Song Of The Day 11/7/2015: Barbra Streisand – “The World Is a Concerto/Make Your Own Kind of Music”

Allegations of Weirdness – Finally, on that MOJO list of the weirdest albums of all time, at #34 we have something called Barbra Streisand… And Other Musical Instruments. Just behind The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop and just in front of C.A. Quintet’s Trip Thru Hell. Not counting soundtracks, original cast recordings and a Christmas album that went five times platinum anyway, Other Musical Instruments is Barbra’s lowest-charting album in the United States, having stalled at #64. Granted it’s not a typical Barbra Streisand album, even if it does prove the fact that she was much more ambitious as an artist than is usually heralded by your aunt. Streisand's aspirations are manifest in several ways on this album, like when she sings with the secret weapons in every musical arranger’s arsenal: kitchen appliances.

I can explain. Other Musical Instruments was an Emmy-winning TV special that aired on November 2, 1973. The concept originated with an album Streisand wanted to do but never got off the ground, so it was repurposed for the small screen. Basically the idea was to take some well-known songs, including a few of Barbra's most famous, and recast them in unorthodox settings and arrangements, especially from overseas. So you got an Indian raga version of “Johnny One Note,” a Middle Eastern treatment for “People,” a rendition of “Don’t Rain On My Parade” featuring both Carnaval drums and Scottish bagpipes, and a couple of tracks where Streisand very gingerly skates around with some primitive electronic instruments.

The album’s a straight audio copy of the television show, so it’s sprinkled with some awkward interstitial moments that may not make a lot of sense if you’re not watching the video. The newfangled arrangements aren’t really bad in and of themselves, but many of the tracks on the album were less than two minutes (a couple were even less than one), giving the whole project something of a dilettantish air. Furthermore when Streisand isn’t globetrotting and focusing on the native musical traditions of other countries, her other ideas can sound a bit far-flung and preternatural.

Which is where today’s medley comes in. “The World Is a Concerto/Make Your Own Kind of Music” is dryly introduced as “Concerto for Voice and Appliances,” and when it could have been played for laughs (again, the video’d be nice to see) Streisand plays it comparatively safe as she delivers in earnest with the assistance of things like blenders and percolators. Obviously ideas like this don’t go too far beneath surface level, but it’s amusing to ponder how the ideation phase might have gone in our own fantasies. “Hey, Sammy Cahn is all right, but get a load of Stockhausen! Can that guy bash out a tune or what?”

As clunky as it sounds, though, the piece underscores how categorically adventurous Streisand was on a very subtle level. When one of the greatest multi-threat talents of the 20th century gives her all to a piece with mixed results like this you can’t really fault her, so you do what music connoisseurs have done for generations: blame the toaster.

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