The Number Ones

The Number Ones: Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer’s “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

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Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer – “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”

HIT #1: November 24, 1979

STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks

Barbra Streisand discovered the power of the pop music event almost by accident. In 1978, Streisand had covered “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a song written by her old high school friend Neil Diamond. A Kentucky DJ put together a primitive mash-up, mixing Diamond’s version of the song with Streisand’s, and he turned it into a radio sensation. The two singers’ teams rushed them into the studio to record the song as a duet, and the resulting version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” hit #1 at the end of 1978.

The next time Streisand made a pop music event, it was a little more planned-out. In 1979, Streisand was a reliable hitmaker and also one of the biggest movie stars in the world. (That year, America’s movie theater owners voted Streisand the planet’s #5 most bankable actor — below Woody Allen but above Sylvester Stallone on the annual Quigley poll.) Donna Summer, meanwhile, was coming off of a dominant year, releasing the massively successful double album Bad Girls, the last true blockbuster of the disco era. Streisand and Summer were two of the biggest pop stars of the moment. When they got together, people paid attention.

Once Barbra Streisand showed that she could sing a disco song, something like “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” was probably inevitable. Earlier in 1979, Streisand had starred alongside Ryan O’Neal in the boxing comedy The Main Event. Critics didn’t like the movie, but it made money. Streisand also sang the film’s theme song, a sort of supper-club disco number called “The Main Event/Fight,” and that was a hit, too. (“The Main Event/Fight” peaked at #3. It’s a 4.)

The actor and songwriter Paul Jabara had co-written “The Main Event/Fight” with Bruce Roberts, and Jabara had previously written “Last Dance,” the 1978 Donna Summer hit from the film Thank God It’s Friday. (“Last Dance” peaked at #3. It’s a 9.) Jabara and Roberts wrote “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” together, and Roberts says it only took about 10 minutes. They figured the song should be a Streisand/Summer duet. After pressure from her camp, Streisand had Summer over to her house for lunch. At that lunch, Jabara played them the song, and they both loved it.

Streisand and Summer were a natural fit. They had both come from the world of musical theater, though they’d had wildly different levels of success there. Streisand was arguably the biggest star ever to come out of Broadway, while Summer had gotten her start singing in touring productions in Europe. But Streisand was new to disco, and Summer ruled that world. Streisand and Summer were both communicative singers with enormous rocket-launcher voices. The balance of power was just about equal. By most accounts, the two stars got competitive with each other during the “No More Tears” recording sessions. Neither wanted to be shown up, so both of them pushed their voices as hard as they could.

The song itself is a trifle, an excuse to get those two stars howling on a track together. It’s a song about getting sick of a lover. Streisand and Summer don’t really play different characters; they both just want the motherfucker out: “I always dreamed I’d find the perfect lover/ But he turned out to be like every other man.” Streisand was recording Wet, an aquatic-themed concept album, so she got the songwriters to add the “it’s raining, it’s pouring” intro, forcing it to fit the album’s motif. The intro is the only part of “No More Tears” that really sounds like a Barbra Streisand ballad. That intro is long, almost two minutes. It’s also terribly boring, almost by design.

But after those two minutes, everything changes. “No More Tears” follows the “Last Dance” format — starting out sleepy and then suddenly lurching into dance-music overdrive. Once Streisand and Summer finish singing boringly about how their love lives are boring, the beat comes in, and everything builds. When “No More Tears” reaches full boil, producers Giorgio Moroder and Gary Klein throw all sorts of things at the two of them — wriggling synths, crashing strings, enormous drums. But the two singers are always the twin centers of attention.

As a singer, Donna Summer is the best thing that could’ve happened to Barbra Streisand. Streisand could act, obviously. She could do a forceful teary breakdown as well as anyone. But the real problem with most of Streisand’s hit songs is the sense of iron-fisted control. Streisand virtuosically bends notes, almost like she’s holding her own voice up to the light to admire it. But on “No More Tears,” Summer forces her to bring the drama. Summer herself alternates between flirty playfulness and fiery severity with effortless grace. She understands the peaks-and-valleys structure of a long disco track, and she brings Streisand along with her. In the song’s biggest and best moments, those two voices fuse together. The climactic screamed-together harmony notes hit like a CGI explosion.

“No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” escaped the disco backlash that was changing the shape of the charts by late 1979. Pop sea changes don’t simply happen overnight, and the shared starpower of those two singers on the same track together was probably enough beat that narrative. It doesn’t hurt that “Enough Is Enough” is a good song — a vocal firepower showcase built around a sharp, intense hook. Especially in its full and majestic eight-minute edit, “No More Tears” has an overwhelming sense of histrionic grandeur. It’s enough to sweep you away.

Streisand and Summer both remained pop stars for years after “No More Tears,” but the disco backlash had a real impact on Summer’s career. Streisand will appear in this column again. Summer will not. Shortly after “No More Tears” hit #1, Donna Summer split from Casablanca Records and signed with Geffen. She moved her sound in a bright, hooky ’80s dance-rock direction, which was probably the right move. Two of Summer’s post-Casablanca tracks, 1980’s “The Wanderer” and 1983’s “She Works Hard For The Money,” peaked at #3. (Both songs are 6’s.)

Summer was able to score hits into the late ’80s; The 1989 dance-pop jam “This Time I Know It’s For Real,” Summer’s final top-10 single, peaked at #7. (It’s a 7.) The hits eventually dried up, and by the end of the ’90s, Summer was doing stuff like singing the theme for 1999’s Pokémon: The Movie 2000. But she never lost her status as a beloved dance-music overlord. She died of lung cancer in 2012, when she was 63. In her day, she was one of the greatest pop stars who has ever lived.

GRADE: 8/10

BONUS BEATS: On his self-titled 1982 debut album, Eddie Murphy covered “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough),” reimagining it as a duet between Richard Simmons and Buckwheat. Here it is:

(Eddie Murphy’s highest-charting single is “Party All The Time,” which peaked at #2 in 1985. It’s a 6.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: At the 1993 BRIT awards, k.d. lang got together with Erasure’s Andy Bell to cover “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).” Later on that same year, the studio version of lang and Bell’s cover appeared on the soundtrack of the motion picture Coneheads. Here’s the performance:

(Neither k.d. lang nor Erasure have any top-10 hits in the US. The highest-charting k.d. lang single, 1992’s “Constant Craving,” peaked at #38. Erasure got closer; their highest-charting single, 1988’s “Chains Of Love,” peaked at #12.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: On the classic 1995 Raekwon/Ghostface Killah collaboration “Rainy Dayz,” the singer Blue Rasperry interpolates the “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” intro. Here it is:

(Raekwon and Ghostface don’t have any top-10 singles, either as lead artists or guests. Rae’s highest-charting single, 1995’s “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” peaked at #37. Ghost’s highest-charting single, the 2005 Ne-Yo collaboration “Back Like That,” peaked at #61.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s house pioneer Todd Terry’s 2001 single “Raining,” which samples “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”:

(As a lead artist, Todd Terry has never charted on the Hot 100. But Terry’s remix of Everything But The Girl’s “Missing” peaked at #2 in 1994. It’s a 9.)