Lost in the ’80s: When New Wave Happens to Old Artists — Barbra Streisand
It’s the age-old story in pop music — when the hits start drying up, it’s time to grab the current “hot” producer and jump on the latest trend, hoping to ride it to the top of the charts. You know what I’m talking about, Madonna. After all, it worked at the dawn of the ’80s, when Streisand rode the Bee Gees’ heat to score a few huge hits from her collaboration with Barry Gibb on the Guilty album. But Streisand hadn’t had a Top 40 hit in four years when 1985 rolled around, yet she wasn’t quite ready to become relegated to standards and schmaltz yet (that would come with her next release, The Broadway Album). Babs wanted a hit, so the call went out and producer Richard Perry answered it.
Perry was white-hot at the time, coming off his production of the Pointer Sisters’ mega-platinum smash, Breakout, which just seemed to spawn hit after hit after hit (an astounding six singles were drawn from that album). Perry brought a song called “Emotion” (download) to Babs’s attention, and it was chosen to not only be the album’s namesake, but its first single. While not really new wave, per se, it was definitely awash in the synths and drum machines of the day, sounding much like a Pointer Sisters outtake. That could also have to do with the fact that the Sisters provide backing vocals on the tune.
Streisand’s longtime label, Columbia, must have had high hopes for “Emotion,” since they pulled out all the promotional stops. A sumptuously lavish video featuring guest stars Roger Daltrey (?) and Mikhail Baryshnikov (?!?) had thousands of dollars thrown at it, including securing heavy rotation as an MTV exclusive. The result was a camp-tacular spectacle. Make sure you at least get to the 2:30 mark to witness … PUNK-ROCK STREISAND!
Okay now, admit it — that could have been deeply embarrassing for everyone involved, but it was done with a knowing wink, so it comes off more cute than offensive (barely). However, it didn’t help “Emotion” on the charts, as radio didn’t seem to have time for New Wave Barbra. Columbia shrugged and basically gave up on the album, and Streisand retreated back to showtunes with her next release, the aforementioned Broadway Album, which sold tons and tons and wracked up about 87,253 Grammys, if memory serves.
Meh! Who needs to know from hits? Babs on Broadway is like buttah!
“Emotion” peaked at #79 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #14 on the Adult Contemporary Chart in 1985.
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