So earlier this year Mr. Cher Scholar found out about a call for submissions from the New Mexico Humanities Council. They wanted stories appreciating record album covers. I knew I could do something good with a Cher cover. I literally starred at them for hours after purchase, memorizing all the names. Cher's first inner sleeve was produced for her Casablanca album Prisoner in 1979, the album after Take Me Home.
I chose Take Me Home and the entry had to be 100 words or less and I kept to that limit (although I noticed many other entries in the show did not). Here was my entry:
I was 9 years old in 1979 when Cher released her only disco album. My mother balked buying it for me, saying the cover was too risqué. Forget side boob; this cover was all boob! She relented and I spent hours perusing the cover and credits to search musicians, like members of the band Toto she usually worked with or whom she thanked. She gave boyfriends and kids affectionate nicknames. I loved the burst of green Barry Levine used for the background of the photographs. A make-up malfunction resulted in the airbrushing of her face. Her outfit was designed by Bob Mackie with inspiration from then-boyfriend Gene Simmons from KISS. It was less a costume than a set piece, Viking plates and capes of shining gold. This was the time of backlash against disco, where angry white boys were gleefully burning piles of records. Cher sat on her fabulous cape, quarter-turned to us with her devil-may-care stare, as if to say “I’m going to outlast your hate and go on to play “Take Me Home,” (the title song went to #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100), to sold-out shows in big arenas well into my 70s.
And so she did. -- Mary McCray, January 2019
Here are the front and back covers (click to enlarge):
Other albums were prestigious competition in record collecting: the obligatory Beatles, Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones covers, but also RUSH, Laura Nero, K.D. Lang, Simon & Garfunkel, Stan Getz, Jackson Browne, Iron Maiden, Jackson Browne, Deep Purple, Joy Division, Sufjan Stevens and two local New Mexican albums. There was thankfully one Dolly Parton album and one other disco album, Donna Summer's Greatest Hits.
I paid close attention to what the girl record collectors were talking about. The Dolly fan talked about growing up in rural New Mexico liking Dolly and feeling Dolly shame in front of her peers. The girl talking about Donna Summer also took pains to say her other cover submissions was a Doors cover. Girls talked about the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Joy Division and Sufjan Stevens entries.
The wife of the Stan Getz collector told my friend he would only listen to cool jazz and so she was unable to play her Miles Davis records. The RUSH and Iron Maiden stories were a bit intimidating in subject matter and funny presentations. But since everyone went before me, I had a chance to reconfigure my speech. Here's me talking about Cher.
I started by saying how I came from a record collecting family, including my Beatles-loving brothers and my country-and-western collecting Dad, and that when at 5 years old I decided to collect Cher records, this wasn't received well. I also retold the story of my mother not wanting to buy the album for me and what she said recently when I reminded her about it over email. She wrote me, "have I ever denied you anything?!" And I had to admit that was true...but what was the word she used? The word was "risque" and that was also true (considering I was only 9 years old and all). Anyway, I talked about the sexy viking costume design concept by Gene Simmons, who Cher was dating at the time, and how Bob Mackie made it. And how I had recently found a similar design on a Mae West dress so that cut-out boob-design wasn't anything new. Here it is from the 1933 Mae West movie, I'm No Angel:
I then talked about how record collecting wasn't easy after Take Me Home because Cher disappeared as a tab in the record bins for almost 10 years and how we all thought her career was over. But she came back to the stores in the mid-1980s and even last year at 72 her last album charted.
I talked about photographer (now movie producer) Barry Levine and the makeup snafu and how they had to do a bad, late-1970s airbrushing of her face. I also went on to talk about the musicians on the album, the three players who were part of the band Toto (and how they were also part of Sonny & Cher's backup band earlier in the 1970s and how Cher used them off and on through the early 1990s) and keyboardist Paul Shaffer.
I also talked about why I picked the album cover of all of Cher's over 40 album covers (I mentioned that every album but two have been released on vinyl). I talked about how Cher didn't want to do disco and how Casablanca talked her into it and how unpopular disco was at the time (for possibly homophobic and racist reasons in retrospect) and how looking back I think about the male gaze and how Cher is starring so strongly and defiantly back and how when I was nine (although I didn't know what the male gaze was at the time) I probably understood this as a model for how to be a confident and defiant Cher fan.
Everyone had the chance to play a sample of a song from their album. So the show ended on the song "Take Me Home."
I was most interested in the women in the show who picked artists who were very unlike them in some way. The Laura Nero album was picked by an African American woman who talked about Nero's quality of whiteness and her facial expressions captured on the cover. The Dolly Parton album was picked by the Hispanic woman from rural New Mexico. These choices opened up conversations about identity and how you relate to each other as women. The Laura Nero woman told me later she really liked my presentation, as did the man who did the RUSH cover. I appreciated that.
The Iron Maiden cover was picked by a man writing a book about Greek mythology in Heavy Metal. I will be sure to purchase it and discuss.