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The Way We Were (1973) - Barbra Streisand - All About the Song

"When a composer is rejected by a singer, it's always the composer who doesn't get the vocalist he wants - the pleasure of having his music heard by millions of people makes up for all those misses!"

The story behind the song "The Way We Were" by Barbra Streisand.

"The Way We Were" is the title song of the film of the same name starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. The composition was written by author duo Alan and Marilyn Bergman, with music composed by Marvin Hamlisch. "The Way We Were" was Barbra Streisand's first single... It became a resounding success, just like the film itself: today "The Way We Were" is included in the list of the hundred best songs from American films for 100 years according to AFI, occupying an honourable eighth place... The song brought the authors several prestigious awards, and nowadays it was included in the Hall of Fame of the Grammy Awards. Streisand released her famous album of the same name a year later....

Recording process...

Barbra Streisand. Photo: Archive
Barbra Streisand. Photo: Archive

"Every night I said a prayer: 'Please, Lord, let Barbra Streisand sing one of my songs one day...,'" Marvin Hamlisch admitted in his 1996 interview. At the time of that prayer in 1964, Hamlisch was the pianist in rehearsal for Streisand's Broadway debut. "At the time, I thought, "Funny, but a very talented girl!" Though he wrote "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," a minor hit for Lesley Gore, his reputation was hardly enough to turn the future diva's head....

...and so, after ten years and several film soundtracks, Hamlisch got a call from his friend Ray Stark asking him to write a song for the film "Meeting of Two Hearts". By the way: in the film's plot, a serious Jewish girl unexpectedly falls in love... with Hubble High's first handsome boy! Hamlisch endeavoured to capture the whole scenario in his song:

"I wanted to reflect all the sadness, despondency and pain of this relationship, its stellar nature... Absolutely everything!"

Young Marvin Hamlisch
Young Marvin Hamlisch

But the knowledge that the song was intended specifically for Streisand made Hamlisch overly cautious at first.....

"Whatever I did, I heard Barbra's voice in my head and remembered how wonderful she sounded when she held certain notes. I wanted to let it soar... I was determined not to write anything sentimental. To be honest, my first attempts were in that direction. I would work for three hours, then leave the piano and try again the next day. At night my dreams were accompanied by a soundtrack, and it was always Streisand's voice singing..."

Hamlisch said he finally wrote a tune that he was "just blown away" by! He added:

"I tried minor-key melodies, but I thought they didn't really fit... It was as if they hinted that the couple had no future. So I wrote a main key melody that was sad, but at the same time had high hopes for the main characters' romance..."

Author duo Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who have had a long-standing friendship with Streisand, added a beautiful lyric that began with an unforgettable line:

"Memories illuminate the corners of my memory,
Blurry watercolours of memories of,
What we were..."

The trio performed the composition for Streisand at her home. She liked it very much, but made a few minor suggestions about the melody.

Use in the film

A still from the film Two Hearts Meeting.
A still from the film Two Hearts Meeting.

As they left Streisand's house, Hamlisch was sure they had all worked on the song for free.....

"It was a shock when, on the way home, Alan suggested that maybe we could have had more success with that song!" he recalls. "I'd put my whole heart into what I'd written and I just didn't think it could turn out to be a success... There was absolutely no way to overthink it..."

But they rethought it, creating a second version that was "more complex and less sentimental." Streisand recorded both, and they auditioned for the film. Director Sydney Pollack, the film's stars and Columbia Pictures executives took part in the vote. Some sources say that Streisand was the only vote against the song being in the film... According to actress Anna Edwards' biography, Streisand told Hamlisch that the song was too sentimental:

"So is 'My Funny Valentine,'" Hamlisch objected. "I hate 'My Funny Valentine,'" Streisand replied sharply.

After the drama played out, the song was dropped from the original version of the film. Hamlisch recalls a test screening in which the audience was not moved by the final scene where Streisand and Redford realise they have no future together... Afterwards, Hamlisch begged Columbia Pictures to let him re-record the song scene. And they relented, though on the condition that he pay for the recording.

"Believe me, it wasn't just a little thing!", Hamlisch said years later. "But I got what I wanted..."

With the song in the final scene, the film was tested again. Hamlisch recalls:

"I heard a woman in the audience cry. And then another. And in a few minutes there wasn't a dry eye left in a square metre... I knew I was right. And it was worth every penny!"

Success, impact!

The song "the way we were" by Barbra Streisand....
The song "the way we were" by Barbra Streisand....

For Streisand, this sentimental song was number one! For Hamlisch, who died in 2012, it remained his personal favourite, both musically and lyrically....

"When a composer is rejected by a singer, it's always the composer who doesn't get the vocalist he wants - the pleasure of having his music heard by millions of people makes up for all those misses!"

In 1974, Streisand's album of the same name was released, which became a cause for litigation... At that time, Rastar was also distributing a film soundtrack with the same title, and film producer Ray Stark sued the artist to prevent Barbra's studio album from competing with their album... Well: Streisand eventually lost that "legal battle", and changed the title of her record to "Barbara Streisand: Featuring The Way We Were And All In Love Is Fair". However, in a sense, she did defend her rights: years later, after the release of a remastered version of the album on compact disc, the original title was restored on the cover: "The Way We Were".....

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