In 1979, it just wasn’t enough to be one-third of the planet’s hottest recording act, Barry Gibb had written songs to spare, enough that he decided to share with other artists. Maybe because his famous falsetto was already saturating the airwaves, the hirsute Bee Gee chose to work with Barbra Streisand and to give her the focus. Streisand had not had a chart hit, except for duets, in three years. Her previous album Wet (1979) only reached a disappointing Number 25 on the charts, although it had a Number One hit single with No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), a duet with Donna Summer.
Guilty is the 22nd studio album by Streisand. It was released in September 1980 by Columbia Records (her label for the past 55 years). It was produced by Gibb and The Bee Gee’s regular production team.
Guilty is still Streisand’s bestselling album of her career, with 20 million copies sold. It was Number One in the USA and UK, plus Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain. Sweden, Switzerland, and Russia.
With the Summer duet still fresh in Streisand fans’ memories, many expected Gibb’s involvement in the new project to result in a full-on disco extravaganza. But, Gibb had already left the dance floor, and Guilty serves as a bookend to the Bee Gees’ beautifully introspective Spirits Having Flown album from the year before. Guilty is an object lesson in pristine FM pop, and the first single Woman In Love possibly explains why Streisand insisted on posing in Gibb’s embrace for the cover image.
Woman In Love became one of the most successful songs of Streisand’s career, spending three weeks at Number One in the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The title track Guilty was a Top Ten single, peaking at Number Three, and it won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group in 1981. A third single, What Kind Of Fool, another duet with Gibb, reached Number Ten for three weeks.
The fourth single, Promises, a disco track released in May 1981, reached Number 48 on the Pop chart, but was Number Eight on the Adult Contemporary chart. This song was also released on Streisand’s first commercially released 12″ single as a solo artist following her duet with Donna Summer and the Main Event/Fight in 1979.
There are only nine tracks on Guilty, but they are all really good with beautiful production. It sounds like a Saturday Night Fever Bee Gees album with vocals by Streisand, and that is a good thing. My favorite song, Make It Like A Memory, is an eight-minute musical adventure that makes a great finale of the album. Gibb adapted his usual style to Streisand, slowing the tempos and leaving more room for the vocal, but his melodic style and his backup vocals are pop perfection. The sinuous feel was both right for Streisand and new for her.
Guilty was a great way to start the decade of decadence. Listening to it today, I was taken to September 1980, a time before I knew that having sex might kill you, a time when my biggest worry was that Ronald Reagan would win the election in November. I couldn’t imagine anything as scary.