I think the randomizer I’ve been using for the Every Number-One Single challenge is trying to figure out just how gay this challenge could be! At least given that the last review for the challenge was one of Pet Shop Boys‘ biggest hits, with Barbra Streisand up to bat next – all we need is to cover “I’m Too Sexy” and maybe a song from Katy Perry and we’re set!
In all seriousness, though, Barbra Streisand is an absolute queen. I hope that one day the randomizer I use for this challenge lands on “The Way We Were”, her very first number-one hit (which, fittingly, was also a soundtrack cut from a popular film of the day), so I can truly gush over how much I love her crystal-clear singing voice and that song especially. I want to emphasize this first and foremost because, as it stands, one might not get that impression over how lukewarm I am with the single that the randomizer did land on this time.
As always, though, I’ll preface with a bit of background on this single at hand. Although I’ve included the reverse format as the title for this review, the official title for this single is “Love Theme from A Star Is Born (Evergreen)” – which sure seems like a mouthful, but I guess that’s how things were run in 1977. The song was primarily written by Paul Williams, who was hot off the trails of writing a string of hits through the 70s, including Three Dog Night’s “An Old-Fashioned Love Song”, Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World”, and The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays”. Although Paul Williams is highly accomplished across many fields of music, film, and theater, this is his only composition that has topped the Hot 100 (although both aforementioned Carpenters tunes peaked at #2). This record won both the Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Original Song; since Streisand was given co-writer credit, this made her the first female winner of the latter award recognized as composer! It was also big at that year’s Grammys, where it tied for Song of the Year with… Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life”. Argh.
As for this song… yeah, I feel kind of bad that I don’t feel very strongly about it, one way or another. It does have its positive qualities, don’t get me wrong! The twinkly piano, swelling strings, and soft, airy melody so typical of Williams’s most accomplished works are all here, and for the most part it makes for a pretty pleasant listening experience. Whereas a lot of the adult contemporary tunes from decades following tend to have this similar empty quality to them, soft-pop tunes of the 70s were relatively more willing to experiment with different sounds and tones. The biggest example of such comes with acts like The Carpenters, Bread, James Taylor, and Linda Ronstadt who, regardless of quality, all have a distinct type of softness that varies greatly from one another. In Streisand’s case, the centerpiece for much of her tunes comes with her voice. It was the case with her first chart-topper “The Way We Were”, and with “Evergreen”, the instrumentals seem to dance around her voice, ebbing and swelling as she sees fit.
Nonetheless, it is a bit painful having to go from the natural intensity of “The Way We Were”, to “Evergreen” which in many ways sounds like a sort of rehash of its predecessor. It even begins the same way – with a lone piano playing a few simple chords while Streisand warms up with some brief vocalizations. Both songs follow a similar AABA verse format and both embark upon a continual rise in emotional swell and instrumental complexity, until its final climactic seconds. The major difference between the two, of course, comes with the lyrics – “The Way We Were” is about a relationship gone dead, while “Evergreen” is a love letter from the speaker to the person to whom she is committed. A simple, pretty love song is fine and good every so often, sure. Though I can’t help but feel that this sentiment was already bettered with Williams’s other composition “We’ve Only Just Begun”, which has a similarly airy sound, but is spearheaded by gorgeous production and memorable lyrics.
On that note, it is the lyricism where “Evergreen” tends to falter the most. The opening couplet alone is enough to drown this song in its cheesy romantic sensibility: “Love, soft as an easy chair / Love, fresh as the morning air”. I am also not a huge fan of the lines, “Spirits rise and their dance is unrehearsed / They warm and excite us, ’cause we have the brightest love” – it’s all just a little too much, especially for a song that is supposed to be simple and delicate. Though it’s been almost two years since I wrote a brief paragraph on this song for my overview of 1977’s top 100 songs, I still hold the same opinion that there are a handful of other much better Streisand tunes to check out before reaching for this one. Once again, it’s not a bad way to spend three minutes… but then again, it being the fourth biggest song of the year is a bit much.