"The Way We Were" topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three non-consecutive weeks in February 1974. After its first week at number one it was replaced by "Love's Theme" by the Love Unlimited Orchestra; by coincidence, the orchestra, also abbreviated as LUO, did a version of "The Way We Were" on their 1979 album Super Movie Themes: Just a Little Bit Different. It then returned to number one for two more weeks. The song also spent two weeks atop the easy listening chart, Streisand's second single to reach the top of this chart (following 1964's "People"). The track peaked at #31 in the UK Singles Chart in 1974.
The version of the song which was released on 45 RPM single contains a different vocal take than the version which appeared on the original movie soundtrack and subsequent greatest hits compilations. Both versions use the same music track. The difference in the vocals can most easily be heard on the line "Smiles we gave to one another" at approximately 1:15 into the song. The true 45 RPM single version has never appeared on CD. The soundtrack version of the song, a completely different take with alternate music track, appears on Just For the Record, Streisand's 4-CD box set collection released in 1991.
A bootleg of the recording sessions exists featuring Streisand with composer Marvin Hamlisch in a recording studio as they perform various takes of the song. One segment reveals Streisand changing the first word of the song from "Daydreams" to "Memories."
Streisand's version was listed at #90 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent 3 non-consecutive weeks at number 1 and became the best selling single of the year in the U.S.Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song for 1974. The song was certified Gold and 23 years later was certified Platinum by the RIAA.
In 1976, The New York Disco Orchestra released a disco version of the song on Artemis Records. This version was produced by Clem Vicari. It was released as a seven inch single and divided into two parts. This version charted for two weeks on Billboard's Disco Action Charts.
In 1976, Teresa Teng recorded the song on her English album, "With Love from...Teresa Teng".
In 1976, Rico J. Puno recorded the song with a part of a Tagalog verse.
A version by singer Yoshiko Kimura was released as part of her 1979 album Memories, accompanied by alto saxophonist Gary Foster, pianist Clare Fischer, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer John Perett.
In her 1979 one-woman show "Gilda Live", Gilda Radner included a somewhat humorous version of the song in a skit as her character Lisa Lupner; a performance of the skit and the song later appeared on her LP, Live from New York.