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Cher and Black Rose

ImagesThe Twitter Cher scholar at Cher Universe mentioned on August 21 the anniversary of the release of the Black Rose album 42 years ago.

I'm always impressed by young social-media Cher fans who for the last few years have been finding the most amazing, never before seen Cher pics hidden out there on the Internets. I've been combing through Cher pics for 45 years now and I've never seen some of these photos.

I first saw this Black Rose picture below from Victoria Shell's YouTube great YouTube bios of Cher (part 1 & part 2) from last year. Never saw it before that.

And the photo was shocking in its silliness. I commented on Twitter this image might have been part of the band's credibility problem. 







Allegedly, Black Rose was rejected from opening for the tours of every popular 1980s band except Hall and Oates. That might be an exaggeration but they were not a popular band.

2hde5a1This anniversary reminded me that I've been meaning to blog about the remastered Black Rose Import CD (which came from Ireland I think and during Covid it took months to arrive in the mail). The liner notes were worth the long wait because they include an extensive interview with Les Dukek about the experience, which is valuable. He was the main driver of the band, aside from Cher; and during the project he would also become her boyfriend of three years.

The liner notes call Cher's career "varied and unpredictable" and introduce Dudek from his work with the Allman Brothers ("Ramblin' Man"), Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, 3 solo albums and a member of DFK (with Mike Finnigan and Jim Krueger).

A-1280394-1349896448-9317Dudek calls this project a big mistake but also adds that Cher was not part of the mistake. He says he has very fond memories of his relationship with Cher. He says, "I totally lost my identity but I had a great time." The band itself, he says, was just a bad move for his career. 

He says he was approached by Cher to help put together a band. She took him to dinner at Nick's Fish Market on Sunset Boulevard. Cher said she was working with a few producers but no one she liked. Dudek suggested James Newton Howard. 

After working with them on her 1979 Prisoner album, Cher probably brought in the two members of Toto, David Paich and Steve Pocaro. Interestingly Jeff Pocaro is missing, a stalwart member of Cher's studio bands since the early 1970s). Dudek brought in Mike Finnegan for keyboards and he and Cher held auditions and jam sessions to assemble everyone else.

Other members included Ron "Rocket" Ritchotte, Mike Finnigan, Michael Boddicker, Trey Thompson and Gary Ferguson.

They recorded the album at Sunset Sound, Westlake and decided not to use Cher's name or photo in any early publicity materials, only to list her as a player with the rest of the band on the back album cover. (Eventually this changed.)

CcLqDfAUUAAN7vaBlack Rose toured with Hall and Oates and appeared on Merv Griffin, Tom Snyder (focusing on Cher) and The Midnight Special. There was a Central Park concert. 

Although Neil Bogart was "a sweetheart of a guy," Dudek says there were issues using Cher's current music label, Casablanca Records; but Columbia Records had passed. Not only was Casablanca primarily a disco label, but with Bogart dealing with terminal cancer the label would soon fold. Due to lavish spending "the record company fizzled," Dudek says and was bought out by Polygram. Only 400,000 records sold. Cher became depressed. Dudek claims it was he who encouraged Cher to try acting again and to "go for the Oscar." He went with her to New York City to meet with Robert Altman.

Blackrose_albumAnd the rest is Hollywood history. But I do like the front cover they came up with, its anklet of thorns and also Cher's attempt to downplay her Cher-ness on the whole thing initially.

I hated the album when I first heard it, then years later I thought it was okay, then years later I didn't like it again and now I like some of it.

It's a mystery why the band wasn't writing their own material, especially considering Cher and Dudek did write a song together. 

"Never Should've Started" was written by David Foster, David Paich, James Newton Howard and Valerie Carter. Cher sings the intro well but then her vocal becomes swallowed and the whole thing seems hyper, screechy and empty. Not an auspicious beginning. A live performance.

"Julie" was a Bernie Taupin/Mike Chapman song and Cher's vocal is completely indecipherable here; but I do like to send the song periodically to my friend Julie and pretend the opening lines are "She-blips lie in the hungry ears" because yeah, of course they do! When I was eleven (1981) I also made a mix tape of all the swear words spoken or sang by Sonny or Cher strung together and this song was very helpful in that project. 

"Take It From the Boys"  was written by Carole Bayer Sager/Bruce Roberts and I'm trying to think of something snarky to say about using David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager songs on your debut rock album, but thinking about it just makes my brain fog up. I have no idea what Cher is singing here in the verses and although Cher sounds convincing, I shall not be taking it from the boys in the street, whatever that entails. I do like the end though. You go Carole Bayer Sager!

"We All Fly Home" - This is just another way to say "We All Sleep Alone" but Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote it better. This song also produced a gem for the cussin' tape. I would have been eating Dial soap tout de suite if my mother had found that cassette tape. Cher sings swear words really well, I will say.

"88 Degrees" - a song about LA on a hot day. I do remember the People Magazine album review taking special umbrage about all the vowels Cher uses to sing the word "split." (And no, the word 'damn' did not make the cut for the damn mix tape of Cher expletives.) This song really plods along. 

"You Know It" was written by Les Dudek and I actually like this duet, more than any of the Allman duets. 

"Young and Pretty" is the best thing on the album and the most likely song to be anthologized. Cher's still a bit muddled sounding but there's enough here to hang on to.

"Fast Company" - this was the song I most liked when I was 10 or 11 years old. It was challenging to sing along when I had no idea what words she was singing but I gave it a good go anyway. Like Redd Foxx told Cher on her solo show in 1975, you can get pretty far just on attitude. That's what this song says to me.

The liner notes say the album was mistakenly promoted as New Wave [which is pretty bizarre] instead of hard rock. The notes also maintain that the musicianship was high with quality songs and that Cher sounds "convincing as a rock vocalist" and "slots in with the rest of band...sounds like a proper band not a collection of session talents brought together to fulfill the aspirations of one person."

Except that is kind of what it was. Just having to say kinda...the problem. 

R-3567371-1335637415.jpegI actually don't think Cher was ready yet for this project. And the fact that she was bi-furcated between this band and her big circus Vegas act of pop songs was more of the same brand confusion fans experienced during the Gregg Allman years. I'm sure the proceeds of the Vegas extravaganza were bankrolling the personal projects but maybe that was playing it too safe. In any case, the result skewed more toward a Hollywood idea of what a rock band was (see the back cover for example), or a hodge-podge, over-orchestrated attempt to create one out of thin air.

That said, I do think this whole endeavor was practice for the more simplified and cohesive Geffen years.

An aborted second album allegedly included the Frankie Miller song "Aint Got No Money," "Dirty Old Man," and "Don't Trust that Woman," the song Cher and Dudek wrote together. 

Mask-bikersInteresting to note there are two versions of this song: the version Cher wrote with Dudek and he recorded on his solo album Gypsy Ride (1981) and then the version Elton John re-wrote with Cher later and recorded on his Leather Jackets album (1986). In 1985 Cher also got Dudek a role in the movie Mask as one of the bikers. "I did an album and a movie with Cher and I'm proud of it, so there," Dudek says, "She has a great work ethic. She's real dedicated to what she does." 

Little timeline of Cher recording with men she was sleeping with:

1977: Allman and Woman, Two the Hard Way with Gregg Allman

1978: "Living in Sin" with Gene Simmons

1980: Black Rose with Les Dudek

And for a palette cleanser, Youtube served this up to me this morning, a Toto song I had completely forgotten about (thus giving me a K-Tel record flashback): If only Steve Lukather from Toto had been in Black Rose too in order to give them songs like this.

And a shout out to Hall and Oates.

When Cher Sings a Song: What It Means

Slander-libelSo I’ve mentioned before how when different people sing the same song, it can have different meanings; and this is because every person brings to a song their own “star persona” and personality and backstory and public backstory.

Andrew Goodwin talks a lot about this in his book Dancing in the Distraction Factory about music videos in the 1980s and 90s. A music video was never just a music video, but a piece in a conglomeration of promotional materials, star personas, the history of entertainment on television, (and he doesn’t mention it but this includes musical segments on old variety shows), posters, album covers, magazine interviews, TV interviews, aspects of business and the whole cyclone of products, promotions and pressures that circle around a song.

So while I was working on the latest Cher show this week, her opening song came up as a perfect example of this. First of all, I had never heard this song, “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” before last weekend; but I loved it immediately and saw it as the kind of song Cher would often use to explain herself, certain songs she sings over and over again, like “More Than You Know,” and “’Aint Nobody’s Business.”

I was very surprised to discover this was a Simon & Garfunkel song, written by Paul Simon. And when they sing it (and as the lyrics literally read) the song is about being on the road and the perils and pains found there.

Slander-libel2But Cher can’t help but lend a different spin to the song. She sings a few bars of the Janis Ian song “Stars” as the initial torch moment of the opening. “Stars” is a song about how alienating stardom can be. This was a significant song on her 1975 album (and not the only song on the album dealing with issues of fame) and it is significant that this was chosen as the title of the album. So from the beginning of this performance, Cher is setting up that “this song is about me as a famous person.”  This affects the context of the matching, following song, "Keep the Customer Satisfied" which in her hands focuses more on slander and libel than life on the road.

In her version, the road is more figurative for her whole celebrity life. At the time Cher was the most recurring cover girl on news stand tabloids, which were full of silly, off-the-wall stories about her love life (mostly involving people she had never met). She was also criticized for her divorce and risqué costumes. Here she’s presenting as a working showgirl just trying to do her job and entertain. The sheriff becomes not a literal middle-America sheriff but middle-America itself.

Slander-libel3So literal details can become figurative depending upon what the singer persona brings to the song. It’s a magical thing.

It’s also a catchy song. And this isn’t always the case, but here I like the Cher version better, even though the big production of the S&C version has a fun build. I feel the song fits Cher's drawl and delivery. She brings more gravitas to her version. Because really, how slandered and libeled were Simon and Garfunkel compared to Cher.

Or was anyone I submit to you.

The Gary Puckett version.

My Rick Springfield Story

Untitled design (2)This story came to mind recently after a few nice people wrote to me about the Partridge Family/Cher post a few weeks ago. One was a music writer from St. Louis and I enjoyed her pop-culture writings on Cher, Cream Magazine and a very funny piece on Rex Smith. I also liked how she incorporated a representative music link at the end of her commentaries. And she reminded me how my two older brothers, solidly in the 1970s, St. Louis KSHE-radio rock-music demographic, once mercilessly made fun of Rex Smith.

This was separate and apart from their ongoing pressure for me to alter my music plays in the house. And even though my first instinct was to resist their suggestions in this area, in a few cases their influence did affect me unawares.

In the first case, they ruined Barry Manilow’s song “Mandy” by telling me the then-popular rumor that the song was about a dog. The second instance involved Rex Smith when my brothers mocked his single “You Take My Breath Away” one day while we were in the family station wagon because the song was basically the same two sentences sung over and over again into perpetuity. I had to agree they had a point there.

There was also their general, unspoken disparagement of pretty boys in all cases, (especially light-haired ones), which must have seeped into my consciousness somehow and pretty much made impossible any crushes I could ever develop on Rex Smith, Leif Garrett, Sean Cassidy, Jimmy McNichol and pretty much anyone from Duran Duran.

But that was all academic because I was too late a bloomer for Mr. Rex Smith. And I really can’t emphasize that enough. I was a late, late, late bloomer.

Screenshot_20220723-194805I was a perfectly happy camper being a kid with my girlfriends roller skating and playing waitress or teacher or famous novelist. We had our salacious sexcapades with the Barbies; we had incredibly complex township soap operas improvised around the Fisher-Price army of Little People and their building structures. We had board games, books, restaurant menu design, newscasts, pirating.

But the biggest thing was the Fisher-Price and Tree Tots villages we would create in our basements by pooling together our buildings.

Screenshot_20220723-194821My friend Krissy was a year older than me and we played this way for years…until she “turned.” Darcey Steinke explains “turning” for girls very well in her novel Sister Golden Hair. Turning refers to the change from girlish kid-hood into the adolescent tweens. Girls turn overnight, Steinke explained, and this completely jives with my experience growing up. Girls pass from childhood to adolescence overnight like a flipped light switch whereas boys could take months if not years to evolve into their adolescence. I don’t know how it was for gay or trans kids. Possibly something in between. But for cisgender girls, the change was Twilight-Zone quick. One day a girl had a kid personality, the next day that kid disappeared and the same girls were like zombies solely intent on finding out where the boys were grazing. It was unnerving if you were a late bloomer, kind of like watching a 1950s horror movie.

ImagesKrissy was older and so her disappearance was expected to some degree, although because she was in a grade higher at school, I rarely saw her again after that. But for the girls in my own grade, the loss of a playmate was much more egregious and painful because we would still be friends at school. We just weren’t spending our free time in the same way anymore. It was a confusing kind of loss. And in the condescending way of girls who mature faster than others, my friends were patiently waiting for me to ‘catch up’.

Screenshot_20220723-072550Jane in our grade went next. Boy crazy we called her then because she was a statistical outlier. But then suddenly all the girls started falling like dominos!

I made an impassioned case to save them, too. I said things like,

“Hey listen, I have two boys in my house! And first of all, they smell…like bad!

Secondly, they’re obnoxiously immature for like forever and it will be another whole year before one will even be able to have a civilized conversation with you.

Screenshot_20220723-194618What’s the rush anyway? You have the rest of your life to suffer over boys!

Let’s play a game of Life!“

As you might imagine, my arguments fell flat.

I remember my very last Fisher-Price friend. Her name was Chris and she was one of the last girls to turn. She wasn’t interested in boys yet because she was a tomboy, which I was not. I was just clear-headed and probably psychic about the prospect of a lifetime of love-drama ahead. I was also to into dollhouses and stuffed animals to be a tomboy. And I had no interest in climbing anything. A few times I did swear to my Screenshot_20220723-194506father that I could be a tomboy for 48-hours in order to finagle an invitation to the boys-only camping trips. But no luck; he never bought it. Not once. (And thus, an adulthood of compensation-camping for me).  

In any case, I was always willing to caucus with the tomboys if it came to that. And I thought, “okay here is someone who beats up boys at recess! She’s good for another year with this Fisher-Price stuff…at least.”

Screenshot_20220723-194539Her father did very well at a local company and so she got presents on holidays like Valentine’s Day. She had so much stuff, she’d give it away frequently. All my Michael Jackson albums were bequeathed to me when she got a full replacement set like on like Washington’s Birthday or some other non-gifting holiday like that.

So of course all her toys was great. She lugged them all over to my basement one day, all her Fisher-Price buildings, the airport, the cottage, the farm and the Holiday Inn (which I didn’t even know existed). Those combined with my farmhouse and parking garage and we had quite a metropolis.

Screenshot_20220723-194439And we were having a swell time in my basement when two days later she calls and says she can’t make it over that day.

(No worries. Everything’s fine.)

But then I get the same call again the next day and then the next day; and I know what this means. I’ve been here many times before. She’s turned. She’s still friendly at school and willing to do all the adulting things she’s newly interested in; but she suddenly has no interest in being a kid anymore.

So we’re talking on the phone a few days later and I say, “By the way, you’re going to have to come over and pick up all your stuff or I can bring it over to your house or whatever.”

And this is what she says to me, (and it still breaks my little heart to this very day). She says,

“You can keep it.”


(Flash forward a few decades and my mother kept all that Fisher-Price stuff, both mine and everything Chris left behind, and was a very popular grandmother as a result. All my nieces and nephews loved those toys as much as I did. Even the neighbor kid would come over. It brings me some kind of mitigating joy to know those things had those subsequent lives.)

But anyway, I was adrift then because you couldn’t play with that stuff alone. You needed to bounce your imaginative stories off each other. So Chris’ kid-defection effectively and forcibly ended my career with Barbies and Fisher-Price people forever.

Kid-business just ceased to exist for these girls. Roller skating now had to happen at a disco roller rink where boys could be skated in front of. No more Nancy Drew. It was now standing around at the shopping mall in a cute outfit. (Which, by the way: you couldn’t pay me.)

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this turning business and my being so tardy with it. It’s like each girl in my grade became possessed with another personality overnight, all the girls except the ones who were never going to turn, like the ones who turned out to be lesbians. Every other girl turned before I did. Actually, most of the boys turned before I did, too. That’s how late I was. And it was a lonely year as far as after-school was concerned. I watched a lot of TV.

I have this theory that Gen X girls in my grade all turned during a three-to-six-month period of time in the early 1980s. And it was like they woke up one morning and said, “Hey, I like boys today!” and then they all went to the record stores all over America and said, “Hey look! There’s a boy!” and then they all bought that same, damn Rick Springfield album.

My friend Krissy was a perfect example. She was completely following my influence in her record album purchases, however questionable they were. Slowly in the late 1970s, Cher and Johnny Cash albums were stacking up in her bedroom. And then out of the blue one day she makes a renegade purchase and I find the Rick Springfield album lying there on her bed.

And it was like any disparaging thing I could say about boys would just result in a moony gaze at the Rick Springfield album cover.

It’s important to note here that this was a completely different situation than years earlier when one of my friends would put on a Sean Cassidy or Jimmy McNichol 45 record as we kept on playing with the Fisher-Price stuff.

I was like goddamnit Rick Springfield; you are making this so much harder for me! It wasn’t his fault, I suppose. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. So it wasn’t personal exactly.

It was a little bit personal though.

Of course, I did turn eventually. One day in science class two of my girlfriends forcibly made me pick out some rando guy to “like.” And what seemed like a perfectly safe and perfunctory choice in the moment turned into rent garments pretty quickly. Within days, I was so predicably swept away I couldn’t even parcel out all the incredibly deserved “I told you sos” to all my friends.

And from that day that I turned, I have no clue where all that Fisher-Price junk in the basement got stored away because, for the love of god, all that ceased to exist and within days the basement was repurposed into a dance floor where I was dancing to The Pointer Sisters and songs like “Let the Music Play” while daydreaming about stupid rando boy. I had a bathroom now miraculously full of makeup and hairspray, was giving a shit about what I wore to school every day, and even stinky socks and asinine immaturity seemed mysteriously surmountable and even immaterial and now possibly (alarmingly) even part of the new appeal!

I think we can all look back at this time and clearly see I was totally right about all of it; and if Rick Springfield hadn’t enabled the complete Gen-X-Girl Turnover of 1981 & 2, I would have had a fighting chance in talking sense into those precocious, hormonally-hijacked young ladies.

The Rick Springfield thing isn’t personal. It’s just a little personal though.

StateoftheheartThis grievance of course doesn’t include the Italian Rick Springfield. He’s a total hottie.


And now…the closing Rick Springfield song.  
(I did buy this 45 single in 1985 so I couldn’t have been that mad at Rick Springfield.)

The Kiss-Off Songs of Sonny & Cher

Sonnyandcher01Full disclosure: when I was eight years old, I found Sonny & Cher's final record at the local library. This album seemed totally crazy (even for an eight year old) and yet I still proceeded to develop a nine-minute dance routine to Sonny's confounding title opus. 

Now, every time the song "Mana Was a Rock-and-Roll Singer, Papa Used to Write All His Songs" comes up on my music app shuffle, I can't help but compare it to the song Cher chose to sing to Sonny during one of the final episodes of their TV variety show.

MamaSonny's song is particularly venomous and disingenuous, full of bitterness. What's most shocking is that he got Cher to sing it.

"Damn you girl, you went and messed up the world" is really its prime motivation but includes attacks on Cher's alleged promiscuity, her looks, her treatment of him, and mysterious manipulations that allegedly led to someone getting jail time! Although Sonny does admit Cher is "super fine and blows people's minds."

The song then oddly floats into a reflective set of movements which take up two-thirds of the running time and proclaim a false modesty repeated over and over only to disprove the adage that if you repeat something enough times people will believe it.

The last two thirds include a full production with children's chorus, agitated strings and horns, a gospel singer, and a guitar solo which you don't even notice right away because so much is going on!

It's really something. Why is Cher involved in this again? Oh yeah, because even when she was pissed off at Sonny and he was being a complete dick, she still loved Sonny. And then, just when you think it's over...

DidntweIn contrast, Cher's fare-thee-well song to Sonny was Jimmy Webb's "Didn't We." Spectators to her performance of it, one of the final taped solos of the 1971-1974 series, say there wasn't a dry eye in the house, including Cher's.

Every time she sings, "And this time we almost made that long...hard climb," that emotional part always makes me sad.

Sonny also wrote a solo song called "Last Show" but it was mostly about losing the shows, not about losing Cher. And don't get me started on the grammatical uses of she and her. That song just makes me tired. I actually prefer the crazy opus if I had to choose. And, luckily, this world does not require that of us.