Bioscoop

 Barbra Streisand & Burt Bacharach

According to Streisand audiophile Alec Straitden, this CD includes the same take of "Alfie" from Barbra's album "What About Today?" -- but the way it's been cleaned up and remastered is astounding. "I would love to hear all of Barbra's catalogue remastered like this. It was like hearing it for the first time!" he said.

So, for Barbra fans that are hankering for something "fresh" from Streisand, go to Starbuck's and pick up some Bacharach. In addition to Barbra's "Alfie," there are other great songs on the CD, too, like the Shirelles’ “Baby, It’s You,” Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over” and Aretha Franklin’s “I Say A Little Prayer for You.”

Composer Burt Bacharach was a sensation in the later 1960's and 1970's when he was at the top of his craft, working actively and producing hit after hit. He won an Oscar ("Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"), a Grammy ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") and an Emmy ("Singer Presents Burt Bacharach"), all within a five-year span. That was positively Streisandian, as Barbra had pulled off the same feat by 1969.

And just like Barbra was splashed on Newsweek's cover in 1970, "Superstar: The Streisand Story," six months later Bacharach was on the magazine cover with a piece called "The Music Man," in which he was compared to George Gershwin.

Since the late 1960’s, Barbra Streisand has been friends with Bacharach. In fact, when Streisand made her first appearance at the Oscars, April 10, 1968, she handed out Best Song to Sammy Davis, Jr. who was accepting for the winners, Anthony Newly and Leslie Bricusse, for "Talk to the Animals" from "Dr. Doolittle."

However, Barbra had really hoped that she'd be giving the Oscar to Bacharach and lyricist Hal David for the song "The Look of Love" from "Casino Royale" -- which had been the favorite to take the prize.

Barbra didn't have long to feel felt bad for her friend Burt; two years later, April 7, 1970, Bacharach collected two Oscars for "Butch Cassidy" including Best Song for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head."

Ironically, that night Streisand was most likely pulling for another group of good friends, Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Michel Legrand. They were nominated in that same category for "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" -- a song that Barbra adored. She loved it so much that she’d even offered to sing it in the film, "The Happy Ending."

It would have been a coup, but director Richard Brooks turned her down. He knew that the Streisand voice was too recognizable by then and would have taken viewers out of the film. Brooks he wanted a male singer who wasn't familiar to listeners, and that was exactly what he got. Singer Michael Dees provided the vocal and is still unknown to this day.

But back to Bacharach, he and Barbra were very friendly at that time, often playing tennis together. According to Barbra, Burt usually beat her, but then he was considered one of the best players at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. The Streisand and Bacharach's friendship extended off the court, too, and in 1971, Barbra got Burt on a stage where she had the upper hand -- television.

Streisand had won a couple of Emmys by 1971, and her specials had earned many nominations. Bacharach, meanwhile, had been appearing on shows like "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and "The Merv Griffin Show," where he was cute and funny and played the piano. He couldn't sing very well, but he was charming.

Bacharach’s first two TV specials had been successful, but not home runs. He’d been working with the same creative team that Barbra had relied on -- Dwight Hemion and Gary Smith -- but specials failed to win the Emmy. To create a special that highlighted what Burt did best -- composing and talking -- Hemion and Smith turned to Barbra.

She was one of three guests on "Singer Presents Burt Bacharach," the other two were dancer Rudolf Nereyev and pop singer Tom Jones. But it was “A Special Appearance By Barbra Streisand" that set this show apart.

It was this Bacharach special that won an Emmy as Outstanding Variety or Musical Program, and when Burt Bacharach went to the stage to accept the award, he made a point to thank Barbra Streisand, acknowledging that it was her performance that made it an award-winning show.

The final 20 minutes of the hour was all Burt and Barbra. At the piano, they talked for a while about her moving into contemporary music with "Stoney End," then Burt mentioned about how much he adored the way Barbra sang ballads.

The scene transitioned to Barbra alone on a stage singing a duet with herself, "One Less Bell to Answer" and "A House Is Not A Home." Filmed in three set-ups, one long shot of Barbra from head to toe, and two dramatic profile angles so that she could be shown singing counterpoint to herself and acting the song.

It was ingenious, creative and bold. Nothing like it had ever been done on a television show. It's likely only a star as gifted as Barbra Streisand could have made it work as brilliantly as she did. It stands out as one of her greatest performances on film.

Following that high point, Streisand showed another side of herself by singing a duet with Burt, "Close to You." With the camera right on top of the two of them, capturing their interaction, the song was a veritable love scene. There was intimacy and chemistry…and thanks to Barbra, the same kind of sexy, playful humor that would be evident with Ryan O'Neal in "What's Up, Doc?"

As the last words of the song kept repeating, "close to you, close to you" with Barbra and Burt going back and forth with the line, it seemed like there was no way to end the tune. So Barbra said softly, "Burt, how do we end the song?" As she giggled, he embraced her and the audience just sighed.

In the final segment, Barbra sang "Be Aware," a song that Burt claimed on air that he and Hal David had written especially for Barbra. Her version of the song was apparently the first, but as Matt Howe of Barbra-Archives.com revealed, both Dionne Warwick (1972) and Laura Nyro (1995) recorded it later on. Streisand never did.

As for Barbra and "Alfie," everyone by now has heard Barbra's story about having recorded the song and later heard it on the radio only not to recall that it was her record. Her curiosity had been piqued about the song, though -- she wondered why she hadn't recorded it -- so she called the radio station and discovered that she had. It 1969. She’d completely forgotten it.

It seems unlikely, but Streisand is not wont to make up a story, although it did make for a good introduction when she did "Alfie" live in "Timeless" (2001). In fact, Barbra had been telling the "Alfie" story for years, so it likely was the truth.

But whatever the case, the original “Alfie,” from “What About Today?” is now it's available anew for Streisand fans via Starbuck's. Hmm… maybe I’ll get a scone to go with my Bacharach, Barbra and a cup of coffee!

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