The Meaning Behind “Woman in Love” by Barbra Streisand and Why It’s the Best Ballad Written by the Bee Gees

The Bee Gees’ best song might be one they didn’t record for themselves. And Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love” may be the musical highlight of Barry Gibb’s remarkable career.

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Following the enormous success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, the Bee Gees became in-demand songwriters and producers. Barbra Streisand invited them to collaborate, leading to her 1980 album Guilty. The album gave the group a second life after the backlash they faced following the commercial demise of disco.

Streisand’s album featured two of her biggest hits: the title track, a duet with Barry Gibb; and “Woman in Love,” the Bee Gees’ best ballad.

Over and Over Again

The song follows a woman consumed by the emotions of an intense romance. According to Streisand, it is “one of the greatest love songs of all time.” The earnest and cinematic ballad connected with a global audience, reaching No. 1 in 19 countries.  

I am a woman in love
And I do anything
To get you into my world
And hold you within
It’s a right I defend
Over and over again
What do I do?

However, the line right I defend gave Streisand pause. Barry Gibb told Billboard she “felt that [“Woman in Love”] was a little bit liberationist; that it might be a little too strong for a pop song.”

Though Gibb and Streisand appear together on the album cover, CBS wanted the first single to be a solo effort, not a duet. “Woman in Love” was released five weeks before the album and became her fifth No. 1 single. As of this writing, it’s the last time Streisand topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

With you eternally, mine
In love, there is
No measure of time
We planned it all at the start
That you and I
Live in each other’s hearts

Barry Gibb Almost Said No

Gibb nearly declined the offer to work with Streisand. Her star power intimidated him, and he wondered if they might clash in the studio. He said, “That’s got to intimidate anyone. I didn’t want to do it at first, but my wife told me to do it, or she’d divorce me! I even called Neil Diamond to ask what it was like to work with her. He had nothing but glowing reports, so I felt a little less scared.”

The song became an immediate success. Barry and Robin Gibb won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically for “Woman in Love” at the 1981 Ivors.

Additionally, the song received Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Guilty was nominated for Album of the Year, and the title track won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

A Star Is Born

The music video features clips of Streisand’s 1976 film with Kris Kristofferson, A Star Is Born. In 2018, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga starred in a remake, which produced two of Gaga’s biggest hits: “Shallow” and “Always Remember Us This Way.”

Streisand’s video for “Woman in Love” also features clips from her other movies from the 1970s.

A Star Is Born originated as a 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March and was later adapted as a musical in 1954, starring Judy Garland and James Mason.  

Recycling a Drum Loop

Producer Albhy Galuten explained how he and Gibb created a tape loop from Dennis Bryon’s drum track on “Night Fever” to use on some of the group’s biggest hits, including Streisand’s “Woman in Love.”

The drummer had left the 1977 “Stayin’ Alive” recording sessions in Miami early after his mother died, and Galuten and Gibb couldn’t find a suitable replacement. They also tried using a drum machine, but that didn’t work either. So, they used a looped section from “Night Fever” to create a rhythm track for “Stayin’ Alive” and “More than a Woman.” Bryon is credited as “Bernard Lupe” in the Saturday Night Fever album credits—a take on the name of legendary drummer Bernard Purdie, famous for the “Purdie Shuffle.”

In 1980, as Galuten and Gibb worked with engineer Karl Richardson on Streisand’s track, they slowed the loop’s tempo and used it again for “Woman in Love.” Both “Bernard Lupe” and Steve Gadd receive drumming credits on the recording.

The Bee Gees and Streisand’s Best Song

Though the world reacted against the Bee Gees following the rise and subsequent decline of disco, Barry Gibb and his brothers endured as one of the greatest songwriting teams in history.

“Woman in Love” lives up to the enormous star power of Barbra Streisand, and her extraordinary voice highlights Barry Gibb’s musical powers.  

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Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

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