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Songs Cher Should Cover

Sandc_2Since my first thought of having a Cher blog, I’ve wanted to include a feature called “Songs Cher Should Cover.” You run into so many songs here and there that you think have that special stamp of Cher-potential. I always thought Elton John’s “Take Me To The Pilot” would really kick ass and I felt a self-satisfied sort of delight when finally seeing her sing it with the Pointer Sisters on a re-run of her mid-70s Cher Show. However, in my fantasy it was a Sonny & Cher cover for some reason. I could see them arm in arm, rocking to the chorus: “Take me to the pilot; lead me to the chamber. Take me to the pilot; I am but a stranger. Na na na. Na na na!” (See picture to the right.)

I feel the same way about the song “Best Imitation of Myself” by Ben Folds Five. Not only does the song rock hardy, but Ben Folds’ lyrics seem truly written about Cher, like those Prisoner songs back in 1979, only smarter. (I mean we all know Cher loves to shop, but I’d like the few-and-far-between biographical numbers to be more informative than she buys one in every color.

I feel like a quote out of context…withholding the rest so I can be free what you wanna see.
I got the gestures, sounds, got and the timing down …it’s uncanny. Yeah you’d think it was me.

Did I make me up?
Or make this face ‘til it stuck?
I do the best imitation of myself.

It’s a song that says both “Impersonators out there, take heed – you can’t do this better than me” and  “Everyone else, I am the master of my show; stop judging me and piss off!”

To fully disclose, I’m a Ben Folds fan. I’ve seen Ben Folds Five play in New York City and I saw Ben Folds play alone at the Coachella Music Festival a few years ago. He was amazing without a band, just him pounding away on his piano. I love “Brick,” “Eddie Walker” and “Rockin the Suburbs.” Even the line

I take the check and face the facts as some producer with computers fixes all my shitty tracks

makes me smile like Bette Midler might before saying something snarky about “Believe.”

Ben Folds Five also mentions Cher in a cover of the Flaming Lips song, “She Don’t Use Jelly”

I know a girl who reminds me of Cher. She’s always changing the color of her hair.”

My Dad just sent me the Tom Waits’ album Orphans. I know many pop-fans find Tom Waits un-listen-able. My Ape Culture co-hort Julie Wiskirchen said “[Waits] sings and acts like a crazy person on the subway.” In many ways Waits is the anti-Cher. He’s so anti-image, this is his image. So anti-artifice, that’s his artifice. He’s the pinnacle of rock 'n' roll credibility and would never be caught dead on dance-floor speakers. He dresses down – way, way down. No wigs (as far as we know) and no glitter.

I had the Waits CD once with “Downtown Train” on it. I don’t know what happened to it, which means the CD found its way to the Salvation Army store. A scoundrelish Irishman I used to date re-introduced me to a few Waits tunes which I passed on to my Dad who is now a fan. I didn’t realize Waits sang “Ole 55.” Back then he sounded more like Gregg Allman than the smoking, hard-drinking, gnarly voice we’re hearing today. (Yes I know, Allman has a gnarly voice too; but there's really no comparison.)

I love the new album. The lyrics are stand-out poetry and the pieces are very melodious -- if some of you can get past his voice. Which if you’re acclimated to Sonny Bono shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, I think if it were not for Waits' rough-and-tumble image, these songs would be considered pop songs, they’re so catchy. The album has three CDs. Brawlers is bluesy, Bawlers is more about standards. I haven’t gotten to the last one, Bastards, yet.

But from the blues-infused Brawlers CD, two songs would be great to hear Cher cover: “Lowdown” and “Lost at the Bottom of the World.” They are lyrically strong (like her later Warner Bros material) and they offer contrast to her musical oeuvre, such as the ballads of It’s a Man’s World did. Those ballads gave Cher “a slow moment” in the overall show.

To this point, it was tragic when we lost “The Way of Love” from the set of Cher’s Farewell tour because that was the only quiet moment in a frantic, non-stop show. Just like Celebration at Caesars had “Take It To the Limit” and “On My Own,” the Farewell needed a ballad or two. We need a quiet, melodic contrast to all the lights and color, just as a visual design needs a contrast between light and dark or rough and smooth.

Plus, Waits would be a respectable choice for someone interested in amping up their rock 'n' roll street cred. In fact, “Ole 55” would be a great cover too.

And now the sun’s comin up
I’m riding with lady luck
Freeway cars and trucks…
Freeway cars and trucks…

If my mind’s somewhere else, you won’t be able to tell…
I do the best imitation of myself.


Cher-Impersonator Product

Thai_2I had a really miserable week last week. I ruined not one but two Thai food diners. A poetry project I’ve been working on for over a year (over many years, actually) didn’t work out. I was PMSing something awful and really swamped with work. Then Cher-fan Tyler informed me via comment a few posts back that the new dance album Forever Cher was actually a tribute album by Dark Lady, a.k.a. Jimmy James.

Ugh! Cher tributes are always low rent. Kate Bush or Sheryl Crow never rally to do re-interpretations of “Half Breed” or “We All Sleep Alone.” Although Sonny’s 60s tunes have been covered a respectable amount of times – search iTunes and you may be surprised. But when it’s Cher solo, we get completely unknown hacks. In other words, we’ll never get a Pickin on Cher. I would have been depressed to hell about the whole thing if it weren’t for my many other problems.

But damn it all, I’m a complete-ist and must buy the overpriced CD anyway. And you know what? It doesn’t suck. It’s actually…fun. I’d go as far as to say it’s the best facsimile of modern Cher I’ve yet heard. Jimmy’s voice sounds remarkably like Cher’s. In fact, you can almost forget. Did I just say that? That's impossible, I know. The litmus test comes during “Walking In Memphis” when Jimmy tries to sing Beale Street. No one can sing “ten feet off of Beale” like Cher.

What’s really interesting is the arrangements which are different enough to work on their own. Some creativity was brought to these impersonations. “Bang Bang” and “Half Breed” start the album nicely. If only the Farewell recreations had been so kitschy-fresh. “Turn Back Time”. . .well, what can you really do with TBT? I tell you it doesn’t suck. In fact, these mixes make the Geffen-era tunes more palatable to me. Jimmy is infused with enough Cher-spirit to do free-form Cher singing, which takes this impersonation to the level of a real tribute. For this, props go to the creative producing and arranging by Keith Haarmeyer.

Here’s my thinking on the differences between impersonations and tributes:

Impersonator: Dresses like the band/singer but sings or lip-syncs exactly like the records or live performances.
Cover band: May or may not dress like the band/singer but plays/sings exactly like the records or live performances.
Tribute: Plays/sings similar to records or live performances but infuses songs with something new, an original spin on arrangements or something of one’s own personality.

The sex switch: Mistress of the Dark is a tribute band in my mind because these gals don’t just dress like Black Sabbath but they re-interpret Black Sabbath songs as a girl band; whereas most male impersonators just dress/act/lip-sync like their celebrity. They suppress themselves beneath the celebrity persona. Dark Lady is an impersonator/cover artist bordering on tribute due to the originality of the arrangements and Jimmy's phrasing.

Dance remakes by the original artists walk a fine line. You have to infuse the song with some punch without messing up the basic pathos of the piece. Don’t make a sad song too happy, in other words, just because I’m dancin!

I wasn’t sure this fake Cher would be able to hold my attention over two CDs. Unless it’s a funny remix of a golden oldie (somebody please remix “Where Do You Go!”), I’m not a big dance-mix fan. I mean how many ways can you stretch out “The Music’s No Good Without You” or “When The Money’s Gone?” After a while, the stretch marks start to show. And I don’t like the “beat off to eternity” that most dance songs end with. It feels like extra fabric left over.

The first tracks are better than the later ones. “Song for the Lonely” sounds a little awkward but I loved the bridge. The voice-box effect on “Believe” is a little irritating and Jimmy seems to find the Cher falsetto in “One by One” harder to sing. Maddeningly, you still can’t understand what the washed-out sounding back-ups are singing in the intro of that song. Will some backup singer (or computer programmer) please come forward and resolve this decade-old mystery for us?

I haven’t finished the second disc yet, which mainly contains all the same songs on disc one but revamped as “Return to the Five and Dime” remixes by DJ Ross Alexander. Oh and they all run together on disc two which makes for one supercalifragilistic Cher party! Alexander also includes “Love and Understanding” and “The Shoop Shoop Song” on disc two. If he can make these two stinkers sound good, God bless him.

In any case, this disappointing product purchase turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I hope my next attempt at Thai cooking will do the same.

If This is What Respect Looks Like. . .

Cher2_2 So I’m eating my re-heated pasta from my celebratory dinner at The Buggy Whip last weekend (celebrating because the Wisconsin Review accepted one of my older poems) and enduring last night’s live broadcast of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on VH-1 Classics, a broadcast reminding us that neither Cher or Sonny & Cher have yet been inducted or are likely to be inducted anytime this solar life-span into that prestigious canonical orb of proper pop music despite the well-intentioned petitions of Cher Convention fans.

Which is fine. Because it’s stupid.

That Blondie drama last year was off-putting. The Van Halen debacle this year was ridiculous. Of all the worthy bands, these ass-clowns get in and then don’t even show up or send a note. Well, recently booted-to-the-curb Michael Anthony did show up as did 80s lead-singer Sammy Hagar. But not Eddie or that other-Van-Halen-brother or the glutton-for-attention David Lee Roth? Where was he? Did Eddie threaten to not let him come back into to the Van-fold if he dared show up alongside Sammy? Is this tomfoolery all over the latest Van-melodrama regarding long-time player Michael Anthony who got replaced on the tour by Eddie's 15-year old son Wolfgang by Valerie Bertinelli?

No, this isn’t like the time Elijah played on the Love Hurts Cher tour. Micahael Anthony is a beloved founding member of Van Halen. This is despotic nepotism!

Sammy and Michael tried to recreate the magic with “Why Can’t This Be Love” and the help of every-musician’s friend Paul Shaffer among others; but without that iconic sound of Eddie, it sucked. I love Sammy but his performance was lackluster. They looked embarrassed. The whole show was cringe-making with its long pauses between performances which were filled with heckling  from the crowd and film clips of vintage Hall of Fame induction performances from years past with the likes of B.B. King and Eric Clapton, in other words past inductees with a bit of class and reverence for something beyond their navels.

So now Eddie’s in rehab and the civil war between him and all his long roster of former band-mates continues. Yawn. Can I see the next vintage Hall of Fame performance now? Ah, that’s it: Prince playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Tom Petty. It’s as if the Hall of Fame is saying “Now here is a real guitar genius eccentric...who puts out!” Prince kills us with a performance full of flair and dexterity and then maddeningly prances off the stage like an arrogant elf. I love him! I hate him!

Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes was also inducted. Remember Cher wrote the introduction to Spector’s autobiography and these gals used to pal around when both were working under the banner of Phil Spector. Cher also sang back-up on the iconic Wall-of-Sound recording “Be My Baby”. The autobiography of the same title is a must read for Ronnie’s take on the early punk/folk version of Cher and to understand what life was like behind that Wall…speaking of irrational eccentrics.

At the end of the show, all the inductees convened to sing a ditty, including Grandmaster Flash, Ronnie herself, two-fifths of Van Halen, and Patti Smith looking homeless as usual – which is fine because she’s an auteur and all...but why are her teeth so icky?? She would make a good ghost-of-rock-tours-past in one of Eddie Van Halen’s hallucinogenic drug episodes.

I’m frustrated with the rock canon right now and so I’m going to go buy the newly issued Cher dance mix collection, which includes remixes of “Dark Lady” and “Bang Bang [Return to the Five & Dime Mix]” which is sure to ensure Cher will continue to be snubbed from any future R&R HOF inductions to come. Darn it all.