“The Way We Were” by Barbra Streisand
“The Way We Were” is from a movie. And what that means in cases such as this one is that the lyrics are centered on a specific character, Katie Morosky, who also happens to have been portrayed by the multi-talented Barbra Streisand.
The plot of the flick, which shares the same name as the song, is primarily romantic in nature. And it concludes with (spoiler alert) Katie and her romantic interest Hubbell (played by Robert Redford) parting ways, with neither being happy about how things turned out between the two of them.
Or put differently, emotionally this song centers on sadly reminiscing on a past romance. And the reason the vocalist is sad is because obviously she never wanted said romance to end in the first place. Or rather, let’s say that it ended on a sour note.
So mixed with the memories of “smiles” and “laugher”, there are also those recollections that are “too painful to remember”. And conclusively, what the vocalist is opting to do is to think only about the pleasant moments she and the addressee shared, on top of encouraging him to do the same.
A Breakup Song
So conclusively perhaps we can say this is a proper breakup song, despite said breakup already having transpired in the past. Indeed it would appear that to some degree that the vocalist has already made peace with that reality.
But it also appears that she can’t help but to think back to said romance, with the relationship still being fresh in her mind. And in that regard, although everything wasn’t peachy keen, mentally she would rather harp, as best she could, on the positive as opposed to the negative. Or put differently, she would rather remember the “way they were”, being in the past, instead of the way they are at the moment, which is estranged.
Release Date of “The Way We Were”
This is the title song from Barbra Streisand’s 1974 album, which was her 15th by that point. It also served as the lead single from that project. Columbia Records released the song as such on 27 September 1973.
Barbra Streisand is a name that is more or less synonymous with American show business. Part of the reason is because she’s been in the game since 1960, on top of being a multi-talented entertainer, proficient in both singing and acting. In fact this very song originates from the soundtrack of a 1973 movie she starred in which itself is entitled “The Way We Were”.
And as far as her own aforementioned album sharing this same name, it should be noted that said undertaking is not directly associated with the movie at all. In fact Columbia Records even legally compelled Streisand to modify the title of her album so that people wouldn’t confuse it with the movie soundtrack.
However, as noted earlier, both her own full-length “The Way We Were” and the soundtrack of the movie The Way We Were both feature this hit song.
The lyrics of this song were co-authored by the accomplished husband-and-wife songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman. And the music was composed by Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012). Marvin actually went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his musical contribution to a 1975 musical called A Chorus Line.
Meanwhile the producer of the track was Marty Paich (1925-1995), who worked with a number of prominent mid-20th century musicians.
Success of “The Way We Were”
This song was very successful in North America. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Canada Top Singles, as well as the US and Canada’s Adult Contemporary charts. It was also the best-selling single in the United States for the year of 1974. By virtue of this, it was also placed on top of that year’s Billboard Hot 100 year-end ranking.
Outside of the continent, “The Way We Were” also charted in Australia, Japan and a couple of European countries. It fared most impressively out of the lot in the land down under.
The tune itself also won the 1974 Best Song Academy Award and the 1975 Song of the Year Grammy, with both of these accolades being granted to its authors. And it also made the RIAA and National Endowment for the Arts’ “Songs of the Century” list.
Some More Facts
Gladys Knight and the Pips also experienced a notable amount of chart success with their 1975 rendition of “The Way We Were”. In fact their version did a lot better in the UK, where it reached number four on the main pop chart, than Streisand’s original. And it was also Gladys’s version which the Wu-Tang Clan sampled on their 1993 rap classic Tearz.
“The Way We Were” is one of those types of songs that everybody knows, or at least most Americans are familiar with the first few lines. And accordingly it has been featured on a number of popular television shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1992), Seinfeld (1995) and The Simpsons (2018) as well as a handful of full-length motion pictures, including The Naked Gun 2½ (1991)
Marvin Hamlisch recalled the composition of this song being a challenging and even arduous process.
In fact upon its first test run within the movie, the audience/studio had rejected it, so he had to rework the tune after already having done so once prior. Moreover the second time around he was forced to do so using his own funds, incurring a cost which Hamlisch described as more than “mere pocket change”.
But in the end it proved to be a personal favorite amongst his works, and he was more than willing to rise up to the challenge since he longed to write a song for Barbra Streisand since working with her prior, though is a much humbler capacity, in the mid-1960s.