Christmas Songs, Lucy Arnaz and You'd Better Sit Down Kids

CherxmasChristmas Music

So here we are the day before the Thanksgiving weekend. In a few days it will be the appropriate time to binge on Holiday songs. Since last year was like the least festive year I've ever had (truly 'the year without a Christmas tree' for the whole extended family), this year the yen to fest feels strong.

Meanwhile my friend Natalie has been feeling blue and her birthday is coming up so as I was discussing the fact that her gift has been picked out and is on its way she stopped me to say the only thing she wants from me is another Christmas mix tape. (She thinks it's hilarious I  studiously curate these mixes as an agnostic). So yesterday I started my Massive Christmas Playlist on Spotify to give to her this weekend.

Sadly, it has not one Cher Christmas song in the whole 6+ hours! Since Cher's best holiday songs were on her television shows (and are at best bootleg-able), none are on Spotify except for the one with Rosie O'Donnell and....eh.

So expect a Cher Christmas song blog post in the next few weeks.

A Night at the Academy Museum

A-night-in-the-academy-museum-abc-cherI also want to say something about Cher's appearance on A Night in the Academy Museum. She had three segments. In one she talked about how important costumes are for actors in helping them form their characters. In another short segment, we see her famous fu*k- you dress and in a final segment she highlights her friend Diana Ross' dress from Lady Sings the Blues and an Elton John explosion of an outfit.

The special felt like a the longest commercial for a museum you've ever seen. A very good commercial, but a commercial nonetheless. I have to say my favorite part was Diane Warren's segment at the end talking about how many times she's been nominated and showing us the podium where one could visit the museum and pretend to win an Oscar. She was very funny and her whole spiel was pitch perfect.

You'd Better Sit Down Kids

Lucyjr2Despite Lucille's Ball's big presence in Cher's story (which is not insignificant), I have never been a big Lucille Ball fan or an I Love Lucy fan. Although I can say I do enjoy the antics of Lucy and Ethel sometimes and find Desi very attractive and Lucille Ball is excellent in Stage Door (a movie whose flowers determined my wedding bouquet) and in Big Street (a movie Cher showed us on TCM when she hosted).

I can just skip her TV shows is all. And one day last month I was sick with a cold and watched something I normally wouldn't watch, Lucy Arnaz's documentary on her parents, Lucy and Desi: A Home MovieIt was actually illuminating to see Lucy and Desi in private moments before the hoopla of their public life together.Kids

But in any case, Lucy Arnaz talks about the moment her parents, (who in her lifetime where always viciously fighting), were finally separating and she said she can't listen to Sonny Bono's song "You'd Better Sit Down Kids" because, she says, that's exactly how it was. 

So I'd like to take a moment to enjoy the song in all its variations today:

Cher's original version on her solo album of 1967 With Love, Cher.

Sonny's later-day version on 1971's duet album All I Ever Need Is You which I have to say I've alwaysLiza loved for its raw (and I would say, brave) sentimentalism.

Sonny's 1973's Sonny & Cher Live, Vol. 2 version.

And Liza Minelli also recorded a version

As did Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.


Why Believe-ing Is More Important Than We Think

BelieveOk, this is going to be harrowing and arduous but I would just say hang in there. I think we will all get to a better place by the end of this. I’ve decided to blog about this song at length (something which would otherwise be a chapter in pop culture analysis) because I didn’t think all that much of the song myself until last week (sure it was fun and influential, but not substantial). But I’ve been educated a bit more on its inner workings and I now see much more clearly how those workings and arguments overlap very closely to my own arguements around other Cher products.

Which is all to say the song “Believe” was never a hill I wanted to die on. “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves” is the hill I want to die on. But I finally had a chance to read the Cambridge University Press, Popular Music journal article from October 2001, “Believe, Vocoders, Digitalised Female Identity and Camp” by Kay Dickinson and I’ve had my head taken off. 

(I found the article recently by searching through the academic database JSTOR. And as an aside, I’ve come to believe a paid JSTOR account is a barometer of true nerdom. In fact, most academics get their nerdy essays for free through their academic institution's paid JSTOR [or the like]. You have to be a real hardhat nerd to pay for your own subscription.) 

Anyway, so "Believe." Not one of my touchstones. But I have found myself oftentimes forced into a defensive position relative to the song in certain fanboy circles, some of which reside in my own family. And in this blog I’m often writing from the defensive position and I’ve been thinking this probably has to do with coming of age while a part of marginalized  Jermainegroups (girl culture and socially, gay culture) and most certainly growing up in a house with two older brothers who tried to assert musical dominance over my campy appetites.

Dickinson's article forcuses on cultural meanings around the use of the vocoder, which "Believe" was falsely believed to have used for its "Cher effect." But we’ll get to that later. Her points about the vocoder are still germaine for their historical context. 

Dicksionson reviews how the vocoder was invented “in Germany in 1939 as a means of disguising military voice transmissions” and how the technology has been previously used mostly only by “avant garde male performers." Dickinson traces the vocoder as “a piece of analogue equipment” often used to signal over a keyboard or guitar track to “render it more sonically complex.” 

The Boys of Music

“Unsurprisingly, then, early pop interest in the vocoder came from (mainly) male musicials with heavy investments in types of futurism, artists such as Kraftwerk, Stevie Wonder, Deveo, Jean-Michel Jarre, Cabare Voltaire and Laurie Anderson. Later, the vocoder became a stalwart technology of early electro and has, since then, infused contemporary hip hop and the work of more retro-tinged dance acts such as Daft Punk and Air.”

And here’s the crux of the issue, according to Dickinson:

“Sooner or later during these exercises, the manipulated human voice bangs into some deeply rooted beliefs about expressiveness within popular music, beliefs which so often grow out of how we constitute ‘the human body’ at any given time…the vocoder’s sound then carries along certain questions about music’s position vis-à-vis technology and the bodily self, where one starts and the other stops….Evidently, there are conventions and conditions controlling what ‘real’ talent and ‘real’ music are at any given time.”

She quotes extensively from E. Leach from an article called “Vicars of ‘Wannabie’: Authenticity and the Spice Girls” and this marker for inauthenticity could easily be (and has been) applied to all of Cher’s musical outputs:

“Makers for authenticity in rock are the presence of a talented individual or small group formed organically from ‘naturally’ knowing one another, driven to write songs…who forge the music and play it themselves, typically in the standard musical arrangement of two different guitars, lead and bass, with optional keyboard, obligatory drums and a vocalist who might also be a guitarist, and is usually the songwriter…The fundamental White masculinity of these groups is epitomized in their organic unity and the way the group channels its identity through one singer who forms the expression of a group-originated song. Such a band should progress naturally as artists (rather than being an industry confection and being told what to do) and would be able to perform live (rather than requiring the artifice of technology or the commercialization of recording).”

Okay, so that’s a lot to chew one right there. I don’t think Leach (or Dickinson) is suggesting the configuration above is bad or wrong (and Dickinson later conceds the setup above is still a product happily engaged with by girls and gay cultures), just that it’s the dominant culture’s status quo, and although it was once a revolutionary design, it has since left out a lot of participants outside of its arguably, mostly, straight white-male paradigm. Basically, its assignments of authenticity are very, very strict.

Dickinson then says,

Believe2“These comforting and involving fantasies about value and meaningful expression have been and continue to be outrageously selective in their recourse to technology, labour and self-hood. Guitars and microphones—to pick the easiest examples—are somehow less intrusive in their mediation of artistic expression than other equipment, such as the vocoder…The convention of loading the notion of artistic authentic onto the human voice weighs heavily upon what the sound of the vocoder means….the expulsion of feeling through the voice, through visceral bodily vibrations, consequently bears the potential to trigger sentient responses within the listener too, responses which vary from elation to the threat of harm…

[that there is] a dichotomy between the vocoded voice and the more ‘organic’ one…crumbles upon closer inspection, most obviously both are presented as exuding from the same human source-point…..Cher’s voice in ‘Believe’ does not strike us as coming totally from within; nor though should any recorded voice which has inevitably been minced through various pieces of machinery before we hear it it, including those which turn it into and back out of zeros and ones, adding and subtracting along the way.

..in vocoder tracks, the vitality and creativity inherent in the technologies in use stand centre stange, pontificating on questions of authenticity and immediacy….many of the current vocoder tracks are shrugged off as meaningless gimmickry because they spring from that lowlier, more ersatz genre, pop….seen as a sparkly bauble….(it is read as being done to, rather than done by, the artist’s voice)…questions circling some tenuous notions of single-handed musical genius.”

The Girls of Music

In any case, Dickinson says her main goal is to investigate how the vocoder as a technology might actually be empowering, now that it's being considered as part of female or more marginalized music forms, and what access to technology itself means to women and gay culture,

“which types of tehnological mastery garner prestige and which do not (knowing one’s way around Cubase ranking significantly higher than being able to work a ‘domestic’ or sweat shop tool like a sewing machine) are telling here.

Pop, maybe more than other genres, has seen many skirmishes over artifice’s actual meaning and worth, but, although pop has economic clout here, its ideas often go undear in the bustle to cynically cash in without admitting any actual faith in the genre’s politics…..’It is only pop and the vocoder is just another means of pulling a wool spun of talentlessness over the eyes of the gullible.'”

Dickinson lightly touches on theories of cyber-feminism and how their readings might apply here. Which brings us to my other life durrently studying dgital poetry and in this part of the essay, ideas overlap around the failed promises of the Internet:

“Thus, while the computer technology seems to promise a world beyond gender differences, the gender gap grows wider….increasing polarization of resources and means…..and the proliferation of all kinds of differences through the new technologies will not be nearly as liberating as the cyber-artists and internet addicts would want us to believe…the alleged triumph of high-technologies is not matched by a leap of the human imagination to create new images and representations.

[Which is to say slurs against marginalized groups and stereotypes have become accelerated on the Internet, not diminished. I’ll be stealing this quote for my other blog, thank you!]

The question that now arises is whether certain uses of the vocoder sympathize with a reactionary or an empowering configuration of femininity...

The vocoder’s popularity may well lie in the symbolic bridge it is seen to form between the vacillating perceptions of the person and the machine….obviously, anything which draws attention to borderlines might also help elucidate old-guard distinctions which have been drawn up in the past.”

Dickinson talks about how the female voice “serves as an emblem” in dance music with its “stark automation” and its focus on instrumentation and how "Believe" differs here because although it uses a “trancier end of techno, it’s stylistically linked to disco, Hi-NRG (and thus “certain gay subcultural histories). She says the vocals are “uncharacteristically high in the mix—as they would be in a pop track” making the song a hybrid of genres, “it dwells on borderlines.”

She says the vocals evoke “a sense of the multiplicity and incoherence of the self through the voice” ...which is why I feel it so destabilizes people’s ideas around the self and the voice.

At the same time, the lyrics deal with very human emotions of suffering ("believing and loving") reinforcing the humanity of the vocalist.

Dickinson also explores the idea of prosthetics, a kind of addition to the human self which is acceptable with “such accoutrements as guns, guitars, spectacles and tooth fillings.” But not vocal add ons. It's in this context, she explores Cher's plastic surgeries, how Cher’s own public identity “encompasses many of these ideas about the body and technology and gender and so the some can’t help but become 'a feminist concern'...her plastic surgery calls to bear “debates surrounding representation, production and the perception of women. " She says this is undeniably a “Cher” song that contains all the baggage of Cherness, however “assembled” we interpret that to be.

She goes into more detail about plastic surgery, which is a separate thesis in itself, but the main point is that Cher is comfortable with prosthetics. This article fails to mention Cher's underwritting of various plastic surgeries for children with Craniofacial Dysplasia which (1) illustrates how Cher’s investment in plastic surgery goes beyond her own face and (2) how society finds plastic surgery and prosthetics desirable (even if occassionally elective) for "correcting" issues beyond the scope of aging.

Believe3This article simply maintains that some feminist read elective surgery as another body transfiguration and that despite any alterations Cher has made to her voice (which is iconic) or her body (ditto),

"she has not lost her coherence. She perpetuates a very firm sense of self and, whilst she mutates from time to time (as all good technology does), she is engineered according to principles which equate with notions of autonomous choice. This seems largely possible because of her position within the genre of pop (so often seen as disempowering space).”

Isn’t that amazing?

It’s certainly a challenge to deciphering what authenticity means. As we discussed recently, Cher has always faced this challenge of authenticity throughout her career, and yet simultaneously is so much herself she's stubornly imbued in her freaking doll! (See A Cher Doll Story) Cher also challenges the idea of a core artistic self and proposes the opportunities of multiple creative identities.

But what about the male producers?

“Are Taylor and Rawling just other types of surgeons moulding ‘Cher’ into something which cannot help but represent masculine dominance and the male resuscitation of a waning female singing career…male producers chopping chunks out of a woman’s performance”? Or is there still a lot to be said for the fact that pop’s systems of stardom place the female Cher at the song’s helm?”

She quotes B. Bradby as pointing out the typical “transient position” of women in dance music, women who are “often ‘featured’ rather than a secure member of any outfit.”  

But she ultimately disagrees: Cher’s “fetishization has encased her in a kind of armour—she has been ‘technologised’ as it were and the end result works more in her favor” [and cannot] outshine what Cher has to offer the re-negotiation of women’s musical presences”

And what about women wielding (or appearing to wield) technology?

“TBelieve4he vocoder strongly prompts us to think through some newer possibilities for women’s profitable social mobility through music…

…as I have argued, women are usually held to be more instinctive and pre-technological , further away from harnessing the powers of machinery (musical or elsewhere) than men, so performers such as Cher can help but putting spanners in these work… [people] often refer to it by terms like ‘that Cher noise.’ This attributes mastery to a woman, even if she was not part of that particular production process and here the benefits of pop stardom become evident…she does become a metaphor for what women could possibly achieve with more prestigious forms of technology.”

Dickinsom maintains that previous efforts at feminism in pop music have only extended to looks and behaviors in videos, on stage and in personal gestures:

“Cultural studies have long applauded women who engage in gender parody of a visual order—such as Madonna and Annie Lennox—but, in some ways, this can lessen the worth of the work they do within their careers as musicians. A vocoder intervenes at an unavoidable level of musical expression—it uses the medium as the message—encouraging the listener to think of these women as professionals within the practice. Interestingly, the voice is a sphere where a lot of female artists with complex philosophies about masquerade maintain a particularly staid paradigm…”

The Other Boys of Music


C3poDickinson then explores the intersection between technology, camp and gay culture. She points out how “the camp markers of fussiness and nisppy asides “ have been attributed to many automated characters in movies: HAL (2001), KIT (Knight Rider) andC-3PO (Star Wars).

I had never noticed that. Very interesting, that.

Cher is “a recognized icon with gay male culture and "Believe," says Dickinson, “invokes a theme familiar to gay dance classices: the triumph and liberation of the downtrodden or unloved….[with the lyric] 'Maybe I’m too good for you’, Cher conjures up certain allusions to the vocabularies of gay pride.”

“One of camp’s more pervasive projects is a certain delight in the inauthentic, in things which are obviously pretending to be what they are not and to some degree, speak to the difficulties of existing within an ill-fitting public façade.”

And this is a small explaination of Cher’s gay following that I feel has not been articulated quite this way before, jubilance in the face of oppression:

Believe5"[Cher’s] “jubilance, despite not belonging, loops back into camp and certain strategies of queer everyday life.”

“Hand in hand with this enjoyment of the unconvincing comes a partiality for things which are maybe out of date, which have fallen by the wayside, and this, again, shows support for the neglected undersdog….'Believe' may have had to jostle particularly hard for political attention because it is a product of a more derided genre. Not so in the mainstream of queer musical aesthetics where pop…disco, the torch song [are] the most politicised musical forms..

Esentially camp….gives its objects subversive qualities without worrying about whether they are ‘authentic’…in the first place….camp has long been a shared pleasure within gay communities, a way of coping within a culture which marginlises you…[and this] might include female musicians and female fans.

Camp may seem to make light, but that does not mean it is to be taken lightly.”

And yet there are precious few other strategies for actually falling in love with the mainstream and keeping one’s political convictions intact. By pushing current (largely straight male) standards of pop, perfection, fakery and behind-the-scenes mechanization in unusual directions….a vocoder might complicate staid notions of reality, the body, femininity and female capability…Camp has always been about making do within the mainstream, twisiting it, adorning aspects of it…wobbling its more restrictive given meanings.”

Yes, yes and yes.

Auto-Tune and the Adorability of T-Pain

Ok, so the main problem with Dickinson's essay is that Mark Taylor lied when he said he was using a vocoder. This essay came out in 2001 and the truth about "Believe" wasn’t out yet. Taylor used the now infamous Auto-Tune pitch correction software with the Retune dial set to zero.

But here’s the thing, does that change much about Dickinson’s argument about political and aesthetic uses of technology in pop music for marginilized cultures? Just go back to the top of this whole diatribe and replace every use of word vocoder with Auto-Tune and see what happens.

But you don’t even need to do that because we have Netflix’s This is Pop series and its episode on Auto-Tune, which also incorporates the historical flack over the vocoder. It’s all of a piece, it turns out. And as we will soon see, the show illuminates beautifully the politics around the idea of the borderline (human/machine, man/woman, black/white, pop/art.)

T-painThe show begins with clips of all the jokes and commentary surrounding Auto-Tune: it's evil, it has destroyed the music business by editing the human element out, it's bland, stale and boring, how Usher told his friend T-Pain that he had “fucked up music for real singers” and how this led to T-Pains four-year depression (T-Pain comes across as adorable in this documentary, I have to say, as does his wife).

In this episode, we first meet the 1996 inventor of Auto-Tune and learn about his interest in the mathematics of sound, which was interesting in itself. We then meet engineer Ken Scott who talks about producing the Beatles and David Bowie. He says David Bowie was the best singer he's worked with in 55 years, how 95% of the Bowie recordings were first take. “It’s a performance,” he said but “very few people have that skill” in his experience.

The software plug-in was used surreptitiously until Cher’s use of it in 1998 which made her voice sound somewhat alien. This was a willful misuse of the technology that the inventor laughs about and claims never once occurred to him as a possible use-case.

We then talk to Robin A. Smith, orchestral arranger on "Believe." He says the pressure for perfect vocals came with the synthesizer. A clip of Mark Taylor then shows him talking about how the setting he used bends notes. He plays Cher’s vocal with and without the effect.

Then we pivot to T-Pain and his solo career trajectory from a singer in a rap group to developing his solo career in the early 2000s. He claims he first heard the vocal effect on a piece of J. Lo audio. For a year he researched every preset of every plugin to find Auto-Tune.

We then return to the 1980s to visit previous criticism of the vocoder under the use of Roger Troutman and in an old video Troutman explains how in live performances the use of the vocoder got people excited and dancing.

We then talk to “award-winning electronic music pioneer” Suzanne Ciani. She talks about how there is a backlash for any new technology, especially ones “not tethered to a reality,” ones that are a challenge to what we already know. We see her on David Letterman explaining her voicebox and enduring dismissive comments about sounding weird. She says she has always considered her voicebox/vocoder a new instrument, a tool. She says she uses her voice to shape an electronic sound.

T-Pain talks about how Auto-Tune wasn’t respected until an artist already considered to be a musical genius, Kanyee West, used it and then a lot of rappers started using it. T-Pain even says West predicted to T-Pain this would happen even as they were recording.

Music critic Julianne Escobedo Shepherd then talks about all the backlash and derogatory commentary that resumed.

I have to stop here to say how easy it is to get defensive when confronted with some "new thing" or something contractitory to one's own project. This is true for all the arts. I have felt it myself. You either think "Aww, I wanna do that!" or "Should I be doing that? I don't wanna do that." It’s hard not to wonder 'how does this reflect back on me?' But I keep reminding myself, sometimes it’s not all about you.

Shepherd puts this very succinctly when she reminds us of Death Cab For Cuties attempt to get a boycott going against Auto-Tune: “Nobody is trying to hear you sing with auto-tune anyway, dudes.”

Next in the episode, we turn to the satirical YouTube viral videos from Gregory Brothers (Schmoyoho), their "Auto-Tune the News" videos, particularly videos with then-Vice-President Joe Biden and the similar video Very Thin Ice with Katy Couric. According to brother Michael Gregory, the Internet loves the satiric and the accidental and having Biden and Couric accidentally sing the news with auto-tune fit the bill perfectly.

We then talk to musician-writer Jace Clayton who says the history of electornic music is the creative misuse of available tools. He talks about the rap DJ practice of misusing record turntables in scratching and layering. This is the seat of creativity, Clayton says and he says Internet access to the Auto-Tune tool was part of its appeal.

And interestingly he also points to the popularity of auto-tune in countries like Morocco and in Arab music generally due to a very specific appreciation of the call to prayer, which Muslims have heard five times a day for the last 1,300 years. The call to prayer usese the melisma singing style where pitch is pushed up and down across one syllable. Clayton points out that this is also popular in African American singing tradtions and R&B. He uses the opening bars of Whitney Houston’s version of "I Will Always Love You" to visually illustrate this. It’s helpful here to compare Houston’s version in this way to Dolly Parton’s version(s). Clayton says a diva is often known as someone who can hit these notes, make these pitch runs and that auto-tune does a version of this.

We then return to T-Pain who insists the “modulation passing through me is me.” Asked why, in the face of all the adversity and his own desire to throw in the towel, did he decide to keep going with auto-tune, he said his wife told him it was fine.

(Aw! Now here is where I start to swoon).

His wife is of mixed race (a borderline) and she said she received “shit from both sides” about who she should be (“you should be this…you should be that”) “I’m just me,” she said. (OMG!) She had already been through it, she says, and told T-Pain “You don’t have to fit to what a singer is supposed to sound like.” (!!!!)

Then in 2014 T-Pain did NPR's Tiny Desk Concert without Auto-Tune and the Internet lost its mind with the realization that his was a good songwriter and singer. T-Pain said this just made him more angry. As if “all my success was just some software plugin” not the writing, producing and the rest of it.

Suzanne Ciani says technology is its own language, not a substitute. Jace Clayton says Auto-Tune is the most “important musical tool of the 21st century because it’s an active and complicated engagement with a machine at the level of the human voice. It’s using us as a carrier…a tool [that makes us] rethink what it means to be a human today. That’s a lot. You just can’t shake it off as a sound that’s goofy.”

Michael Gregory says the tool is not inherently good or bad but that it’s bad for people to constantly expect people to be perfect.

And it can't be overstated, not every artist should pick up every tool. But we should definitely check our own prejudices about something as innocuous as a knob on a software plugin.

Does it really rise to the level of evil and why should you think so?

Thinice


Cher Re-Releases Two the Hard Way on Youtube

Two

I'm behind on Cher stuff: the Acadmy Museum special appearance this week, the breakdown on the lovely new Scooby Doo. We'll have to wait a few more weeks for those things.

In the meantime I didn't want too much time to pass before I expressed how thankful I am that Cher has re-released this particular, remastered album, Two the Hard Way, from 1977, her last un-released Warner Bros. album from the late 1970s. I was afraid this one would get held back due to the flack it received when it was originally released near the end of their tumultuous union.

But it's an historically important album in context with Cher’s solo and other duet albums, Sonny & Cher being the yin to Cher and Gregg Allman’s yang.

The remastered album was released last Friday while I was driving up to Las Vegas, New Mexico, and I was forced to ask Mr. Cher Scholar a question akin to “Am I too fat for this dress?”

The question was "Do you mind if we listen to the digitally remastered Cher and Gregg Allman duet album?”

And the gentleman he is, he agreed. Two2

Now there are are rough voices and there are rough voices. No two are alike. I like some better than others.

A few weeks ago Mr. Cher Scholar volunteered the following assessment of Sonny's voice. It's like a drone pipe on a bagpipe. It sounds really unpleasant alone, but it actually performs a valuable service in conjunction with better-sounding voices.

After listening to this album, I asked for a similar assessment of Gregg Allman's voice. For some taste context, Mr. Cher Scholar grew up on country, alt-country and 1980s 120 Minutes MTV videos, not quite an aficianado of The Allman Brothers' style of Southern Rock. He said (and get ready for this): "There's so much testosterone in that voice, it's like a ball sack in your face."

So anyway, the issue with this album for most people, including Mr. CS, is the fact that Gregg and Cher's voices don't meld as well as Cher's voice did with Sonny. Mr. CS likened it to mustard and peanut butter, both good on their own but they don't mix. And when they sing at the same time, you can’t appreciate either voice.

I responded, "Well, just picture the great sex they were having." And if great sex isn't a reason to make a rock album together, what is?

And this is strange to say but the album seems to be lacking the level of perfectionism of Sonny's producing, at least as far as vocals are concerned. No longer would Cher be asked to do 50 takes of a song. These vocals feel kind of one and done. The songs feel less like duets and more like Cher singing around Gregg Allman.

When I was 12 or 13 I first found this album at the local library and I have to say I didn’t hate it. But there were songs on the album I probably never listened to again except once a decade when I revisited the whole album.

SIDE ONE

"Move Me" has a very memorable opening for the album. But as with many of the songs on this album, they could have done with less horns. A simpler record would have helped acclimate us to this duo. Gregg and Cher are big enough. But this is not a bad song and like the rest of the album, the session players are good.

"I Found You Love" was also recorded that same year by Barbra Streisand on her Superman album. I liked this one when I first heard it. Their vocals are probably best together here on this song, at least the beginning. Smokey and separate. But then the horns come in and it all gets pretty messy. Gregg sings silly things like “Oh Lord, I’m gonna squeeze her.” Please, no. Cher is not a peach.

"Can You Fool" was recorded previously (1976) by Tracy Nelson and later (1978) by Glen Campbell. This song bored me to death when I first heard it. But now I think this song shows that when they were singing separately, the thing works a lot better. I do like how they sing different parts of the same sentence at the end. Cher is starting to get vowelly here. 

"You've Really Got a Hold on Me," the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles classic (1962), is such a brilliant song, it’s hard to not to sing it well. Sonny & Cher did their own version on their debut album of 1965. I love it but I also love Cher and Gregg's version. Probably the best track on the album.

"We're Gonna Make It" is a Little Milton song (1965) and wow, just wow. This is an earthquake of vibrato from these two (my autocorrect wanted me to say 'vibrator'…whatever). It's pretty messy, and not just because they did not, in fact, "make it" but because you can’t even make out what they’re singing.

In three parts, here are the chorus lyrics for your edification. You're welcome.

And if a job is hard to find
And we have to stand in the welfare line
I've got your love and you know you got mine
So were gonna make it, I know we will

Cause togetherness brings peace of mind
We can't stay down all the time
I've got your love and you know you got mine
So were gonna make it, I know we will

And if I have to carry round a sign
Sayin Help the deaf, the dumb, and the blind
I got your love and you know you got mine
So were gonna make it, I know we will

"Do What You Gotta Do" is the lovely Jimmy Webb song mostly associated with Nina Simone's version (1968). It has the line “that dappled dream of yours” in it, which is not the only reference to the word 'dappled' on the album. Cher's conviction is strong in this one, which is a timely lyric if you think about Gregg Allman's controversial testimony in the Scooter Herring trial around that time

SIDE TWO

"In For the Night" I have no recollection of this song but it has lines like “there’s a bluebird flying home to Mobile, camping in your cornfield for a while” and Gregg sings about how he has “backed into a square meal” and there's an old flannel red nightgown thrown in there somewhere. As far as metaphors go, these are some.  This song is trying really hard in a lot of different directions.

"Shadow Dream Song" is a Jackson Browne song performed live in 1971. Gregg and Cher both liked Jackson Browne and both recorded mid-1970s versions of "These Days." This is the first of two solo songs, this one by Gregg. I thought a lot about this being the song he picked to sing ostensibly about Cher. It has lines like “I cant eat or drink/I can’t remember how I used to think" and the other dappled reference on the album:

“It’s the crystal ringing way
She has about in the day.
She’s a laughing dappled shadow.
She’s a laughing dappled shadow in my mind."

"Island" is the song Cher sings as a solo about Gregg and it's credited to Ilene Rappaport.  The writer left a note on this message board https://lyricsjonk.com/cher-island.html informing us she now goes by Lauren Wood and explaining how Cher came to sing the song:

Hey guys... I wrote this song. My name is Lauren Wood. (It used to be Ilene Rappaport, but don't spread that around.) I also wrote "Fallen" from the movie Pretty Woman ((1990) and had a hit single with Michael McDonald called "Please Don't Leave" (1979). I've written many other songs and had many covers.  Cher heard me sing this at a gig and told me it was exactly what was going on with her and Gregg, and asked me if I was ok with her recording it. I said, "go ahead, twist my arm, Cher."

The song is credited to Lauren Wood here as well: https://secondhandsongs.com/artist/18767/works

This is one of the more popular songs for Cher fans. It's very simple, emotive and evocative and captures the depth in her voice and feelings at the time.

"I Love Makin' Love to You" This song was recorded by Evie Sands (1974) and very interestingly was also an outake on the buried Karen Carpenter solo album of 1980 (the album that was squashed until 1996, after she died from complications to anorexia). Carpenter's handlers and family members deemed the album too risqué for her image and that indicates how awfully suffocated Karen Carpenter must have felt in her own career, not to have been able to express her own sexuality. I love that Karen Carpenter recorded this song and my heart goes out to her in whatever plush lovescapes of Adult Contemporary heaven she might be chillaxing in.

This song is a not-so guilty pleasure. I've always loved it. It's a bombastic, anthemic sex-capade that was once sung by a 12- year old girl in her bedroom once upon a time. This is the only song here where I can excuse all those horns. This kind of big, big love kind of suits my mental image of the Cher Bono Allman boudoir. Like "Thunderstorm" from the Cherished album, love is a big boom:

“I want you to fill me…..with your soul.”

We always heard Sonny was well hung but apparently Allman was bigger than a seventh wonder.

"Love Me" The final song is the Leiber and Stoller Elvis classic (1956). You can see the debt a later-day Cher owes to Elvis here. There’s something about the production that sounds screechy. And again, there are screechers and there are screechers. Cher is not a great screecher. I would argue….    well, nevermind.

 

Here's a link to the record's personnel. The album is dedicated to Chastity and Elijah.

One final thought is about how the image disparities of Cher in the late-70s to 1982 might have hindered her album sales. Just like when Cher was in a glamourous Caesars Palace revue and simultanously trying to launch a rock band in 1979, there seems to have been some confusion about the kind of artist she wanted to be; or that maybe she had her bets placed on too many projects. Music, espeically pop and rock, seems to require a kind of consistency in the act of authenticity.

Cher has just released an adult-contemporary pop album in August of 1977 and here it was November with a new act called Allman and Woman. She had also been appearing again with Sonny on a new variety TV show that year. Brand confusion between Sparkley Cher, Sonny's Cher and this new act was probably very confusing for everyone at the time.

So it's good this album can be reconsidered without all that riffraff.


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.


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.


New-Old Cher Releases, Sonny Bono Dinner Party, Cher in Vogue 1971

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Re-Releases!

First things first, Cher has been rereleasing her classic 70s-era Warner Bros. remastered on her YouTube channel. First Stars was released a few weeks ago: https://www.youtube.com/c/cher/videos

Today her channel announced that I'd Rather Believe in You will be next, coming out in August: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQc8H3CgeD8

This is happy news for fans who, although stocked with bootlegs, have been pestering for an official release for over two decades. The remastered Stars sounds pristine and hopefully the albums will someday be available on other streaming platforms or in physical form (with some scholarly words of perspective). Very happy July surprise!

In other music news, the single copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album with the Cher vocals on two songs, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, has been sold by the feds. Follow the story here. The second buyer paid millions once again and their identity will possibly be revealed in a few months. The Wu-Tang Clan wishes that the album be played only in small groups for 88 years from the date it was first sold to the nefarious Pharma Bro back in 2015, which means most of us will not live long enough to hear it. That is unless the resale contract was interrupted by federal confiscation. 

Sonny Bono Dinner Party

July has proven to be busy for Cher Scholar. I've started listening to KCRW again (lots of great stuff I’ve missed over the last five years I’ve been away) and I've thrown three small parties in as many weeks, and learned how to use my new braille machine.

For my upcoming birthday I received some meditation/introspection playing cards from a friend and the first one had the question: What makes you weird? I have a million answers to this but the one that pertains here is the fact that last Saturday I threw a Sonny Bono Recipe dinner party. And what's even more weird is the fact that it's not the first one I've thrown. I did it once before when I was 12 years old as a last-hurrah to my Sonny & Cher fandom, right before I decided it would be somewhat less weird in the 1980s to go solo with Cher. 

But last Saturday I invited my friends Priscilla and Mikaela over and they were gamely willing to test out a few of these Sonny  recipes. Mikaela also came over to teach me how to use my new braille machine. The fact that I just bought a braille machine is also a little bit weird. 

I made the recipe for Sonny Bono's Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce from The Dead Celebrity Cookbook by Frank DeCarlo.

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Mr. Cher Scholar made Sonny Bono's Pollo Bono from the Baltimore Sun.

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He made a vegetarian, fake-chicken version for me.

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Cheap table wine: check. Everyone liked the results. The biggest critique came from me, which was to say the fake chicken was rubbery (but very tasty). Mikaela said the chicken was "fantastic, excellent" and she loved the spaghetti too. She said she especially loved watching the video I showed them before dinner of Sonny & Cher cooking on The Mike Douglas Show (thanks to Cher scholar Jay for that). Priscilla said she loved the Pollo Bono too and is usually very picky about her chicken.

Mr. Cher Scholar said, "I like his recipes because they’re authentic stuff made at home, not over-the-top elaborate. Simple ingredients. Simple process." Afterwards he said he would make it again for his brother. "It's not hard."

Alterations: Our chicken breasts were huge. Monstrous. So he ending up baking them for 50 minutes at 375 degrees. 

IMG_20210724_205749Spinning up the braille machine wasn’t so easy. Mikaela works at a school for the blind and she was able to bring me some braille guides. She showed me the basic concepts of the braille “alphabet.” We had a paper-loading issue which was solved by my googling "braille paper-loading issue" and getting the result "How do I load paper into the ^*#! brailler?"

Then we had an issue with the carriage return that caused us to take the whole machine apart, which Priscilla did with our drill. We all then looked at inside and provided speculative theories about the problem. Mr. Cher Scholar saw some "teeth" inside which needed to catch the return. He adjusted the margins and then it worked.

He usually avoids fixing stuff like an allergy so I asked him later what inspired him to do that and he said it was working with a manual typewriter all those years as a show-biz writer. So this was a real four-person team effort.

Then Mikaela taught me how to use the braille keys! Which are very cool and insanely complicated at the same time. I have to practice, she says, before I start typing out poems on the thing.

Perfect Pork Chops (Correction)

Another early birthday present I received yesterday was Celebrity Recipes, a newsstand publication from the 1980s judging by the big Heather Locklear, Linda Evans and Michael Douglas pictures on its cover. Anyway, on page 32 it claims that Perfect Pork Chop (the recipe I also have from Singers & Swingers in the Kitchen, The Scene-Makers Cook Book by Roberta Ashley) is actually Cher's recipe. 

Cher in Vogue

IMG_20210729_104538The following spread is from Vogue, September 1, 1971. This was the same year their first live album came out. while they were still on the nightclub circuit. 

Their live album cover is unusual in that the gatefold only shows a large photo of Sonny & Cher facing each other, a kind of extravagant gesture for a gatefold of recording artists on the skids. The photos are also very shadowy and almost abstract, especially the front cover.

Coverlive

 

 

So it's good to see another shot of Cher in the album outfit and have it described by the scribes of Vogue magazine.


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: Covering Cher

Cs-cover-songs-21Lots of great bootlegs are not available on Spotify, like Nirvana’s "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," Paul Weller, Kaleo, Isobel Campbell, David Guetta/Skylar Grey, and Charlotte Church’s respective versions of "Bang Bang," Robbie Fulk and MNEK’s versions of "Believe," David Bowie and Marianne Faithful’s "I Got You Babe."

Of the remakes available on Spotify, these are the best:

The Beat Goes On - Live At Chez Club, Hollywood/1966/Remix, Buddy Rich Big Band
This cover might have influenced many that came after it, dispensing with Carol Kaye’s creative bass line and jazz-ifying the song. Many future covers would use this template.

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) - 2004 Remaster, Terry Reid
Everyone seems to feel Nancy Sinatra’s cover is the best cover (and the one all future covers are created from), but this one is actually better IMHO. Like Sonny’s world-music version, it has movements.

Mama, Dalida
Dalida makes Cher songs better.

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Scud Mountain Boys
Haunting version. And in the Cher style of not altering pronouns.

Baby Don't Go by Colorama
Very pretty, quiet version.

Pretty good remakes:

The Beat Goes On, Le Cercle, Chloé Del'Orté
Fun remake of the Buddy Rich version.

Needles And Pins - Live At The The Forum/1981, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stevie Nicks
Since The Searchers recording pre-dates Cher’s version, it’s technically not a cover. Which is good because I hate the precedent they set in singing pinzah, which is no a word anyone should ever sing. Cher is the only artist to refrain from doing so. As they go, I guess this version is the best non-Cher version.

Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down, GMPresents & Jocelyn Scofield
The David Guetta/Skylar Grey version is really the most amazing thing, along with the Terry Reid version. This one is at least a slowed-down take of the song that isn’t a complete redux of Nancy Sinatra’s version.

It's the Little Things, Skeletons

Love Don’t Come, Tomasina Abate

I Got You Babe, Toadsuck Symphony
Hard to cover this song. This is probably as good as it gets.

Bang Bang, Dalida

Baby Don't Go, Dwight Yoakam with Sheryl Crow
Also a nice version.

The Beat Goes On, Herbie Mann
Kudos for respecting Kaye’s baseline.

Not-that-great but famous attempts

I Got You Babe, UB40, Chrissie Hynde
Popular during my formative years, but reggae doesn't really add anything to this song.

Needles and Pins - 2002 Remaster, Ramones

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Nancy Sinatra

The Beat Goes On, Britney Spears

Half Breed, Shania Twain

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves, Vicki Lawrence

A mixed bag, some good, some bad, none very memorable

Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), Stevie Wonder

The Beat Goes On, Firewater

I Got You Babe, Etta James

A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done, Diego's Umbrella

Half-Breed, House of Large Sizes

Bang Bang, Vanilla Fudge

The Beat Goes On, Transmitters

I Got You Babe, The Dictators

Beat Goes On, The All Seeing I
So similar to Britney’s I do a double take. Theirs was 2 years earlier.

I Got You Babe, Cherie Currie

 

Peruse the Covers on Spotify.


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: The Philosophical Songs (plus an essay)

Cs-phil-songs-21Ok so not only did I think there would be too few Cher love songs for a mix (and I ended up having to be judicious there) but I thought I’d find a plethora of philosophical songs (or even pseudo-philosophical ones) for a mix. Not only were there not that many but I soon ran into the conundrum of where does a philosophical song end and a political one begin?

I finally decided to exclude overtly political songs without any self-improvement qualities or introspective quality. So no “For What It’s Worth,” “Love and Understanding,” or “Love Can Build a Bridge” or “Love One Another.” And “Perfection” got kicked out of the list because the lyric never does come out against seeking perfection, just admits "I don’t have what it takes," which is I guess the philosophy of defeatism….these are hard hairs to split. Anyway, I tried to focus on world-views and mindsets instead outward focused encouragements.

Blowin’ In the Wind: Yes, definitively and famously political but essentially a direct address to ‘my friend,’ someone who is ostensibly seeking counsel. Alternatively, some self-talk. Enough non-political, philosophical questions to apply for inclusion here. And because the song is structures as a list of questions: Socratic.

Where Do You Go: Sonny Bono’s facsimile of the above. But even more self-help-y. 

Time: Not sure what the point is in this rambling bit of philosophy except to say things just are and to pay attention or you will lose time. This is probably Buddhism.

Sing C’est La Vie: Sometimes words to the wise are hard to hear, in various ways. But there it is. That’s life. Here's an article about the phrase, Albert Camus and Absurdity which makes this Camus-style existentialism. 

There But For Fortune: Ah, here we go. This is the mindset of 'things could be worse,' a version of "There but for the grace of God," which was a paraphrase from the Bible so Christian.

Good Times: Although I think there is philosophy hidden all up in lines like “Irving, bubby” and “Why don’t you sing ‘em a song/Shucks ma’am I can’t sing/Don’t let that stop you” you will have to ignore some nonsensical verses until you can-can into the song’s live-it-up philosophy, one that is infectious if not alarmingly factually inaccurate. Merry-go-rounds: notorious for breaking down. But hey, “Drink to the good times and hope, my friend, that they last.” Could possibly be interpreted as Hedonism.

We All Sleep Alone: A bit of a Debbie-Downer here but at least the video message goes down with some satin-sheeted sugar. Some fans disagree with me but I think this song is about death and the alienation of the soul…in death. But it's also about Cher’s list of lovers and her philosophy about relationships before she ultimately encounters….death.  Possibly Atheism.

Heart of Stone: Like "Blowin in the Wind," lots of very political lines (which are emphasized visually in the video), but essentially this song is about the self and I have decided she’s singing about Stoicism

Love is the Groove: I wonder if the dance-bait title does the song a disservice. The ideas are a bit vague and not sure where the metaphors point. But that gives the song a koan-like quality. So there you go. 

Più Che Puoi: Not that different from the philosophy of "Good Times," although delivered with much more melancholy.

Favorite Scars: Okay, more than the other songs, this feels a bit like Brené Brown and self-help. Which I guess makes it Applied Philosophy

The Winner Takes It All: Questionable addition even to me. But there’s a cynicism to this song that feels downright Ancient Greek. “The Gods may throw a dice/their minds as cold as ice.”

Peruse the Philosophical on Spotify

 

Moonstruck-soloSpeaking of philosophy, I read this essay recently, "Moonstruck, or How to Ruin Everything" by William Day. It's from the book Ordinary Language Criticism: Literary Thinking after Cavell after Wittgenstein. Yes, Wittgenstein. I kid you not.

Day compares the operatic elements in Moonstruck to Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. I can tell you this, I never thought I’d see the words Cher and Wittgenstein in one sentence, let alone Cher and Fitzcarraldo.

Day also compares the movie to certain romantic comedies of the 1940s with emphasis on a heroine involved in the idea of a re-marriage. This is quite an amazing essay as much about the movie’s themes as it is about the experience of reading in comparison to the experience of performance.. Day even suggests the movie’s depiction of the repression of sexual desire is actually a metaphor for lost or unrealized potential and living with abandon. 


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: The Girl Power Songs

Cs-girl-songs-21In the middle of creating this list I realized a lot of these songs were written by men. So I counted it all up and yes there are 35 male writers to just 10 woman writers. Oy. And I kept losing count of all the writers listed for “A Different Kind of Love Song” so this is an undercount.

All I Really Want to Do: Early idea of relationship emancipation when sung by Cher. That’s why her version of this Dylan song is important.

I Walk on Guilded Splinters: The witchy New-Orleans swamper written by a future Dr. John. Mess with this voodoo version of Cher at your own risk. I have never not liked this song.

Hell on Wheels: All the stuff the voodoo princess in the prior song does but this time on roller skates. It’s still dangerous!

Young and Pretty: I worried this song might sound too victim-y. It’s the only Spotify Black Rose song available so it slipped in. I think it’s Cher’s defiant performance of the song that makes me want to include it and her 40-year literal defiance of the lyric (actually giving the words retrospective irony) that makes this one apropos to our mix here today.

Back on the Street Again: I worried about including this one as well. The girl-power part is mostly in the chorus and the way Cher delivers it. This is another example of how a lyric's meaning changes when sung by a woman instead of man, especially a woman who has decided to change “feet” to “street” and “came” to “gave” illustrating some different priorities there.

I Found Someone: Cher’s first Geffen-era kiss-off song. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like what I would image a girl-power song to be but I’ve witnessed girls-of-a-certain-age at Cher concerts who really love reenacting this one to each other while Cher sings it. It taps into something, this one does.

Save Up All Your Tears: Part two of "I Found Someone." Cher doesn’t sing this one in her shows anymore, but I’m assuming the aforementioned girls would do the same re-enactments for this one. This is a fun song to sing with indignation, whether you have cause or not.

Just Begin Again (with Spinal Tap): Because it’s funny and not bad advice. Although Cher belts too much in it. This was the 1990s and I’m glad that whole thing is over.

It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World: The example most people give when Cher’s persona provides a cover song with ironic disobedience.

Believe: Cher’s girl-power incarnation in the new millennium. This song is another surprising girl-anthem since it’s a bit equivocal and vacillating. But the boys and girls disagree. You see them dancing to this one with a look of self-confidence on their faces and have to admit they are digging empowerment out of it. This is a good example of how music and lyric can mix to evoke a stronger message than the literal words indicate. Honestly, I have never loved this song. I know. What can I say? This is the remix I can take (with the happy electronica) and happily this is the version Cher uses to open her shows.

Strong Enough: Post-Believe, Cher is putting more girl-power out there. More overt girl-power than "Believe." And the disco sound lets us pretend Cher sang this one decades earlier.

A Different Kind of Love Song: It’s not all about what girls are reacting against, but what we celebrate too.

You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me: Yes, a good phoenix rising song but like "Believe" I don’t really like it. So I found a remix I did like, a softer, slightly anthemic, less bombastic journey. Undeniably a strong sentiment though. “Times are hard but I was built tough.”

Woman’s World: Written by men. Harrumph! Cher sells the empowerment here though, especially in her shows.

Take it Like a Man: A tongue-in-cheek “we can do better” song for that works well for girls and gay men, which is why there are about 100 zillion dance remixes. “And how does it feel when we do it better?”

Chiquitita: Girl to girl, things will be okay. Great when ABBA sings it. Cher’s version feels very motherly, or fairy-godmotherly. “Love’s a blown out candle….but the sun is still in the sky and shining above you.”

Stop Crying Your Heart Out: My mother has a lot of somewhat harsh pieces of advice we call Estel-igims. When she was sick in the hospital with Covid and hours away from the ventilator, she was still scolding me to “toughen up” and to “do as I say” and I think this sentiment applies here. The song came out right as she was telling me this although at the time I told her I regretted to inform her that I was a cream puff. Sorry not sorry. :-)

Peruse the Girl Power songs on Spotify.


Cher Scholar Mix Tape: The Love Songs

Cs-love-songs-21A month or so ago I was driving to Taos and discovered fan mixes on Spotify for a few other artists and decided it would be fun to create some new-fangled media mixes for Cher.

Sometimes I come across a Cher love song on shuffle and think, huh, a love song. I should make a mix of these but I don’t normally associate Cher with love songs, which is daffy because that was Sonny & Cher's stock-in-trade, two lovebirds singing love songs. But I was like, nope, not enough songs. So I was shocked when compiling this first mix in Spotify last week.

The songs run the gamut from sweet to crazy. Because this is Spotify, there are songs from four albums we couldn’t add here, like the lovely version of “Love Hurts” from Stars, “I’d Rather Believe in You” from the album of the same name, or any song with Gregg Allman. The mix is also missing the rare b-side “She’s No Better Than Me” and probably one of the most moving songs Cher ever sang for Sonny, Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We” from her last recorded torch performance on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour in 1974. On purpose I didn’t include Cher’s latter-day "Love Hurts" (too bombastic) and “Bang Bang” (she’s having too much fun in the 1980s remake and the 1966 version feels like it somehow belongs to another mix). I curated these songs out-of-chronological order to indicate their timelessness. 

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

The Way of Love: Easily Cher’s biggest, most-representative torch ballad and the ballad that started off her torch era. It has to go first.

Song for You: Leon Russell’s classic torchy ballad. Strong love song. Cher's version is better than the Carpenter’s version I think. Cher gives a more jaded delivery.

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You: From Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album. When I was 8 years old I made my parents sit in the living room and listen to this song on the record player because I thought it was that good. They patiently sat there until the song was over and then excused themselves to go back into the den to finish their cigarettes and whatever TV show I had interrupted them from.

I Wasn’t Ready: Loved this one as a kid too and still like it.

Angels Running: One of Cher’s most bittersweet covers. This version isn’t as good as the rarer, alternate US version, which is simpler and dispenses with the superfluous touches, especially around the bridge(s).

All I Ever Need Is You: Easy listening gold. As perfect a vocal as Sonny could get. Cher perfection.

Needles & Pins: A classic Sonny Bono/Jack Nitzsche song. I prefer Cher’s more more sincere, painful version than all the other silly-sounding pinzah covers. Thanks the Searchers!

You Take It All: Underrated little deep cut. I love the underwater sound of it.

The Man That Got Away: Lots of tragic love songs on Bittersweet White Light. "More Than You Know" is a Cher favorite and good candidate, but her televised and live versions were better than this up-tempo attempt. This song was noted as a good Judy Garland cover recently by The Boston Globe and I can’t deny that might have influenced my choosing it for this list. The song is at turns resigned, bitter, anguished and dismayed.

Let It Be Me: S&C loved the French around this time and two of their Gilbert Bécaud covers made this list.  Sweet and lilting.

Train of Thought: I’ve been thinking about this suicide song and that it was released in May of 1974, eerily one year before Jenny Arness’ suicide in May of 1975 when Gregg Allman left her for Cher. Cher’s smoker’s voice here leads us through a harrowing (very meta) train of thought.

Catch the Wind: Sweet song by Donovan. Cher does a doe-eyed version.

Then He Kissed Me: Not as great as The Crystals version but I’ve always liked this version too. Nice Harold Battiste piano part in this one.

United We Stand: The sonic version of the photograph displayed on the back of their 1971 All I Ever Need Is You album. As true as any S&C love song probably, at least emotionally, if not when they actually divided a few years later. Neither of them did, in fact, fall.

Love & Pain: Cher’s fist belting melodrama. I like that there are non-belting parts here too, unlike the Geffen years full of full-blast ballads.

Stand By Me: I was torn about including this one. Took it out. Then added it back in. The original is so iconic. But this is very Sonny & Cher too, similar to "United We Stand" (lots of standing). I like that Sonny comes in at the very end with his support.

What Now My Love: The second Gilbert Bécaud ("Et Maintenant"). Both of these versions are go-tos when I’m feeling gloomy. The numbness , the becoming unreal, the resignation! Such a sorrowful lyric. As I kid I always loved their cheesy nightclub version better. But this version has grown on me quite a bit.

Somebody: My favorite modest little S&C song.

Just You: I liked this song better when I was younger. It’s kind of a plodding event to me now. But that said, it’s the best, most perfect example of Sonny Bono writing a lyric about his own thoughts and feelings which he sublimates by letting Cher  sing them instead. It’s easy for the audience to read these sentiments as Cher’s (it’s what we wanted to believe about their dynamic) but they truly belong to Sonny. After all, he would sound paternalistic and crass singing them (and why is Cher so jealous? Question for another day.) so giving them to Cher probably felt chivalrous to him. Not without its charm anyway.

Baby Don’t Go: I don’t love their honky version but this is one of the most popular love songs for other artists to cover from the S&C oeuvre. So it seems important to add here. It’s also an easy song to cover well, unlike "I Got You Babe."

After All: Sonically mushy but good slow-dance material. Still popular and still a part of her shows.

It’s The Little Things: My non-Cher-fan-friends (boys or girls) always pick this song as one of their favorite Sonny & Cher songs and it's a deserving favorite. Again Sonny speaking through Cher (remember Sonny told Cher she wasn’t pretty enough to make it without him and they both often joked about how naïve and dumb Cher could be), but more catchy and a happier song than "Just You."  

I Got You Babe, Live at the Westside Room in Century City: Haven’t we all heard enough of their original recording? It’s a classic but this has always been my sentimental favorite version, particularly due to Sonny’s humorous interjections. 

I Got You Babe, Good Times Soundtrack Version: Another sweet cover of their own song. No one covers this song better than S&C did themselves.

Peruse the love songs on Spotify