Girl's Night Out: Kathy Griffin & Cher (and Stevie Nicks)

RuninsMy friend Christopher gave me this book, Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins, My A to Z Index, as a gift a while back and I've been meaning to blog about it. In the meantime Kathy Griffin has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Fingers crossed she will recover soon.

You can keep up with her progress here: https://twitter.com/kathygriffin

In this 2016 book Cher's job description reads “Singer, Actress, Cher” (because being Cher is a large part of what she does). Griffin tells the story about how Rosie O’Donnell connected her with Cher and Griffin's first impressions of Cher.

Of course, Cher calls her Kathleen (because being Cher is what Cher does). Griffin talks about hanging out in Cher's bedroom (and closest), makeup sessions, closet raiding, and having to explain to Cher what a re-gift is.

The David Letterman section is also a conversation about Cher and how Letterman tells Griffin how intimidated he is by Cher and Griffin replies that he’s a thousand times scarier than Cher, “She’s a breeze.”

Then during a Salman Rushdie meet Griffin has to ask him to wait because Griffin is getting  a text from Cher.

I don't know if Griffin and Cher are still as close post Griffin's Trump scandal, but Griffin was still pro-Cher in November 2020:

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Here are some pictures of Kathleen and Cher hanging out after raiding Cher's closet:
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Griffin with Cher at the premier of Zookeeper and backstage at the Dressed to Kill tour:

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By the pool and in Hawaii:

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Filming a spot for Barak Obama:

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Girls night in white, red and yellow:

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But I think what I love most about Kathy Griffin's love of Cher in this book is that she wears Cher tour shirts to meet other rock stars, like here when she greets Stevie Nicks. 

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Stevie Nicks seems like a Cher fan too.

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The Cherished Experience

CherishedLet’s just say you’ll never catch me saying any Cher album is a bad one. I just wouldn't do it. Of course there are ones I like better than others. But they all have something interesting to offer. I will say, somewhat lovingly, that this just might just be an album only an 8 year old would adore. And did. As did my other 8-9 year old compadres. My friend Krissy even bought her own copy and we would act out all the songs. So this is the only Cher album that has a sort of communal feel for me. The others were all very solitary pleasures. And hearing it now reminds me of all the tactile sensations of the late 1970s right down to the carpets and the couch fabric of our living room and Krissy bedroom stereo. At the time it was the most contemporary album of narrative songs from Cher we had and the stories really appealed to us.

This album also has the beautifully lush Harry Langdon photograph flowing from front cover to back. Cher wears jeans and a suede Native-American vest, which could also be read as shipwrecked-wench. The backdrop and makeup are glamourous yet earthy. Very Crystal Gayle. This is Cher's new, post-Elijah physique (a bit more fleshy as she admitted it was harder to lose weight this time). Her name is not on the cover because the title is a play on her name. "Pirate" was released as a single and it stalled at #93. "War Paint Soft Feathers" was also a non-charting single. Which is probably a fortunate failure in hindsight.

This is also the first album that referenced the Cher’s Friends fan-club in the liner notes. More on that below. You can believe that Cher didn’t like this album much because it's lacking in any personal liner notes. There are no thank-yous, no musician credits. Nada.

And this is an album about Los Angeles in many ways. There are lots of references to flying home to LA and recording and movie studios.

My love will only chain you down
The lead song "Prirate" is yet another Cher song about a man who knocks you up and then leaves town. Like similar Cher songs, the scandalous unwed-mother plot-point is revealed in the final verse. It all takes place in Biscayne Bay in Miami, we imagine, before it was so developed and urban.

The pirate is a perfect metaphor for the traveling lover but this is not Snuff Garrett at his best. A lot of these songs sound like demos, although Garrett does capture a genre here with the strings, the squawking birds and the squeezebox-sounding thing. The lyric is a mouthful if you're 8-years old and trying to sing "dark and handsome in his own way." But the song does evoke "the wind and waves and sea."

To act out the song, Krissy and I threw ourselves against our neighbor's hill (he was an Holocaust survivor) after an imaginary shipwreck and we survived on the desert island that was the tree near by backyard fence. We trucked out Krissy's little table and chairs and even our little kitchen dishes to enjoy the finer things on our imaginary island. I would have brought out my aluminum fridge but even we thought that was a bit much.

You have to admit the song is full of swirling, swarthy drama and Cher totally sells it.

The crowd made the magic happen; the band made the music play
This is a perfect lyric for a semicolon and these lines have been an earworm in my head since I started listening to the "He Was Beautiful" remaster. I loved the melody of this song and these were ballads little girls could enjoy. It’s a one-night stand story but like the man referenced in the song, Gregg Allman had long, golden hair. “The pale light of the morning sun./His golden hair had come undone so beautiful./He touched me with his fingertips,/bending close I kiss his lips so beautiful.” Due to various cues in the lyric, I’ve always thought this song was originally written about a woman and Cher turned in inside out.

Krissy and I didn’t enact this song. Well, maybe we did the "spinning around" thing; we were under 10 and very literal.

He was stealing her father’s horses when he saw her standing there
What can I say about "War Paint and Soft Feathers"? We loved this one. It was so easy to perform. An Apache and a Cherokee couple hooking up in another illicit love story. But it's hard to get your historical head around the scenario. When exactly does it take place, pre-Columbus? During manifest destiny? Last week? We don’t know. But in our little St. Louis-imaginations, it was pre-Columbian. And even then Father's didn't approve and haters-gotta-hate.

The girl was also a blue-eyed Cherokee which complicates our theories. And there are lots of unfortunate stereotypes in this song: the chants, the reference to speaking tongues and crossed spears, eagles soaring above, the drumming. A lot had changed from 1973 to 1977...and to now.

But aside from these unfortunate stereotypical tropes, this is a sweet love story, a love across warring tribes that was "meant to be."  The lines themselves are very evocative: "moon-braided bits of silver all through her long black hair" and  "Now the leaves have fallen to the ground over and over again,/from a small oak tree grown taller/where once crossed spears had been./A young man rides his pinto horse and he stands there tall and free..."

A baby is again revealed in the last verse. My friend loved horses and a pinto horse was a very romantic idea in the 1970s; so yes, this song was big in our creative imaginations, although I am 100% sure we did not know that “doin’ what tribal laws forbid” meant sex and that we totally missed the innuendo of “his drums broke the silence of the night.” The song feels like a PC fail today; and by 1977, cashing in on Cher’s Indian-ness was a cynical move, but the lyrics are well written if you can overlook that buffalo in the room.

As sure as the stars shine above you this angel
I’m sure all of these songs got into my head at a very critical juncture in the formulation of my ideas about relationships with boys. And this song, "Love the Devil Out of Ya," was a big difference of opinion between me and Krissy. As memory serves, Krissy loved this song. I was much more ambivalent about it. I guess she saw herself more as a “sure as a stars shine above you this angel" than I did. I felt the song was a bit too much…accommodating. I guess that says something about me. But the song is thankfully short, just two minutes of loving the devil out of you. Which is good because that’s totally not my job! 

Everything she lives and breathes is written on an album sleeve
The Peter Allen classic "She Loves to Hear the Music" is probably my favorite song on the album. I would go on to love many Peter Allen songs but this and Melissa Manchester's "Don’t Cry Out Loud" were my first exposure. Surely I internalized the "Years will not be kind to her" too. This production isn’t much to make over and is in fact confusingly Romani-sounding for an LA recording studio story. But as kids, we loved the song even though there wasn’t much besides secretarial duties for us to perform. We did glamourize the job, as we did teacher, waitress, newscaster, book author and sea-faring explorer.

But all I saw were unfamiliar faces in the rain
All I can say is there’s no Liberace piano flourish whenever I book a plane reservation to Los Angeles.

We also loved "L.A. Plane, but the song strikes me as odd duck today with the horns, maracas and strings, which I guess is all supposed to sound international. She's looking for excitement on boats and trains and unfamiliar faces but, in the end, she's "tired of the pouring rain,/tired of just passing through." She wants a "Southern Californian morning where I was born./ Babe, I’m coming home to you." This is Cher as rock-and-roll man again (see “Long Distance Love Affair” from 1976), almost barely autobiographical in how Cher considers LA as "home" and was apart frequently apart from Gregg Allman due to work. Krissy and I would literally mime taking off like a plane. I kid you not. 

I don’t know quite what to say
"Again" is other ballad. We really liked it although it feels like a big sleeper today. Lots of vowels working here. It sounds Pop Goes the Country with that guitar mashing up with the horns and piano. (They hired a piano player and goddammit they were gonna get their money’s worth!) I think we liked this lighter singing, lovesick Cher. If we enacted anything here it was torch singer, which never failed to please.

Does the Mississippi still run free?
Actually, yes it does. Thanks for asking. "Dixie," not to be confused with 1974's "Dixie Girl," was the southern part of our schtick. "New York’s too big a city for me!...I’m gonna make you feel like a hell of a man." That bit about the Mississippi felt so local. And we even had "the sweet magnolia blossoms" in our own backyard. But even this song feels Hollywood somehow. It's the rough draft of songs like "Midnight Train to Georgia" and “Please Come to Boston.”

Just an interested gentleman caller
Although the music is way too pleasant for the subject matter, we loooved "Send the Man Over." It was so sordid and adult like a bodice-ripping paperback novel. We totally knew what was going on, a man coming up to her room with “script and the cash.” One of us had to be the guy with the script and the other this sad yet hopeful, on-the-skids actress. "I know an actress has to make sacrifices,/but what a price to pay.” Can you believe NBC got a callout from a CBS girl? This is another mixed-race runaway too (like "Half Breed" and the gal from "War Paint Soft Feathers"). And like "We picked up a boy just south of Mobile" in "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves," here we have "a Georgia drifter came/and we made it to LA."

I loved the part where Cher says with plaintive innocence, “You say there’s nothing today?” It was the first time since the cancelled TV show that I heard Cher’s speaking voice and it sounded so high, such a perfect counterpoint to her singing voice. Cher-as-actress was such a novel idea back then. "Hopefully Cher herself will escape this fate now that she’s trying to become a serious actress." Imagine Robert Altman or Mike Nichols even trying this shit with Cher. What a performance of innocence, this song! "A young actress must give her all,/pay her dues, play her role.”

Those footsteps in the hall of that dingy room above the Hollywood bar! So tense and scary. What will happen next?

I swear I heard the north wind call your name
I can barely ever even remember "Thunderstorm" every time I hear it. The song feels like the typical 1970s glam-country sound that was in vogue at the time. The deep background vocals are pure Olivia Newton John backup singer from "Let Me Be There." We get more thunder and lightning in this song, situating it with I’d Rather Believe In You's "Knock on Wood" and the upcoming Allman and Woman' song "I  Love Makin' Love to You." Okay, we get it. Sex with Gregg Allman is like lightning and thunder. Electric, stormy, lethal. Love as tornado chasing. TMI.

I’d love to know who played on this album. There are lots of good photos from album shoot. (Click to enlarge.)

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And that’s not all. This was the first Cher solo album tempting us all into the official fan club, Cher's Friends. I found the album at our local Styx, Bear & Fuller department store in 1978 and I already felt way behind the curve on joining up. But I immediately wrote out a letter for my mom to post and received this missive back (note the postmark):

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I cut out the application form (as you can see) and sent in my five bucks (or at least believed my mother mailed the cash). But nothing ever arrived back. I kept the order form as a reminder to keep waiting. 

So when I joined eBay in 1998ish and an elderly gentleman posted the fan club packet for sale, I won the auction for 35 bucks. And then again, nothing came. (And back then eBay didn’t reimburse you; it was all buyer beware.) Lots of us got “scammed” by this fellow but then someone sent around an email to all his buyers (you could do that back then) saying he had passed away and his widow wasn’t willing or able to finish doing his eBay business. Sigh. I chalked it up to a donation to funeral expenses. Then I waited another year or two and another fan club packet popped up and I did receive this one with the following items.

A cool folder, a welcome letter, a poster.

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A biography booklet, some pictures, a quiz and two very conspicuous textbook-covers.

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The bio had a very short discography on the back. There was also a reprint of the 1975 Time Magazine article with a special note from the publisher on the back.

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Other fans had received these additional items which were not in my initiation folder (stationary and a club card).

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And without the card, I feel so unofficial right now.


Cher's Cameos in Respectable Rockumentaries

LgbI watched the documentary Janis Joplin Little Girl Blue two weeks ago. I've seen quite a few Janis documentaries over the years and each one seems to be a bit more revealing, especially about her sexuality. In this one they interview one of her former girlfriends. I liked how this doc described her as a person with “Huck Finn innocence.”

Anyway, they spent a lot of time with the letters Janis wrote back home to her parents. I was really tired the night I watched this and so I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw one of her letters with the word Cher scrawled on it.

Back when I was a kid perusing magazines at the local paperback bookstore, I got really good at finding the word Cher in columns of text on the pages of teen magazines. But that skill has waned considerably. So the fact I noticed this was unusual.

I did a freeze frame and read the full sentence and then really was even more flummoxed and had to ask Mr. Cher Scholar to confirm I wasn’t losing my mind. Then I looked up the sentence on google and sure enough…Janis writes,

“I don't really know what's happening yet. Supposed to rehearse with the band for the first time this afternoon, after that I guess I'll know whether I want to stay and do that for a while. Right now my position is ambivalent. I'm not at all sold on the idea of becoming the poor man's Cher.”

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This letter was written on June 6, 1966 before Janis (a committed blues singer) joined Big Brother & the Holding Co. Meanwhile, Sonny & Cher are not yet a year into their fame as a folk-rock/pop duo. Cher has only released two solo albums by this point, basically folk-rock collections with a bunch of Dylan covers. "I'm not at all sold on the idea of becoming the poor man's Cher.” The idea that there is a sentence like this in the universe makes me insane. Janis was no more in danger of becoming a poor man’s Cher than anyone in the history of anything. And the fact that she thought this thought is just mindboggling. In fact, it’s hard for me to get my head around the idea of a universe where Janis is even thinking this much about Cher, both women are doing such completely different projects. But then you wonder if maybe there weren’t that many women for Janis to relate to. If you do a search for “1966 rock stars” on google, it’s a real boyfest.

Here's a transcript of the full letter: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1999-08-01-9907310220-story.html

LlwOn Britbox there a documentary about the last interview from John Lennon and in the middle of it there’s inexplicably a Cher and David Geffen picture. I think in this sequence they are discussing partying at Studio 54, as if this is an indicative picture of such things.

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Buyer Beware and Buyer Full-Steam-Ahead

Aug21cherhsnCher Style

Cher made another recent appearance on HSN network

Much of the segment is a rehash of how good the perfume is (and it is so keep buying it). Cher talked about her new book and movie and "the new version of things that we can’t talk about here." Is she referring to the album re-releases? Or some other new version of things?

They talk about some HSN products she loves and her favorite makeups and tools are lipsticks and eyelash curlers. She admits sometimes she doesn’t want to do the treadmill. Cher seems very lowkey in this segment. Maybe she's tired. I’ve been struggling with tiredness and treadmills myself so I appreciated this.

Amy Morrison sometimes tires me out with her hyper salesmanship: "We can do it all ladies!" No, we can't.

But I love Cher's blouse....like a lot. Sometimes Cher goes all mainstream with an outfit and it feels so impactfully rebellious for her somehow. After about a million compliments from Amy on how good Cher looks, Cher makes a Dorian Gray reference most people might have missed. (So nerdy!) Cher gives some sage advice like opportunities find her; she doesn’t go looking for them. One fan calls in to say he wears the new fragrance and that the movie Moonstruck kept him sane during Covid.

Beware of False Sanctuaries!

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This is a very important buyer-beware message for Cher fans. Last November I saw this purported Sanctuary candlestick gargoyle listed on eBay. My parents were both sick at the time and the price was good so I bought it on impulse too quickly. Anyway, it crossed my mind for one second to dig out my Sanctuary catalogs and confirm this item was legit, but I was at a low ebb that day and decided to take a chance. This is exactly the time when you should not take a chance, by the way, when you’re feeling low. That’s when you fall prey to purported Sanctuary candlestick holders!

As soon as it arrived I could tell it wasn’t a probable Cher product. It had no Sanctuary packaging, certification or stamp of Cherness. Not unusual for a resale. It also had some cheap green felt glued to the bottom and I don’t know Cher personally but that doesn't seem like a Cher move. Plus the felt looked a lot older 1990s green felt. So I dug out the catalogues and, as you can guess, this little guy wasn’t there.

When you’re feeling kind of raw and sad, learn from this experience and please don’t make impulsive Sanctuary purchases.


Elijah Waits: The I'd Rather Believe In You Re-release

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So over the last few months Cher has been releasing her lost Warner Bros. albums onto her YouTube channel. Most recently she released the 1976 album I’d Rather Believe in You produced by Michael Omartian and recorded at Larabee Sound when it was off a side street off the Sunset in Los Angeles. The album was recorded between January and July 1976 and released in October 1976.

Not many people talk about this album. After the lush rock covers of Stars (1975) and the album before she returned to Snuff Garrett and the somewhat kitschy narrative ballads of Cherished (one of my own cherished favs of childhood because you could act out all the songs), this album is a bit of a subdued anomaly. The songs are mostly pop, some struggling to be pop-rock.

The album cover is her best comprised of reused Norman Seeff photographs that were already a year old. She was currently pregnant and very large with Elijah and she even thanks him in the liner notes of the album for waiting until the day after she  finished recording before he made his big entrance. My theory is that Elijah's taste for music must be connected to his hearing his mother sing "Early Morning Strangers" in utero.

I collected most of Cher’s 1970s albums between the ages of 8 and 10 (1978-1980) and the rest of them by age 15 (1985). I distinctly remember finding this record at my local Venture discount store (it was our Target) in 1978. The store’s record area was four rows of bins and I obsessively checked them every visit for Cher albums (early magical thinking) and this was the first time I ever found one (magically!) and one I didn’t even know existed and it was sliced as a cut-out for 50 cents! What an amazing day!

Of course I loved the album, being eight years old. I loved the title song and my love for the song has not wavered to this day. It’s a perfect pop performance. And even my now-knowledge that Michael Omartian’s wife, Stormie, was a Christian writer and Christianity had a probable subtle influence on this record more than any other Cher record, does not deter my old feeling for this album.

Side One:

This was not an album of covers, like Stars was. The only single released was the first track, “Long Distance Love Affair,” which could be seen as a song intended to beef up Cher’s rock credentials (a definite interest of Cher's) with its references to rock-and-roll bands and radio stations. And yet the lyrics also suggests her then-current relationship with Gregg Allman with its separations and work schedules. The song doesn’t provide a hopeful outlook (because after all, "you can’t send it through the mail"). This girl watches a lot of TV while her rock-n-roll boyfriend is gone and her needs aren’t being satisfied ("this kind of love don’t get nowhere"). The big issue here is that in reality Cher is also a star of the music biz (in her 3rd incarnation at this time). It’s like the old Cher adage only this time her mother recommends Cher marry a rock-and-roll man and she replies, “Mama, I am a rock-and-roll man.” It’s a busy production but I don’t hate it. 

I’d Rather Believe in You” was written by Michael Omartian and his wife Stormie (a Christian author who once dated Steve Martin back when they were kids working at Knotts Berry Farm) and later the song was turned into a gospel song by the Imperials in the 1980s, which Michael Omartian also produced. In light of recent moves toward extremism from many in the  protestant and catholic sects of American Christianity (especially during Covid and the oft-proclaimed dependence upon God over vaccines), the later-day version sounds much more ominous than was likely intended. The Christian version hasn’t aged well, let’s just say.

Again, this lyric also suggests Cher’s situation with Gregg Allman and drug problems he was, for a time, successfully hiding from her. Cher’s divorce from Sonny hit America and her kid-fans hard back in 1974 and they didn’t take easily to this new guy. This is a song about loyalty and Cher seems to be fiercely loyal for the most part (even after she breaks up with people). This song could easily be read as Cher's line in the sand about Allman’s bad reputation. Were these songs chosen to exploit Cher's current tabloid life? Possibly. But the thing about Cher songs is that you can’t read too much into them even when they accidentally might allude to things like Gregg Allman's heroin habit. She’s normally one step removed from her song choices, which is what drives those authenticators insane. But at the same time, this always gives her ironic distance (a sort of safety cloak) from her own material. Early on she was never given much choice in what material she recorded and this tone of distance probably carried over into situations where she did have more control over the material. Being autobiographical has never been a feature of Cher's recording career. 

I’ve written about this song a lot elsewhere; it’s one of my favorite things in the world. I like the way the song builds, Cher’s softer sell…I go back and forth on the message. After all, Gregg Allman did show her differently which undercuts the defiance a bit. But then again I have always loved the lyric ”no paper here to bind you/only love to make you stay.” I like how Cher managed to balance vulnerability here with a cool delivery. Such prominent gospel backup singers are a relatively new thing too in Cher recordings. Some Jeff Porcaro goodness here. 

The song "I Know" is actually a recognizable Barbara George cover. This song was my go-to aerobics song for arm circles. It’s the only song that survived throughout about 15 workout mix tapes. I like these r&b songs on the album (which are more funky and less gritty than Sonny's picks) and these first two Warner Bros albums are an interesting departure from the story songs which may show Cher’s changing assertiveness.

The song "Silver Wings & Golden Rings" is an “other woman” hookup song that retrospectively reads with Christian overtones in hindsight. He will always fly back to his wife. The song is almost catchy except that the wings/strings metaphor feels stretchy and there are…just a lot of words here. And you can just see this fellow gearing up to sing “Sad Eyes” back at her. 

The song "Flashback" ends side one. Tom Jones records the song in 1979 and on a Merv Griffin Show performance of the song he claims it was never recorded before. Such is the life of the cut-out 1976 Cher album song. Her cigarettes have burned down to her fingers. I like the lower vocal and think this is a good performance but this is essentially the sound a 70s-trumped-up drama. “Chasing the sun we would run with a dream we could grow on.” I…have no idea that. But I do like the bridge.

Side Two:

"It’s a Crying Shame" is a song indicative of how I feel about this album. These are slick, well-produced pop tunes completely out of step with current radio songs and I remember listening to Cher's Warner Bros songs when I was 9 years old and thinking prescriptively “Cher should sing contemporary material.” Genius me. But now I look back at these musical anomalies and I’m glad we have them and honestly, I enjoyed them immensely at the time. “Not commercial” was something Cher heard so many times she named an album after it. This song is fun as it is. 

"Early Morning Strangers" is a special track because it’s the only song I can think of (to this day) that Cher and Barry Manilow both recorded. I didn’t hear the Manilow version until I was about 11 and I was so thrilled I created my own rude-mashup on a cassette tape as a duet. You know, like everybody does today on youtube now (see the scary-sounding "Walking in Memphis" and the more normal sounding "I Found Someone"). 

The song was written by Barry Manilow and Hal David. Cher's version is better than his 1973 version simply because it’s hard to picture Barry Manilow making sad and jaded small talk with someone the morning after. Cher…you can totally picture that. This is another song that might have been picked to provide subliminal moral messaging about the perils of the loose life.

"Knock on Wood" is other great r&b cover, this one of Eddie Floyd and Cher stays true to his version. Amii Stewart would would explode the song into a disco classic (with Cher-like panache) in 1979. Cher never fully settles comfortably into this variety- show arrangement although the way she sings “woo-ad” is a golden cherism. And the way she sings “lightning and thunder” is completely reminiscent of Chi Coltrain’s “Thunder and Lightning” from 1973.

"Spring" is a melodramatic story about an unwed-mother (in a broken down apartment house, no less) who dies and her child becomes an orphan (if only that spare parent had been available) and the welfare lady comes and prays. If this isn't a morality tale, nothing is. But wait there’s a happy ending with an acceptable, traditional wedding in a beautiful church to another orphan. Even the grace of God is invoked and angels come. Hopes and dreams come true. Promises are made. There’s also a “wedding band of fashionable styling.” 

"Borrowed Time" is about “living off the love of another man’s woman, that’s lovin’ on borrowed time.” She’s a train that stops at every station down the line. Moral of this one: don’t be a loose woman. It’s a ridiculous song but I love singing it so…there’s that.

Issues aside, I still say this was the best 50 cents I ever spent in my whole god-damned life.


New-Old Cher Releases, Sonny Bono Dinner Party, Cher in Vogue 1971

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Re-Releases!

First things first, Cher has been rereleasing her classic 70s-era Warner Bros. remastered on her YouTube channel. First Stars was released a few weeks ago: https://www.youtube.com/c/cher/videos

Today her channel announced that I'd Rather Believe in You will be next, coming out in August: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQc8H3CgeD8

This is happy news for fans who, although stocked with bootlegs, have been pestering for an official release for over two decades. The remastered Stars sounds pristine and hopefully the albums will someday be available on other streaming platforms or in physical form (with some scholarly words of perspective). Very happy July surprise!

In other music news, the single copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album with the Cher vocals on two songs, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, has been sold by the feds. Follow the story here. The second buyer paid millions once again and their identity will possibly be revealed in a few months. The Wu-Tang Clan wishes that the album be played only in small groups for 88 years from the date it was first sold to the nefarious Pharma Bro back in 2015, which means most of us will not live long enough to hear it. That is unless the resale contract was interrupted by federal confiscation. 

Sonny Bono Dinner Party

July has proven to be busy for Cher Scholar. I've started listening to KCRW again (lots of great stuff I’ve missed over the last five years I’ve been away) and I've thrown three small parties in as many weeks, and learned how to use my new braille machine.

For my upcoming birthday I received some meditation/introspection playing cards from a friend and the first one had the question: What makes you weird? I have a million answers to this but the one that pertains here is the fact that last Saturday I threw a Sonny Bono Recipe dinner party. And what's even more weird is the fact that it's not the first one I've thrown. I did it once before when I was 12 years old as a last-hurrah to my Sonny & Cher fandom, right before I decided it would be somewhat less weird in the 1980s to go solo with Cher. 

But last Saturday I invited my friends Priscilla and Mikaela over and they were gamely willing to test out a few of these Sonny  recipes. Mikaela also came over to teach me how to use my new braille machine. The fact that I just bought a braille machine is also a little bit weird. 

I made the recipe for Sonny Bono's Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce from The Dead Celebrity Cookbook by Frank DeCarlo.

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Mr. Cher Scholar made Sonny Bono's Pollo Bono from the Baltimore Sun.

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He made a vegetarian, fake-chicken version for me.

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Cheap table wine: check. Everyone liked the results. The biggest critique came from me, which was to say the fake chicken was rubbery (but very tasty). Mikaela said the chicken was "fantastic, excellent" and she loved the spaghetti too. She said she especially loved watching the video I showed them before dinner of Sonny & Cher cooking on The Mike Douglas Show (thanks to Cher scholar Jay for that). Priscilla said she loved the Pollo Bono too and is usually very picky about her chicken.

Mr. Cher Scholar said, "I like his recipes because they’re authentic stuff made at home, not over-the-top elaborate. Simple ingredients. Simple process." Afterwards he said he would make it again for his brother. "It's not hard."

Alterations: Our chicken breasts were huge. Monstrous. So he ending up baking them for 50 minutes at 375 degrees. 

IMG_20210724_205749Spinning up the braille machine wasn’t so easy. Mikaela works at a school for the blind and she was able to bring me some braille guides. She showed me the basic concepts of the braille “alphabet.” We had a paper-loading issue which was solved by my googling "braille paper-loading issue" and getting the result "How do I load paper into the ^*#! brailler?"

Then we had an issue with the carriage return that caused us to take the whole machine apart, which Priscilla did with our drill. We all then looked at inside and provided speculative theories about the problem. Mr. Cher Scholar saw some "teeth" inside which needed to catch the return. He adjusted the margins and then it worked.

He usually avoids fixing stuff like an allergy so I asked him later what inspired him to do that and he said it was working with a manual typewriter all those years as a show-biz writer. So this was a real four-person team effort.

Then Mikaela taught me how to use the braille keys! Which are very cool and insanely complicated at the same time. I have to practice, she says, before I start typing out poems on the thing.

Perfect Pork Chops (Correction)

Another early birthday present I received yesterday was Celebrity Recipes, a newsstand publication from the 1980s judging by the big Heather Locklear, Linda Evans and Michael Douglas pictures on its cover. Anyway, on page 32 it claims that Perfect Pork Chop (the recipe I also have from Singers & Swingers in the Kitchen, The Scene-Makers Cook Book by Roberta Ashley) is actually Cher's recipe. 

Cher in Vogue

IMG_20210729_104538The following spread is from Vogue, September 1, 1971. This was the same year their first live album came out. while they were still on the nightclub circuit. 

Their live album cover is unusual in that the gatefold only shows a large photo of Sonny & Cher facing each other, a kind of extravagant gesture for a gatefold of recording artists on the skids. The photos are also very shadowy and almost abstract, especially the front cover.

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So it's good to see another shot of Cher in the album outfit and have it described by the scribes of Vogue magazine.


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: Covering Cher

Cs-cover-songs-21Lots of great bootlegs are not available on Spotify, like Nirvana’s "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," Paul Weller, Kaleo, Isobel Campbell, David Guetta/Skylar Grey, and Charlotte Church’s respective versions of "Bang Bang," Robbie Fulk and MNEK’s versions of "Believe," David Bowie and Marianne Faithful’s "I Got You Babe."

Of the remakes available on Spotify, these are the best:

The Beat Goes On - Live At Chez Club, Hollywood/1966/Remix, Buddy Rich Big Band
This cover might have influenced many that came after it, dispensing with Carol Kaye’s creative bass line and jazz-ifying the song. Many future covers would use this template.

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) - 2004 Remaster, Terry Reid
Everyone seems to feel Nancy Sinatra’s cover is the best cover (and the one all future covers are created from), but this one is actually better IMHO. Like Sonny’s world-music version, it has movements.

Mama, Dalida
Dalida makes Cher songs better.

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Scud Mountain Boys
Haunting version. And in the Cher style of not altering pronouns.

Baby Don't Go by Colorama
Very pretty, quiet version.

Pretty good remakes:

The Beat Goes On, Le Cercle, Chloé Del'Orté
Fun remake of the Buddy Rich version.

Needles And Pins - Live At The The Forum/1981, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks
Since The Searchers recording pre-dates Cher’s version, it’s technically not a cover. Which is good because I hate the precedent they set in singing pinzah, which is no a word anyone should ever sing. Cher is the only artist to refrain from doing so. As they go, I guess this version is the best non-Cher version.

Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down, GMPresents & Jocelyn Scofield
The David Guetta/Skylar Grey version is really the most amazing thing, along with the Terry Reid version. This one is at least a slowed-down take of the song that isn’t a complete redux of Nancy Sinatra’s version.

It's the Little Things, Skeletons

Love Don’t Come, Tomasina Abate

I Got You Babe, Toadsuck Symphony
Hard to cover this song. This is probably as good as it gets.

Bang Bang, Dalida

Baby Don't Go, Dwight Yoakam with Sheryl Crow
Also a nice version.

The Beat Goes On, Herbie Mann
Kudos for respecting Kaye’s baseline.

Not-that-great but famous attempts

I Got You Babe, UB40, Chrissie Hynde
Popular during my formative years, but reggae doesn't really add anything to this song.

Needles and Pins - 2002 Remaster, Ramones

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Nancy Sinatra

The Beat Goes On, Britney Spears

Half Breed, Shania Twain

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Vicki Lawrence

A mixed bag, some good, some bad, none very memorable

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Stevie Wonder

The Beat Goes On, Firewater

I Got You Babe, Etta James

A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done, Diego's Umbrella

Half-Breed, House of Large Sizes

Bang Bang, Vanilla Fudge

The Beat Goes On, Transmitters

I Got You Babe, The Dictators

Beat Goes On, The All Seeing I
So similar to Britney’s I do a double take. Theirs was 2 years earlier.

I Got You Babe, Cherie Currie

 

Peruse the Covers on Spotify.


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: The Philosophical Songs (plus an essay)

Cs-phil-songs-21Ok so not only did I think there would be too few Cher love songs for a mix (and I ended up having to be judicious there) but I thought I’d find a plethora of philosophical songs (or even pseudo-philosophical ones) for a mix. Not only were there not that many but I soon ran into the conundrum of where does a philosophical song end and a political one begin?

I finally decided to exclude overtly political songs without any self-improvement qualities or introspective quality. So no “For What It’s Worth,” “Love and Understanding,” or “Love Can Build a Bridge” or “Love One Another.” And “Perfection” got kicked out of the list because the lyric never does come out against seeking perfection, just admits "I don’t have what it takes," which is I guess the philosophy of defeatism….these are hard hairs to split. Anyway, I tried to focus on world-views and mindsets instead outward focused encouragements.

Blowin’ In the Wind: Yes, definitively and famously political but essentially a direct address to ‘my friend,’ someone who is ostensibly seeking counsel. Alternatively, some self-talk. Enough non-political, philosophical questions to apply for inclusion here. And because the song is structures as a list of questions: Socratic.

Where Do You Go: Sonny Bono’s facsimile of the above. But even more self-help-y. 

Time: Not sure what the point is in this rambling bit of philosophy except to say things just are and to pay attention or you will lose time. This is probably Buddhism.

Sing C’est La Vie: Sometimes words to the wise are hard to hear, in various ways. But there it is. That’s life. Here's an article about the phrase, Albert Camus and Absurdity which makes this Camus-style existentialism. 

There But For Fortune: Ah, here we go. This is the mindset of 'things could be worse,' a version of "There but for the grace of God," which was a paraphrase from the Bible so Christian.

Good Times: Although I think there is philosophy hidden all up in lines like “Irving, bubby” and “Why don’t you sing ‘em a song/Shucks ma’am I can’t sing/Don’t let that stop you” you will have to ignore some nonsensical verses until you can-can into the song’s live-it-up philosophy, one that is infectious if not alarmingly factually inaccurate. Merry-go-rounds: notorious for breaking down. But hey, “Drink to the good times and hope, my friend, that they last.” Could possibly be interpreted as Hedonism.

We All Sleep Alone: A bit of a Debbie-Downer here but at least the video message goes down with some satin-sheeted sugar. Some fans disagree with me but I think this song is about death and the alienation of the soul…in death. But it's also about Cher’s list of lovers and her philosophy about relationships before she ultimately encounters….death.  Possibly Atheism.

Heart of Stone: Like "Blowin in the Wind," lots of very political lines (which are emphasized visually in the video), but essentially this song is about the self and I have decided she’s singing about Stoicism

Love is the Groove: I wonder if the dance-bait title does the song a disservice. The ideas are a bit vague and not sure where the metaphors point. But that gives the song a koan-like quality. So there you go. 

Più Che Puoi: Not that different from the philosophy of "Good Times," although delivered with much more melancholy.

Favorite Scars: Okay, more than the other songs, this feels a bit like Brené Brown and self-help. Which I guess makes it Applied Philosophy

The Winner Takes It All: Questionable addition even to me. But there’s a cynicism to this song that feels downright Ancient Greek. “The Gods may throw a dice/their minds as cold as ice.”

Peruse the Philosophical on Spotify

 

Moonstruck-soloSpeaking of philosophy, I read this essay recently, "Moonstruck, or How to Ruin Everything" by William Day. It's from the book Ordinary Language Criticism: Literary Thinking after Cavell after Wittgenstein. Yes, Wittgenstein. I kid you not.

Day compares the operatic elements in Moonstruck to Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. I can tell you this, I never thought I’d see the words Cher and Wittgenstein in one sentence, let alone Cher and Fitzcarraldo.

Day also compares the movie to certain romantic comedies of the 1940s with emphasis on a heroine involved in the idea of a re-marriage. This is quite an amazing essay as much about the movie’s themes as it is about the experience of reading in comparison to the experience of performance.. Day even suggests the movie’s depiction of the repression of sexual desire is actually a metaphor for lost or unrealized potential and living with abandon. 


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: The Girl Power Songs

Cs-girl-songs-21In the middle of creating this list I realized a lot of these songs were written by men. So I counted it all up and yes there are 35 male writers to just 10 woman writers. Oy. And I kept losing count of all the writers listed for “A Different Kind of Love Song” so this is an undercount.

All I Really Want to Do: Early idea of relationship emancipation when sung by Cher. That’s why her version of this Dylan song is important.

I Walk on Guilded Splinters: The witchy New-Orleans swamper written by a future Dr. John. Mess with this voodoo version of Cher at your own risk. I have never not liked this song.

Hell on Wheels: All the stuff the voodoo princess in the prior song does but this time on roller skates. It’s still dangerous!

Young and Pretty: I worried this song might sound too victim-y. It’s the only Spotify Black Rose song available so it slipped in. I think it’s Cher’s defiant performance of the song that makes me want to include it and her 40-year literal defiance of the lyric (actually giving the words retrospective irony) that makes this one apropos to our mix here today.

Back on the Street Again: I worried about including this one as well. The girl-power part is mostly in the chorus and the way Cher delivers it. This is another example of how a lyric's meaning changes when sung by a woman instead of man, especially a woman who has decided to change “feet” to “street” and “came” to “gave” illustrating some different priorities there.

I Found Someone: Cher’s first Geffen-era kiss-off song. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like what I would image a girl-power song to be but I’ve witnessed girls-of-a-certain-age at Cher concerts who really love reenacting this one to each other while Cher sings it. It taps into something, this one does.

Save Up All Your Tears: Part two of "I Found Someone." Cher doesn’t sing this one in her shows anymore, but I’m assuming the aforementioned girls would do the same re-enactments for this one. This is a fun song to sing with indignation, whether you have cause or not.

Just Begin Again (with Spinal Tap): Because it’s funny and not bad advice. Although Cher belts too much in it. This was the 1990s and I’m glad that whole thing is over.

It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World: The example most people give when Cher’s persona provides a cover song with ironic disobedience.

Believe: Cher’s girl-power incarnation in the new millennium. This song is another surprising girl-anthem since it’s a bit equivocal and vacillating. But the boys and girls disagree. You see them dancing to this one with a look of self-confidence on their faces and have to admit they are digging empowerment out of it. This is a good example of how music and lyric can mix to evoke a stronger message than the literal words indicate. Honestly, I have never loved this song. I know. What can I say? This is the remix I can take (with the happy electronica) and happily this is the version Cher uses to open her shows.

Strong Enough: Post-Believe, Cher is putting more girl-power out there. More overt girl-power than "Believe." And the disco sound lets us pretend Cher sang this one decades earlier.

A Different Kind of Love Song: It’s not all about what girls are reacting against, but what we celebrate too.

You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me: Yes, a good phoenix rising song but like "Believe" I don’t really like it. So I found a remix I did like, a softer, slightly anthemic, less bombastic journey. Undeniably a strong sentiment though. “Times are hard but I was built tough.”

Woman’s World: Written by men. Harrumph! Cher sells the empowerment here though, especially in her shows.

Take it Like a Man: A tongue-in-cheek “we can do better” song for that works well for girls and gay men, which is why there are about 100 zillion dance remixes. “And how does it feel when we do it better?”

Chiquitita: Girl to girl, things will be okay. Great when ABBA sings it. Cher’s version feels very motherly, or fairy-godmotherly. “Love’s a blown out candle….but the sun is still in the sky and shining above you.”

Stop Crying Your Heart Out: My mother has a lot of somewhat harsh pieces of advice we call Estel-igims. When she was sick in the hospital with Covid and hours away from the ventilator, she was still scolding me to “toughen up” and to “do as I say” and I think this sentiment applies here. The song came out right as she was telling me this although at the time I told her I regretted to inform her that I was a cream puff. Sorry not sorry. :-)

Peruse the Girl Power songs on Spotify.


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: The Love Songs

Cs-love-songs-21A month or so ago I was driving to Taos and discovered fan mixes on Spotify for a few other artists and decided it would be fun to create some new-fangled media mixes for Cher.

Sometimes I come across a Cher love song on shuffle and think, huh, a love song. I should make a mix of these but I don’t normally associate Cher with love songs, which is daffy because that was Sonny & Cher's stock-in-trade, two lovebirds singing love songs. But I was like, nope, not enough songs. So I was shocked when compiling this first mix in Spotify last week.

The songs run the gamut from sweet to crazy. Because this is Spotify, there are songs from four albums we couldn’t add here, like the lovely version of “Love Hurts” from Stars, “I’d Rather Believe in You” from the album of the same name, or any song with Gregg Allman. The mix is also missing the rare b-side “She’s No Better Than Me” and probably one of the most moving songs Cher ever sang for Sonny, Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We” from her last recorded torch performance on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour in 1974. On purpose I didn’t include Cher’s latter-day "Love Hurts" (too bombastic) and “Bang Bang” (she’s having too much fun in the 1980s remake and the 1966 version feels like it somehow belongs to another mix). I curated these songs out-of-chronological order to indicate their timelessness. 

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

The Way of Love: Easily Cher’s biggest, most-representative torch ballad and the ballad that started off her torch era. It has to go first.

Song for You: Leon Russell’s classic torchy ballad. Strong love song. Cher's version is better than the Carpenter’s version I think. Cher gives a more jaded delivery.

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You: From Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album. When I was 8 years old I made my parents sit in the living room and listen to this song on the record player because I thought it was that good. They patiently sat there until the song was over and then excused themselves to go back into the den to finish their cigarettes and whatever TV show I had interrupted them from.

I Wasn’t Ready: Loved this one as a kid too and still like it.

Angels Running: One of Cher’s most bittersweet covers. This version isn’t as good as the rarer, alternate US version, which is simpler and dispenses with the superfluous touches, especially around the bridge(s).

All I Ever Need Is You: Easy listening gold. As perfect a vocal as Sonny could get. Cher perfection.

Needles & Pins: A classic Sonny Bono/Jack Nitzsche song. I prefer Cher’s more more sincere, painful version than all the other silly-sounding pinzah covers. Thanks the Searchers!

You Take It All: Underrated little deep cut. I love the underwater sound of it.

The Man That Got Away: Lots of tragic love songs on Bittersweet White Light. "More Than You Know" is a Cher favorite and good candidate, but her televised and live versions were better than this up-tempo attempt. This song was noted as a good Judy Garland cover recently by The Boston Globe and I can’t deny that might have influenced my choosing it for this list. The song is at turns resigned, bitter, anguished and dismayed.

Let It Be Me: S&C loved the French around this time and two of their Gilbert Bécaud covers made this list.  Sweet and lilting.

Train of Thought: I’ve been thinking about this suicide song and that it was released in May of 1974, eerily one year before Jenny Arness’ suicide in May of 1975 when Gregg Allman left her for Cher. Cher’s smoker’s voice here leads us through a harrowing (very meta) train of thought.

Catch the Wind: Sweet song by Donovan. Cher does a doe-eyed version.

Then He Kissed Me: Not as great as The Crystals version but I’ve always liked this version too. Nice Harold Battiste piano part in this one.

United We Stand: The sonic version of the photograph displayed on the back of their 1971 All I Ever Need Is You album. As true as any S&C love song probably, at least emotionally, if not when they actually divided a few years later. Neither of them did, in fact, fall.

Love & Pain: Cher’s fist belting melodrama. I like that there are non-belting parts here too, unlike the Geffen years full of full-blast ballads.

Stand By Me: I was torn about including this one. Took it out. Then added it back in. The original is so iconic. But this is very Sonny & Cher too, similar to "United We Stand" (lots of standing). I like that Sonny comes in at the very end with his support.

What Now My Love: The second Gilbert Bécaud ("Et Maintenant"). Both of these versions are go-tos when I’m feeling gloomy. The numbness , the becoming unreal, the resignation! Such a sorrowful lyric. As I kid I always loved their cheesy nightclub version better. But this version has grown on me quite a bit.

Somebody: My favorite modest little S&C song.

Just You: I liked this song better when I was younger. It’s kind of a plodding event to me now. But that said, it’s the best, most perfect example of Sonny Bono writing a lyric about his own thoughts and feelings which he sublimates by letting Cher  sing them instead. It’s easy for the audience to read these sentiments as Cher’s (it’s what we wanted to believe about their dynamic) but they truly belong to Sonny. After all, he would sound paternalistic and crass singing them (and why is Cher so jealous? Question for another day.) so giving them to Cher probably felt chivalrous to him. Not without its charm anyway.

Baby Don’t Go: I don’t love their honky version but this is one of the most popular love songs for other artists to cover from the S&C oeuvre. So it seems important to add here. It’s also an easy song to cover well, unlike "I Got You Babe."

After All: Sonically mushy but good slow-dance material. Still popular and still a part of her shows.

It’s The Little Things: My non-Cher-fan-friends (boys or girls) always pick this song as one of their favorite Sonny & Cher songs and it's a deserving favorite. Again Sonny speaking through Cher (remember Sonny told Cher she wasn’t pretty enough to make it without him and they both often joked about how naïve and dumb Cher could be), but more catchy and a happier song than "Just You."  

I Got You Babe, Live at the Westside Room in Century City: Haven’t we all heard enough of their original recording? It’s a classic but this has always been my sentimental favorite version, particularly due to Sonny’s humorous interjections. 

I Got You Babe, Good Times Soundtrack Version: Another sweet cover of their own song. No one covers this song better than S&C did themselves.

Peruse the love songs on Spotify