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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.