On Bette Midler's birthday, 10 songs that remind us why we fell in love with her

“Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”

“From a distance, there is harmony!”

“Some say love, it is a river.”

Ask any casual Bette Midler fan (or anyone born beyond 1990) about the diva’s discography, and they’ll likely name that trio of tear-jerking hits: “Wind Beneath My Wings,” “From a Distance” and “The Rose.”

For Bette diehards, though — this writer included — the Divine Miss M’s catalog brims with provocative performances that play up an overlooked aspect of her artistry: She’s a magnetic, and underrated, vocalist.

Midler, who’s celebrating her 71st birthday Thursday, is known as an actor, an environmental activist, a comedian, a razor-sharp social critic on Twitter and an all-around force of nature. But here are 10 exceptional songs that remind us why we fell in love with her in the first place.

“Hello in There” (from 1972’s “The Divine Miss M,” recently reissued in a deluxe anniversary edition): Grab a tissue. Or four. (For my money, this cover of the John Prine tune is Midler’s most heartrending performance on record.)

“Drinking Again” (from 1973’s “Bette Midler”): Grab a flask and push play. She’ll part your hair on this one.

“Strangers in the Night” (from 1976’s “Songs for the New Depression”): Frank Sinatra’s classic goes disco! Proceed with caution.

“I Never Talk to Strangers” (from 1977’s “Broken Blossom”): Tom Waits tries to pick up Bette Midler in a smoky jazz club? Believe it.

“Favorite Waste of Time” (from 1983’s “No Frills”): The big hit that wasn’t.

“Night and Day” (from 1990’s “Some People’s Lives”): The production dates it, but the aching sentiment still resonates. Ballads have always been her forte.

“Stuff Like That There” (from 1991’s “For the Boys” soundtrack): Paging the Andrews Sister by way of Eartha Kitt.

“I’m a Woman” (from 2005’s “Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook”): W-O-M-A-N — she’ll say it again!

“Waterfalls” (from 2014’s “It’s the Girls!”): Yes, that ‘Waterfalls.’ Midler turns TLC’s 1995 hit into a piano-driven elegy.

“Everybody Knows” (not on an album but a highlight of last year’s Divine Intervention tour): The late, great Leonard Cohen co-wrote this one, and Midler infuses her interpretation with sage wisdom and sophistication. Could a whole album of torchy songs like this be in Bette’s future? (Fingers crossed.)

james.reed@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @jreedwrites.

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