This Day In History: February 2

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On February 2, 1974, a sweet, soft ballad by a 31-year-old Barbra Streisand knocks Beatle Ringo Starr down a notch on the Billboard Hot 100. Streisand’s “The Way We Were” overtakes the jaunty “You’re Sixteen” as the No. 1 song—Streisand’s first. It would spend 24 weeks total on the Hot 100 chart, three in the top slot.

Released on September 27, 1973, Streisand’s “The Way We Were” served as the love theme from the film of the same name, an opposites-attract romantic drama directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Streisand and Robert Redford. The song, co-written by composer Marvin Hamlisch with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman, earned a 1973 Golden Globe for Best Original Song, a 1974 Oscar for Best Original Song and a 1975 Grammy for Song of the Year. It went platinum in 1997.

Legendary L.A. session musician Carol Kaye, who played bass on the recording, remembers that the richly orchestrated song famously required 33 takes. According to Hamlisch, the song was omitted from the original cut of the film. But after a lackluster screen test, he says, he lobbied the studio hard to let him rescore the final scene with it. Audiences weeped, and the song stayed in.

The melancholy, wistful tune—paired with lyrics like “Memories / light the corner of my mind / misty watercolor memories / of the way we were”—is sometimes played at funerals. Scores of other artists, from Bing Crosby to Gladys Knight, have covered it.

Streisand, whose first wide-release single (“Happy Days Are Here Again”) came about 11 years earlier in 1962, has enjoyed a singing career for more than six decades. After “The Way We Were,” her fame rose, and she had her second No. 1 hit in 1976 with “Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born).” As of January 2024, she has scored five No. 1 hits.

In 2023, the chanteuse released the 22-song album “EVERGREENS: Celebrating Six Decades on Columbia Records.” Streisand’s memoir—My Name is Barbra—came out the same year.