1964 One Man Academy: Album of the Year
- Rule Zero
Frustrating and also good:
- The Barbra Streisand Album, Barbra Streisand
The Barbra Streisand Album
Delight and Disappointment
The Barbra Streisand Album would be less frustrating if Ms. Streisand weren't so talented. It's startling to see the album hinder its own brilliance, simply by doin' too much.
One of the better examples: "My Honey's Loving Arms". If you're not already listening to it, check it out and then come back once it's over.
On a basic level, the song has good bones: it's well conceived and written. The arrangement is fantastic. And those vocals! Barbra glides along, building energy with the band, and rises to a crescendo before the entire damn thing comes tumbling down on her last note: "arms?"
I find it infuriating... maybe it's just me.
While that song is a particularly glaring example, there are a few moments on the album that feel too madcap or too self-indulgent for my tastes, and those moments undermine what should be a great album.
"My Honey's Loving Arms" in particular, though, feels like a wasted opportunity at something that could have been spectacular. I'm honestly quite sad about it.
We have to talk about "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"... but only briefly, I suppose: it's officially the OMAs very first Deal Breaker: a song that, all by itself, disqualifies an entire album from OMA consideration.[1:1]
My search for answers
Through the 1964 Grammys, only 4 of 32 Album of the Year nominations have come from female artists: Ella Fitzgerald (1959), Judy Garland (1962), The Singing Nun (1964), and Barbra Streisand (1964).
My frustrations notwithstanding, Barbra's album feels more assertive than the other three, for lack of a better word.
While trying to make sense of my feelings about the album, I found myself imagining that "assertiveness" as a statement of female empowerment. Barbra ends her songs however she wants, she sings as wacky or as seriously as she wants, she sings as loud and as hard as she wants, and the important part isn't the music... the important part is that she's the boss.
Of course it's just as possible that she's not the boss... that her producers thought a certain sound would sell more records, so they made her do it.[1:2]
Still, it got me pondering where this album exists in the course of women's rights.
The Barbra Streisand Album was released in 1963 and nominated for the 1964 awards. Off the top of my head, I immediately thought of two points of context:
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show doesn't exist, yet.
It won't begin airing until 1970.[1:3]
- It's still legal to restrict a woman from opening her own bank account and having her own lines of credit.
That's not fixed until a piece of legislation is passed in 1974, with a huge assist coming from Lindy Boggs.
And while checking on those two dates, I stumbled across one more:
- It's still legal to block all access to birth control.
That's not fixed until Supreme Court rulings in 1965 and 1972.
With Mary Tyler Moore 6 years away, open access to birth control 8 years away, the freedom to control your own finances 10 years away, and only 4 female AOTY nominees in 32 chances, it becomes easier for me to imagine a world where this album, featuring a woman singing exactly how she wants, is a remarkable statement. And imagining it as such puts my mind at rest, so I'm going with it. (Once my context embargo is done, maybe I'll double back and research.)