Streisand’s “Experimental” LP

Just for fun, find a casual fan of Barbra Streisand‘s music, and study her/his reaction closely when you play a fairly obscure track – “Come Back To Me” – for his/her virgin ears:

“Come Back to Me”     Barbra Streisand     1973

Believe me, Zero to 180 is just as stunned as you are to find Streisand’s name attached to a history piece on “experimental pop” — and yet here we are, thanks to 1973’s Barbra Streisand … And Other Musical Instruments being included (#34) in Mojo’s list of The 50 Most Out There Albums of All Time in their March 2005 issue, alongside such (truly) outre artists as Ennio Morricone, John Coltrane, Holy Modal Rounders, Hawkwind, Funkadelic, Captain Beefheart, and (of course) Sun Ra.

Mojo - 50 Most Out There Albums

Mojo’s Jonny Trunk explains the album’s concept, as a whole —

“The soundtrack to Barbra’s fifth TV special, the plan was to explore – literally (and laterally) – the world of sound and music, as opposed to the world of just Babs again.  This Barbra is on a sonic world trip, and the luggage is piled very high, indeed — percussion from all global villages including darabukas, gagakus, o-daikos and baglamas, as well as Moogs, mellotrons, Studers, Arps, a Putney (!) and a Tempophon.  And don’t forget the bagpipes.  They’re from Ireland.”

“Come Back to Me,” one of the more experimental tracks on the album, finds Streisand, as Trunk playfully puts it, “talking to herself through delay pedals.”

Avant-Streisand:  Experimental Pop – emphasis on Pop

Barbra-Streisand-LP-b

Would you be surprised to learn that Billboard would deem …And Other Musical Instruments to be one of their “Top Album Picks” for the week of November 10, 1973?

“Since this is the soundtrack from her TV special, there are plenty of effects one can only enjoy with all the senses.  But since you can’t see the things going on as Barbra walks through all the visual settings which are at the core of the program, your imagination has to take command.  Nonetheless, her fine tones and majestic power are sheer entertainment.  There are lots of off-beat ideas, like an Indian raga effect on ‘I Got Rhythm’ and sound effects on ‘The World Is a Concerto.’  ‘Glad To Be Unhappy’ is Barbra at her ballad best.  Ken and Mitzi Welch’s arrangements for TV provide an interesting experience on record.”

The commercial response to Barbra Streisand’s most daring work – before and forevermore – can be shown in the album’s Billboard rankings:

  • entered the Pop chart at #146 for the week of November 24, 1973;
  • advanced to #115 the following week, December 1, 1973;
  • climbed to #75 the next week, December 8, 1973;
  • peaked at #64 the week of December 22, 1973;
  • before beginning a downward descent — #132 the week of February 9, 1974;
  • down to #149 the following week, February 16, 1974;
  • hanging on at #191 the week of March 9, 1974 before dropping from the charts.

Ten years later, Billboard‘s Paul Grein would report in his “Chart Beat” column that the TV special, unfortunately, had been “poorly received.”  38 years later, a test pressing of Streisand’s … And Other Musical Instruments LP would fetch $30 at auction in 2011.

Hendrix, Beatles, the Stones … and Streisand:
K-Tel Luminaries

Barbra Streisand – whose considerable commercial heft makes her, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, the world’s best selling female recording artist – would famously relax her “No K-Tel” policy in order to allow “Evergreen” (Theme from A Star Is Born) to appear on 1981 K-Tel release The Elite (US, Canada, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and the Netherlands), as well as 1981’s The Platinum Album (UK, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Greece, New Zealand & Australia).

K-Tel's The EliteK-Tel's The Platinum Album

Streisand would also give consent for the inclusion of chart-topping hit “People” (from Funny Girl) on K-Tel Brazil’s Sucessos Nunca Esquecidos, as well as special 2-LP set, Stars for Jerusalem, in partnership with Columbia Special Products, under the auspices of The Jerusalem Foundation.

K-Tel's Sucessos Nunca EsquecidosK-Tel's Stars for Jerusalem

Canadian version of Stars for Jerusalem reveals – Bob Dylan on K-Tel cover!

K-Tel's Stars for Jerusalem- rear cover