisand
Released 25 October 1988
It had been four years since Barbra Streisand had released a studio album of original material – 1984’s Emotion that peaked at #19 on the Billboard Ho t 200. But she had hardly been idle. During that time she had recorded The Broadway Album, an unlikely #1 record in 1984, and One Voice, a live concert album that went all the way to #10. After years of working with older material it was time for her to look again to the pop charts for although both Broadway and Voice sold well neither produced a US Top 40 hit (Somewhere from Broadway had peaked just under at #43).
Streisand’s albums had tended to swing between “pop” and “classic” (“classic” covering everything from classical to Broadway) her stabs at pop netting her varying success. Back in 1980 she had asked Barry Gibb to write her an album and at that point the Bee Gees were one the biggest music acts in the world. The Streisand-Gibb collaboration became Guilty, Streisand’s most obvious attempt at a popular record and also her most successful – having moved 20 million copies, Guilty is her biggest selling album.
In Till I Loved You Streisand doesn’t so obviously aim for pop but instead targets its gentler cousin “Adult Contemporary”. It made a lot of sense at this point given the ageing of her core audience and that fact that her 1970s pop material was finding a second home on easy listening radio stations. Her AC objective is reflected in some of the producers here. In 1988 Quincy Jones, Phil Ramone, Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager were not exactly the “of the moment” a la 1980 Bee Gees, but all were seasoned and knew how to coax magic out of a good song.
The concept behind Till I Loved You was to chart the course of a relationship. In practice it doesn’t feel as obvious as other concept albums – compare it to Alexander O’Neal’s 1987 superb Hearsay, for example, which tells a story of O’Neal at a party, some of the heavy lifting done with spoken interludes. Instead here it’s up to the songs alone themselves to push the narrative. As far as concepts go this one is subtle, but effective, taking the listener on a journey from looking for love, to finding and being in it, to losing it then learning to be hopeful again.
In Guilty Streisand had sought to be “hip”. With The Broadway Album proving that she could be successful on her terms in Till I Loved You she stops chasing fashion and just allows herself to be. The result was an assured, adult, confident record.
1. The Places You Find Love (Glen Ballard, Clifton Magness)
It is Quincy Jones who produced this track and a year later it appeared on his Back on the Block. Here, however, it’s used as an effective starter, the lyrics being rather literal about it – “It was raining, when I met you.” The song builds slowly, finally exploding with an all-star chorus that includes Luther Vandross, Dionne Warwick, James Ingram and Jennifer Holliday. Just a couple of them would have been overkill but all of them? The songwriters are no unknowns either, a pre-Wilson Phillips and Alanis Morissette Glen Ballard and a pre-Avril Lavigne Clif Magness.
Fun fact: This song won the Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s) Grammy, but in 1991 for the Back on the Block version.
2. On My Way To You (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Michael Legrand)
This song sounds a lot like a cut from a movie soundtrack and it won’t be a surprise to learn that the three writers had worked together on Yentl. In fact, this track would have fit perfectly in that movie.
Fun fact: In reaching #9 the Yentl soundtrack actually placed better than Till I Loved You which peaked at #10.
3. Till I Loved You (Maury Yeston)
Remember when Barbra Streisand and Don Johnson dated? It wasn’t as high profile as their subsequent hook ups (her with Andre Agassi, he reuniting with Melanie Griffith) but their short-lived relationship gave us two collaborations on this record of which this is the first. This was also the album’s lead single. From the musical Goya it had been sung by Placido Domingo and Dionne Warwick on that soundtrack, and would later be covered by Domingo and Jennifer Rush as a pop release. Streisand and Johnson’s version took Barbra to #25 on the Hot 100 (her second to last top 40 hit). There’s some sweet lover canoodling at the end of the track and even though at the time pairing smelled of exploitation (or vanity) the two of them actually sound pretty great together.
Fun fact: The Streisand and Johnson version reached #16 in the UK while Domingo and Rush stalled out there at #25.
4. Love Light (Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager)
There are three Bacharach-Bayer Sager songs on this album and this is the weakest. This is a slightly unforgettable number and it might have been far more interesting to see Streisand cover another Bacharach-Bayer Sager “light” song, Heartlight, the ET themed track they wrote with Neil Diamond. Love Light does showcase some amazing vocals, though, some of Streisand’s best moments on the entire album.
Fun fact: Two of the co-writers of Streisand and Diamond’s hit You Don’t Bring Me Flowers were track 2’s Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
5. All I Ask of You (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, Richard Stilgoe)
While this is a “pop” album it carries “classic” DNA such as this cover of the Phantom of the Opera standard. As lovely a version as it is it doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the record. The song can’t help but sound like a refugee from the Broadway album, even though Phantom debuted in 1986 so it missed that ship by two years. But as the most well known song from a show that was red hot in 1988 it was a commercially sound decision to include All here and Streisand clearly did not want to wait for another covers album to plant her flag in such a classic.
Fun fact: All I Ask of You was the second single from the album and although not a US pop hit it made #3 on Adult Contemporary chart.
6. You and Me For Always (Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager)
The second Bacharach and Bayer Sager contribution is an improvement on the first but not by much. But whether intentional or unintended there’s some nice resonance back to Love Light when this song speaks of “a light inside that will lead me home”.
Fun fact: Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager had previously worked with Streisand as co-writers of the track Niagara on 1979’s Wet.
7. Why Let It Go? (Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Alan Hawkshaw, Barry Mason)
Here is another song that sounds a lot like it belongs on a soundtrack, it too feeling very Yentl-esque. Streisand was inclined, particularly in the 1970s and 1984’s Emotion, to oversing weaker material. In this track that’s never at risk, it allows Streisand to soar without the song itself ever feeling it will be swamped.
Fun fact: Co-writer Alan Hawkshaw composed the theme song for classic UK series Grange Hill.
8. Two People (Barbra Streisand, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman)
Streisand is known as a singer but she does have some impressive writing credits, including Evergreen. Here she joins the Bergmans and they manage to craft one of those rare songs that feels both old and new – like a standard or stage show gem that’s been found and polished anew.
Fun fact: Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s The Way We Were (written with Marvin Hamlisch) was not just a huge hit for Streisand but also won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Song of the Year Grammy.
9. What Were We Thinking Of? (Antonina Armato, Scott Cutler)
The second collaboration with Don Johnson sees him singing back up on this break up song. It’s one of the most pop sounding tracks here and was released as the album’s third single. While it didn’t take Barbra back in the top 40 it did make some noise on the Adult Contemporary chart.
Fun fact: Prolific songwriter Antonina Armato had written I Still Believe for Brenda K Starr the previous year and is still writing top ten hits in 2015 (The Heart Wants What It Wants by Selena Gomez).
10. Some Good Things Never Last (Mark Radice)
One of this album’s successes is that the songs are all harmonious. While it could have meant they’re all a little samey, each delivers a slightly different punch. Here that punch is bitterweetness, as befits a song that speaks of the central relationship falling apart. Writer Mark Radice writes a near perfect line to explain how it feels during a breakup – “But what good is holding on when all you can do is think about letting go?”
Fun fact: Mark Radice toured with Aerosmith but subsequently worked with Jim Henson and has had a long history with the Muppets and Sesame Street.
11. One More Time Around (Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Tom Keane)
Of the three Bacharach-Bayer Sager compositions this is the strongest. It’s not nearly their best or best-known work but it’s certainly one of their songs that deserves to be covered by others. This mid-tempo ballad sparks with hopefulness in the face of a broken heart. There is a charm to ending the album this way, not with wistful backward glances but eyes forward. Streisand herself sounds positive and confident. It’s a great place to leave the listener, wishing there was another track and looking forward to the next Streisand classic.
Fun fact: Co-writer Tom Keane was one of The Keane Brothers, a pre-teen duo that released four albums and hosted The Keane Brothers Show, a variety series that ran on CBS in 1977 as a summer replacement for Wonder Woman.