A Star Is Born
Barbra Streisand / Kris Kristofferson
Released: December 1976
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 51
Certified 4x Platinum: 10/26/84
A Star Is Born, half dreary soap opera, half bitter truth about the entertainment industry and its corridors of power and fear, is a durable little tale. It made its first appearance in the Thirties, starring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March. In the Fifties came a Judy Garland and James Mason version with a score by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin -- its first musical treatment. Now, in the Seventies, comes the Streisand version, with a new score drawn from a number of sources.
Briefly, it is the story of a great male star who meets a young girl struggling to make the Big Time. It traces their romance, her rise to superstardom, his gradual professional eclipse owing to alcoholism, and finally the "way out" of suicide (the original by WIlliam Wellman and Robert Carson had echoes of the real-life story of Greta Garbo and silent matinee idol John Gilbert, the latter of whom became technologically unemployed with the arrival of the talkies -- eventually turning to the bottle and apparently committing suicide).
The soundtrack of the Streisand version of this popular Hollywood myth is, frankly, a big disappointment. The hero (Kris Kristofferson) is now a rock idol and the girl (Streisand) is a struggling singer, which ought to have made the problems of story/song integration a whole lot easier. Maybe too easy, for the songs (by several hands, and not a rocker among them -- Barbra doesn't do that kind of thing) seem just to plop on by, one by one, pieces of special material tailored to the scale (larger than life) and the dynamism (considerable) of heroine Streisand.
There are, I must confess, three happy exceptions, all by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher. Kristofferson gets one, "Hellacious Acres" (hell as an amusement park), and he performs it with such manic fury I didn't know he had in him. Streisand gets the other two. "The Woman in the Moon" is a really good song that may have just a superficial touch of women's lib about it ("I was warned as a child of thirteen/ Not to act too strong..."), but it moves beyond contemporary sexual politics to become a song about personal freedom for everyone. It is unquestionably a Streisand Song, and she bites into the highly charged lyrics ("Keep on pushin'/ Don't believe a word about/ Things you heard about/ Askin' too much too soon...") with the kind of dramatic conviction only she seems able to muster these days. Fan or not, one has to applaud that kind of steely magnificence.
One of Streisand's least recognized (or perhaps least publicized) talents is her executive instinct. She has alway shad the unerring sense of the right person for the right job -- that job being, of course, the provision of the material, direction, whatever, that sets Barbra off to precisely the best advantage. Part of that instinct was knowing when to give others their head as creative artists, when to step out of the kitchen. Here, for some mysterious, Jerry Lewis-ish reason, she stayed at the stove to cook up the music for "The Love Theme from a Star Is Born," a wet-dream theme out of Brahms adapted for a TV deodorant commercial, and lyrics for "Lost Inside of You" (music by Leon Russell -- he, at least, is a rocker) that are as contrived as a Middleton double-crostic. The result is a general lowering of standards; the songs contributed by Rupert Holmes, Donna Weiss, and Alan and Marilyn Bergman are all sadly, mechanically routine.
Streisand will most likely have to take the rap for the packaging too, from the tacky Scavullo photo of her and Kristofferson locked in a nude embrace to the series of stills from the film, mostly bare flesh and heavy breathing -- except for the "performance" shots, which manage to give the really spooky impression that "A Star Is Born" might actually be (pardon my irreverence) "The Story of Sonny & Cher."
- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 3/77.
Hey, nobody listens to soundtrack albums, right? But this one is atypical -- classy-looking -- and a lot of people, Streisand fans especially, might think the music is equal to the package. Instead, it's dreadful. Streisand's voice is mixed way in front, making it sound as if the band and chorus were out in the trailer. The material is the worst sort of histrionic supper-club stuff, much of it made ridiculous by being cheered raucously by a crowd at a pseudorock festival. In addition to a pair of duets with Streisand, Kris Kristofferson sings only three songs, sounding hurried and awkward (which makes one fond of him).
The Streisand name is all over this album, always with top billing: as coproducer, cowriter of three songs and singer on eight. None of these jobs is done particularly well.
- Ken Tucker, Rolling Stone, 2/24/77.
Due largely to Kris Kristofferson, whose recording career will soon be as vestigial as George Segal's, the move isn't quite the ripoff you'd figure, but the album, which lists at a pricey $8.98, most certainly is. As with all soundtracks, you get the stars' voices but not their chests, and Rupert Holmes and Paul Williams have ended up with the kind of rock and roll cliches that real rockers assume. But what else could I expect? Neither Barbra nor Kris has made a listenable album, much less a stellar one, in the history of Consumer Guide. D+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
A Star Is Born was no stranger to the summit of the Billboard album chart. Prior to the rock era, in 1954, Judy Garland had a Number One album with the soundtrack to the first remake of the 1937 film classic. To remake the film yet again would be a risky move for most, but not for Barbra Streisand. By 1977, Streisand had starred on Broadway and in films, hosted her own TV specials, and scored two Number One albums.
Yet Streisand's version of A Star Is Born would not be a mere remake. It would feature new music, including two songs co-written by Streisand herself. Despite her enormous talent, songwriting was unusual for Streisand. Prior to A Star Is Born, she'd had only one other composing credit.
One song, "Lost Inside of You," was written by Streisand and Leon Russell. The pair were introduced through the actor Gary Busey, who was a mutual friend. Streisand wrote "Love Theme from 'A Star Is Born' (Evergreen)" on the acoustic guitar after learning how to play the instrument for a scene in the film. Although the scene was cut from the film, the song survived and went on to become one of Streisand's biggest hits.
The music wasn't the only thing different from the film's two earlier incarnations. "From the very beginning, Barbra and the film's producer Jon Peters wanted to record live," says Phil Ramone. "Every shot was edited to fit the vocal that was performed and it certainly added a dimension to the picture."
Many of the live scenes and songs in the film were recorded at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, during a concert headlined by Peter Frampton. "We had originally gone into the studio to pre-record songs," says Ramone. "But Barbra knew that me and my little team would be able to record the live material right. It would not just feel like Woodstock, it would feel bigger than that."
A Star Is Born also marked a technological first. "Barbra allowed me to explore the usage of a Dolby four-track," says Ramone. "The film company actually paid for the installation of the system in 25 or 30 theaters across America."
Although Kris Kristofferson, who played an alcoholic rocker in the film, was featured on five of the album's 12 songs, including three solo tracks, Streisand was clearly the star. In its 10th week on the Top LPs & Tapes chart, A Star Is Born shot to Number One. It was still holding there when "Love Theme from 'A Star Is Born' (Evergreen)" hit Number One on the Hot 100, giving Streisand simultaneous Number Ones.
- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums, 1996.
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