Let’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.)
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):
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.
A biography booklet, some pictures, a quiz and two very conspicuous textbook-covers.
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.
Other fans had received these additional items which were not in my initiation folder (stationary and a club card).
And without the card, I feel so unofficial right now.