Barbra Streisand’s “Partners” Duets Ranked from Worst to First

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Throughout the years, La Streisand has offered us some memorable duets, but her latest offers a slew of new ones. Here’s what to expect, from “Why bother?” to “Wow!”

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12. I’d Want It to Be You (with Blake Shelton)

“The Voice” may have catapulted Blake Shelton to superstardom, but this bland and forgettable country track doesn’t do either him or Babs any favors. It seems to me that in a genre as bursting-at-the-seams with artists, Streisand could’ve picked better.

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11. Come Rain or Come Shine (with John Mayer)
“Come Rain or Come Shine” is one of my all-time favorite songs, but that doesn’t save this ill-conceived track. The best part is the guitar, which I’m assuming is Mayer, who noodles nicely around the melody with it. But vocally, both stars are not at their best, with Babs sounding forced and Mayer, catatonic.

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10. What Kind of Fool (with John Legend)
This track scores low (perhaps unfairly) because I was expecting the amazing Shirley Bassey number “What Kind of Fool Am I?” — which I think Streisand and Legend would have  knocked out of the park. What is it actually? Just nice-ish. Barbra sounds pretty good; Legend’s creamy vocals complement hers nicely, and the harmony works fine. I’d say: It sounds like a slightly-above-average 80s duet, but it’s not much to write home about.

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9. People (with Stevie Wonder)
Did we need another recording of Barbra doing “People”? Absolutely not. Even with Stevie lending the song a stepped up beat and some of his trademark harmonica, it never adds up to the explosion that a duet between artists of this magnitude should offer. I would’ve much preferred to hear them tackle a Wonder track, which asked Babs to step into his groove — perhaps “Sir Duke”?

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8. I Still Can See Your Face (with Andrea Bocelli)
Streisand steps squarely into Bocelli’s wheelhouse with this one, which features all the tell-tale signs of Bocelli: lush orchestrations, counterpoint lyrics in Italian, bombast. It’s serviceable — if not particularly thrilling. I would’ve preferred them to do something a capella. Also did no one question the ick-factor of asking a blind man to sing “I Still Can SEE Your Face?”

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7. Love Me Tender (with Elvis Presley)
It’s no “Unforgettable” — arguably the gold standard of alive people singing with dead people — but this track goes right in ways some of the others go wrong. A spare arrangement really highlights the vocal prowess of two inimitable voices. With both Queen and King sounding on-point, the song’s plaintive plea for love is highlighted to great emotional effect. It may be gimmicky, but it works.

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6. Somewhere (with Josh Groban)
Did anyone ever need to hear EITHER of these artists sing this song again? No. Fortunately, they seem to get that — keeping the track relatively short. Plus, either the arranger or Groban is to be credited with constructing a variety of intricate harmonies for the pair, which are delivered with both confidence and delicacy. I was surprised how much I liked this track — especially because I was sure I would despise it.

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5. Evergreen (with Babyface)
It seems like Babyface makes everyone sound better — and that’s almost true here. Certainly the arrangement brings new life and freshness to this old chestnut, and the result is a great track. However, it’s also true that Babyface’s vocal acrobatics  occasionally make it feel like he’s one of those pros on “Dancing with the Stars” that’s paired with an older contestant and so makes her basically stand still and  while he dances circles around her to distract from the fact that one of them is slightly crippled.

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4. The Way We Were (with Lionel Richie)
How nice it is to hear someone other than Barbra sing the opening line of this song?! And it just gets better from there. Streisand and Richie are perfectly matched and their harmony is beautiful. I had no idea I could enjoy re-encountering this song again so much.

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3. How Deep Is the Ocean (with Jason Gould)
Proud Mama Streisand allows son Jason Gould the longest Barbra-free opening of any track of the album — but that’s perfectly okay because this is an amazing song, and he sounds great. It’s beautiful to listen for vocal tricks he’s picked up from Mom over the years, and from the moment she joins in, it’s clear that Streisand is pouring every ounce of emotion she has into this song. The whole piece rises to an incredible climax that might be the purest expression of mother/son affection ever recorded.

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2. It Had to Be You (with Michael Bublé)
As you might expect with an old warhorse like this song, it starts sounding a little bit like a wedding at which the Best Man and the groom’s favorite aunt got up and decided to do a little ditty. But somewhere in the middle, it kicks into high gear with a huge boost in energy, fabulous harmony and interplay between Streisand and Bublé, and ultimately finishes with both a bang and a sense that the two artists had a blast making it happen.

Billy Joel, Self Assignment, January 7, 2006

1. New York State of Mind (with Billy Joel)
Damn, is Billy Joel still in great voice or what?! The fact that he sounds like he hasn’t aged a day does somewhat highlight the color that has crept into Barbra’s voice over the years — but I actually love hearing an artist mature in that way. And it doesn’t stop her from keeping up with him and taking the melody in interesting new directions. I love that you can really feel the musical conversation going on between these two titans. But, perhaps most importantly of all, you can really hear that these are two artists who love New York; it shines through from start to finish. As an added bonus, their little spoken exchange at the end (I won’t spoil it, but it’s so very New York) will absolutely melt your heart.

—–

Paul Hagen is the Editor-in-Chief of Metrosource Magazine and a contributor to The Focus Group with Tim Bennett and John Nash. Tweet to him @misterpaulhagen.

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31 PLAYS Y3 #31. ADULTEROUS HYGIENIST

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ADULTEROUS HYGIENIST (a play in one page)

BY PAUL HAGEN

(A fairly placid dentist’s waiting room. Patients thumb through magazines or fiddle with their phones. A receptionist chews gum as she minds the desk. Into the room, with the force of a supernova, charges the DENTIST’S WIFE. She is not at all okay about life at the moment.)

 

DENTIST’S WIFE

Where is he? You must tell me. You’re all in on it, you bitches!

Does he not know he can’t scratch his every itch because it itches?

And you fools sitting here? He puts his hands inside your mouth!

Mere moments after they’ve been in some slut pig from the South!

She may be the “hygienist” but her title is a joke.

‘Cause she’s about as clean as an exhaust pipe spewing smoke.

And how clean could HIS mouth be after her crotch, he devours?

Can you imagine what they must do in here after hours?

No, I may not be perfect. I have never claimed I was.

I drink a little too much coffee. WHAT? I like the buzz.

I clean, perhaps obsessively, each inch of every room.

And maybe every few months, I wear out one more vacuum.

But know what I have never done? Defiled my marriage vow.

Especially not by giving my co-worker a good plow.

So now you all must know that man: the man who holds the drill?

Has more than one variety of cavity to fill!

Where is she? I’ll destroy her. Rip her implants out and beat her

‘Bout the head and neck with them until I finally defeat her!

And where is he? I’m really in the mood to cause some pain.

I wonder how his cock would like a shot of novacaine?!

And where’s the laughing gas? ‘Cause I could use a little boost.

And let me tear apart the very chair where he seduced

her. Where he let his hand slide down from her neck to her back…

I wonder if he fell for her while ridding her of plaque?

I wonder: Could she tell me? That profane hygienist whore?

If it is she or gingivitis who makes more folks sore?

So let me at ‘em! Bring the sharpest instruments you’ve got!

I’m ready to extract you both like teeth shot through with rot!

Yes, any minute you will END! Crushed like a dixie cup!

‘Cause THIS is my appointment!

(The DENTIST’S WIFE opens the door to the exam rooms and rushes in. Patients escape, as the horrified receptionist hears the screams of a woman, then a man. Eventually, the DENTIST’S WIFE emerges, exhibiting signs of having been in a struggle, holding dental equipment dripping blood. She heads toward the door, but turns back to the receptionist.)

There will be no follow up.

(The receptionist weeps silently as the DENTIST’S WIFE exits. End of play.)

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31 PLAYS Y3 #30. BIRTH: THE YELP REVIEW

mexican

BIRTH: THE YELP REVIEW (a play in one page)

BY PAUL HAGEN

(A music box plays softly as lights rise on a nursery, at the center of which sits an enormous crib. The front of it becomes see-through; a large, saggy-titted fellow chomping on a lit cigar and wearing a baby bonnet and diaper is our NEWBORN. The NEWBORN inexplicably has a phone, into which he is typing angrily.)

 

NEWBORN

Allow me, if you don’t mind, to provide a bit of help;

To those who are considering gestation – here on Yelp.

I don’t have words enough to tell you how I hated this:

If you’d been through what I’ve been through – oh MAN you would be PISSED?!

There I was in this cramped place. Hot and damp and, ay!, the smell!

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I call it Hell.

But me? I’m not the passive kind: I did attempt feng shui.

I’d kick the walls, attempt to rearrange myself each day.

But no position comforted me, not curled up or transverse.

And then one morning, somehow, the whole thing got even worse.

Against my will, I flipped, til I was hanging upside down.

I felt the space – already way too tight – contract around

My body — like: ejecting me — with no exit in sight.

Well maybe there was one but it seemed, truly, much too tight.

And plus I was still bound by this strange rope stuck to my tum.

How could I reach where I was going tied to where I’m from?

Next strange sensations start to surge; it all got very crowded.

From somewhere near there was some noise and “Push!” was being shouted.

And, like the world’s worst-fitting hat, my skull burst through a ring

Then – even worse – my shoulders, too, were forced through that same thing!

Then light! The world was cold! And someone gave my ass a swat.

And someone else released the cord – at least they thought of that.

The hands! The metal scratching! And the lady, I think, screaming!

If I thought something better waited out here, I was dreaming!

And now I’m stuck here — somewhere? — still with not much more room to move.

And seems to be no one to say if it may improve.

For untold spans time, I’m left to wail in my own waste.

For sustenance I suckle some chick’s tit. I like the taste.

Though I can think of several cocktails that I’d rather drain.

And where’s the fun? The dancing girls? The sex and the cocaine?

Will nobody release me from this wretched box with bars?

God, being born’s the worst! So I will give it: just two stars.

 

(The NEWBORN sighs, pulls off his diaper, puts his cigar out in it and begins to SCREAM. The music swells again as lights fade dreamily to black. End of play.)

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31 PLAYS Y3 #29. METHUSELAH’S LAMENT

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METHUSELAH’S LAMENT (a play in one page)

BY PAUL HAGEN

(A bleak landscape in the time before the Great Flood. Center sits what appears to be a pile of rags and natural debris, but as a lonely wind blows it shivers From it emerges a very old man — METHUSELAH. He shuffles forward, leaning heavily on a gnarled stick.)

 

METHUSELAH

When you’re as old as I am — I’m 900 if I’m one.

You’ll swiftly notice that a cruel decaying has begun.

And you can gnash your teeth about it: they’ll just grind to dust

Or you can just accept it — either way it feels unjust.

‘Cause you’ve done your begetting — every single last begat.

And even heavy petting — you can’t get it up for that!

And wrinkles — you’ll have wrinkles places you were not aware

Could crinkle, crumple, dimple, pucker, furrow, pull and tear.

And liver spots, you’ll have those — first a sprinkling and then legions

Your body will resemble maps of arid mountain regions.

You’ll look in the water’s surfaces and scare yourself and say:

“Who is that old coot? Looks like he’s dying any day.”

But it is not the surface of your self that’s most unwell.

No, It’s the world around you that has REALLY gone to hell.

For ever since the Bronze Age started, men just go to war.

Well, what the hell do you think that they’re casting that bronze for?

It’s not to make a statue or some jewelry or a horn.

No, what’s the point of smelting if you can’t make someone mourn?

And with increasing frequency, you’ll hear men prophesying

That it’s not you alone but the whole world who’ll soon be dying.

The earth’s decayed and broken, and its creatures have turned mean:

So maybe it’s high time a giant flood wiped it all clean.

But prophets, who puts stock in them? They’re mostly full of shit.

And when you’re this old, you’ve heard enough lies. I’m sick of it!

But maybe you’ve a grandson, maybe Noah is his name,

Perhaps he heard the prophecies and never was the same.

And he set out to build a boat to weather any sea,

Then stocked it with a dangerously large menagerie.

The stench? Disgusting. Overcrowding! Why would they all board it?

But Noah says we’re all bound to regret that we ignored it.

When something falls from high above and crashes to the sea.

And we’ll all be sent scattering when it sends tsunami.

But when you’re old as I am, what’s the point of pushing on?

If Noah’s right, guess I’ll just have to be glad I’m finally gone.

(There is the sound of the beginnings of a storm — rolling thunder in the distance. METHUSELAH holds out a hand to feel the raindrops. A flash of lightning. End of play.)

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31 PLAYS Y3 #28. NAUGHTY WORDS

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NAUGHTY WORDS (a play in one page)

BY PAUL HAGEN

 

(A grand drawing room in Buckingham Palace. QUEEN ELIZABETH II enters and very slowly walks to a grand chair center stage, where she takes her time sitting down.)

 

ELIZABETH

The thing about these naughty words that young people abuse

Is: What if they all actually meant the words they choose?

When calling one a “douchebag,” would that not be complimenting?

Would one not be an asset to a girl who needs re-scenting?

When saying one’s an “asshole,” does that mean that he’s essential?

For is that sphincter’s import not entirely exponential?

If one is deemed a “basic bitch,” does that mean understated?

And most excellent breeding stock if you’re properly mated?

If calling one a “cock,” is he not first to get the worm?

Not to mention: something whose loss would make most men squirm?

I’ve heard people called “gay.” I’ve even heard it’s a hate crime.

Well, back in my day, that’s how we described a ripping time!

I’ve heard one called a “motherfucker.” But wasn’t your father?

Why judge a man for going for a MILF, if he would rather.

And “dipshit”? Now there’s one, I find, that really does just stink.

A dipshit sounds extraordinary — for don’t most shits sink?

“Bastard” remains popular, I don’t know why that’s true.

One can’t be held responsible for what one’s parents do.

“Whore” makes somewhat more sense; they sell access to their skin;

But then again, presumes that someone’s paying to get in.

Why not, instead, employ a blandishment penned by the Bard?

They’re littered all throughout his works; so it should not be hard

To find one that’s befitting almost any situation,

Ideal for disrespecting folk from any social station.

So find yourself a “subtle, perjur’d, false, disloyal man.”

Or someone “loathsome as a toad” – I’m pretty sure you can.

Go tell a friend her “means are slender” though her “waste is great.”

And call someone a “giddy goose” before it gets too late.

Yes, name a lady “puke-stocking,” and she’s sure to be vexed.

And who’ll not take offense when labelled, simply: “apoplex’d”?

Oh, call someone a “codpiece,” “bladder,” “botch,” or “popinjay.”

For kicks, add “tardy-gaited giglet.” And just walk away…

 

(QUEEN ELIZABETH II stands, releasing a loud, rude fart. She giggles and slowly begins shuffling off. We hear the Beatles “All You Need is Love” as lights fade. End of play.)

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31 PLAYS Y3. UNPOPULAR POSITIONS

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UNPOPULAR POSITIONS (a play in one page)

BY PAUL HAGEN

 

(Lights up on a EZEKIEL, a confirmed bachelor sportring a smoking jacket and a pencil-thin mustache, sitting in a red leather club chair in front of a roaring fireplace set into a wall full of taxidermied animal heads. In his lap, he aggressively handles a — living — fluffy white cat.)

 

EZEKIEL

I do prefer espousing an unpopular position.

When everybody hails the new, that’s when I cheer tradition.

When talk turns to conservatism, I lurch to the left.

When everybody’s laughing, that’s my time to act bereft.

If someone brings up fashion, I can only talk of sport.

In gatherings of deadbeat dads, I bring up child support.

I’ll go to Sunday services, declaring myself a Wiccan.

And always swerve well in advance in every game of chicken.

When I attend White Party, I wear red — and I wear black.

I buy clothes, leave the tags on, wear them and I bring them back.

I go to safe sex rallies advocating for barebacking;

At cyberterrorism conferences, I go hacking.

And outside synagogues, I get defensive about Gaza.

To guests at the Four Seasons, I say: “Shame you missed The Plaza.”

At AA meetings, I show up and bring a box of wine.

To friends who’ve renovated, I suggest a redesign.

And if you ask, “Does this make me look fat?” The answer’s yes.

And if you ask “Remember when we met?” Won’t even guess!

The recently engaged get diatribes about divorce.

And those who’ve cooked me dinner heard critiques of every course.

The recently impregnated? I’ll push ‘em down the stairs.

And if you’re passionate about a cause, my answer is: Who cares?

If you’re sad someone’s passed, I’ll say we’re better off without her!

And if you’re sure of something, I’m its pre-eminent doubter.

You see — it doesn’t really matter what I think or feel.

Just being constantly contrary is, to me, more real.

Dependably, I’ll say the things nobody wants to hear.

Yes truly I, for others, am a kind of funhouse mirror:

Reflecting back their fears, their enemies, and their afflictions.

Oh, no, it’s not a quiet life — but rich with contradictions.

So come on! Step up! Who’ll be next to offer competition,

And tangle with a truly diametric opposition?

 

(EZEKIEL stands and hurls the cat into the fire, then removes his smoking jacket to reveal that he’s wearing a PETA t-shirt. He strides confidently offstage. End of play.)

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31 PLAYS Y3 #26. IT’S A GIRL AND A GIRL AND A GIRL…

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IT’S A GIRL AND A GIRL AND A GIRL… (a play in one page)

BY PAUL HAGEN

 

CRYSTAL sits in an attic that’s been converted into a bedroom with as many beds as it can hold. She’s about 15 years old and could not be rolling her eyes any harder at life.

 

CRYSTAL

When Daddy married Mom, she promised him a house of boys.

But when their first child was Celeste, he didn’t make much noise.

When Cathy came right after that, he simply kept his peace.

He didn’t even make much fuss when out next came Caprice.

“We’ll just keep keep trying,” Dad said. So they tried and tried again:

So certain number four would be a boy. It was Carmen.

Then Charlene followed Carmen, yup, and I followed Charlene.

Against all odds came Carla after her and then Celine.

But daddy would not be deterred in his search for a son.

So he got Mom knocked up again – and Cher was the next one.

Impossibly, Calliope was next to join the line.

And you might not believe it, but then followed: Clementine.

Then came the twins: Claudette and Clove, and after them: Camille.

And now Mom’s pregnant once again: I don’t know how to feel.

I know that Daddy wants a son, but when’s enough enough?

And, not for nothing, Mom’s vagina’s really had it rough!

Will this one be a Chelsea? Cherry? Cecily? Christina?

Coral? Condoleeza? Courtney? Chloe? Or Corina?

There’s not enough of anything: not room, not time, not money.

And please don’t get me started on the bathroom wait time, honey!

 

(CAPRICE runs up the stairs into the attic, in a panic.)

 

CAPRICE

Crystal, Mom’s in labor!

 

CRYSTAL

Number fifteen — if you’re counting it.

 

CAPRICE

We should be at the hospital!

 

CRYSTAL

If it’s a girl I’m drowning it.

 

(CAPRICE runs downstairs. CRYSTAL follows, reluctantly. Lights out. End of play.)

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