The Politics of Pop Music

ShakeitupOver the years I’ve been refining my ability to defend my taste in Cher’s music, not just her meaning as a media cultural object. Both things, but mostly her music because this is what is attacked the most from...well, mainly boys and the rare girl music aficionado. And as I’ve been taking incoming criticism for her music by my other brothers since I was about 5 or 6 years old, I’ve had a lot of practice doing this. And although I’ve appraised my biases with books like How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom (which I highly recommend) and just the instinctual understanding that all taste is relative, I’ve always worried that defending one’s taste can be too much of an ongoing rationalization.

In other words, I’m just rationalizing arguments to defend what I like and there’s an argument to be found for the worst taste in mankind. For example, one day at lunch when I was defending Agatha Christie's craft innovations to my boss (I've just turned 50 and am insatiably attracted to British mysteries as expected), my boss scoffed, "You can come up with an argument to defend anything." Fair enough.

But I still have this ongoing desire to keep looking for something to explain it, especially when a feeling of defiance is aroused in me that this music is meaningful and a protest and a celebration of something, that it's doing some cultural work. But then that feels like a rationalization again. Until a straight, white male goes all anti-disco on me and then I go back to the search.

But that’s important. The straight male thing. And I don’t want to gloss over that. It turns out this was very important. I always thought that was incidental to the enjoyment of this music, the fact that I'm a woman and enjoy it along with a whole horde of gay men (and some gay women). It’s completely not incidental. Turns out it’s the whole thing.

Oh man. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re looking for until you come across it.

Years ago I started reading academic pop culture books, stuff about the male gaze, drag and camp. If only there had been such a pop culture degree when I was starting college in the late 1980s. Recently I was doing an Amazon search and this book came up, Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z and I kept it on my wish list for a few years. I assumed it would be very rock-centric, which isn’t bad but not as pertinent to my search as those books on camp and MTV videos. But eventually I bought it and loved every minute of reading it.  it opened my horizons to aspects of music writing that I wasn’t getting from the other cultural books.

Not only that, but there was some amazing essays in there by women, essays about rock music from a female point of view. I didn’t even know I was looking for that. But I loved it so much so that I made a list of the writers and have been hunting down their books. The first one I found was the anthology Rock She Wrote. In many ways it wasn’t as satisfying as the Shake It Up anthology but there were a few essays in the back that more than paid for themselves. 

The poet Emily Dickinson talks about reading poems that take the top of her head off.  This idea has become such a cliché in poet circles that a poet with go “yeah, yeah, whatever” if you so much as mention a poem “taking the top of your head off.” It's like when you were in the late 1960s telling someone that thing “blew your mind.”

All the same, this essay took the top of my head off. And if you ever need an essay to defend yourself as a Cher fan: this…is…the one.

RockshewroteIt’s by a music academic named Susan McClary. She doesn’t write about modern music very often, but this essay is called “Same As It Ever Was: Youth Culture and Music” and it appeared in the journal Microphone Fiends in 1994. You can’t find it online but you can find it in Rock She Wrote, edited by Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers. The essay talks about “youth culture” as it has occurred throughout Western civilization and how this music always threatened the status quo because it was an explicit threat to their authority.

You may not be a young person, but liking pop music is a threat to some kind of authority.

And here's the interesting thing: most historical reactions have construed "the new thing" as being “too feminine” and too much of the body. McClary traces these critiques going back to Plato through the Middle Ages up to Theodor Adorno and beyond.

“Yet those who purport to speak for popular culture have often reproduced this fear of the feminine, the body, and the sensual. Recall, for instance, the erasure of women—whether the blues queens of the 1920s or girl groups of the early sixties—from historical narratives, or the continuing devaluation of dance music as a pathetic successor to the politically potent music of the sixties—especially in the “DISCO SUCKS” campaign where an underlying homophobia is quite obvious, but also in the blanket dismissals of the many African-American genres (including disco) that are designed to maximize physical engagement.”

And she traces this back past early responses to jazz to the Middle Ages innovation of polyphony.

She also questions where a real political charge happens, in a lyric text (think 1960s folk songs) or in the music itself. She states [my bold]:

“From my perspective as a music historian, it seems to me that the music itself—especially as it intersects with the body and destabilizes accepted norms of subjectivity, gender and sexuality—is precisely where the politics of music often reside….The important question is: What qualifies as political? If the term is limited to party politics, then music plays little role except to serve as cheerleader; if it involves specifically economic struggle, then the vehicle of music is available to amplify protest and to consolidate community. But the musical power of the disenfranchised—whether youth, the underclass, ethnic minorities, women, or gay people—most often resides in their ability to articulate different ways of construing the body [see where fashion innovation happens], ways that bring along in their wake the potential for different experiential worlds. And the anxious reactions that so often greet new musics from such groups indicate that something crucially political is at issue.”

…”This is not at all to suggest that artists or fans control the scenario—the ability of the industry to absorb and blunt the political edge of anything it touches must not be underestimated…[but] by virtue of the market and its greed-motivated attention to emergent tastes that music has broken out of the officially prescribed restrictions and has participated as an active force in changing social formations—formations that Plato and his followers saw as the very core of the political.

“’It’s got a good beat. You can dance to it.' Critics often dismiss such statements as evidence of the mindlessness, the lamentable absence of discrimination in pop music reception.”…

“Recall Plato’s warning: ‘For the modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions.’”

“…the fact that a tune is construed to maximize its ability to make money…does not mean that its social effects are negligible. Without question we need to attend closely to how those who profit manipulate our reactions. But students of popular culture who hasten to trash all commercial music betray how little they know about Western music history.”

Snap!

She concludes with:

“In short, the study of popular music should also include the study of popular music.”

Yes! Wow. We have arrived at a clue here!

This essay led to so many thoughts about the effectiveness of political action through lyrics and politics through music and where we are today vis a vis 1969. What has changed. What hasn’t changed. I have been a firm defender of Bob Dylan as a poet fully deserving of the Nobel Prize in literature but you could sing a Bob Dylan song today and it would not sound historical. We have changed but since the 1980s have been regressing backwards. For all the lyrics we love, "Masters of War" still stands as a current argument. CCR’s "Fortunate Son" more than ever. "One Tin Soldier" one-hundred fold. "RESPECT." Beatles’ "Revolution." Must I invoke "The Eve of Destruction" amidst coronavirus and Trump?

But then we have gay marriage and Barak Obama was president for eight years. This is not to say one genre of music is better than the other.

Just don’t dismiss the “other.” 


Cher in Suberbowl 54 (with Bill Murray)

Jeep3This year's Superbowl was pretty exciting this year considering Mr. Cher's Scholar's team, the Kansas City Chiefs, won after 50 years of not winning.

So it was a rare occurrence of not only Groundhog Day falling on a Superbowl day but also a rare occurrence of my celebrity obsession coinciding with his sports obsession.

There were two commercials for Jeep that resurrected Bill Murray's famous role in the movie Groundhog Day, both which included location and full scene recreations, including the scene where Bill Murray wakes up hearing Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" playing on his radio. Both commercials played the Sonny & Cher song throughout the ad.

Early in the game a shorter commercial appeared and then in the 4th quarter, the extended version played where Murray walks around the town, (his brother also reprises his role as the mayor), then breaks out of the story upon discovering a Jeep and joyriding around with the Jeepgroundhog in tow. As the days repeat, it never gets old. 

In the longer ad, the full song plays. Murray even sings along to the song as he drives along. He actually sings this: "There aint no mountain we can't climb...in four wheel drive!"

Watch the ad.

More about the ad:
https://tvline.com/2020/02/02/bill-murray-groundhog-day-super-bowl-commercial-2020-video-jeep/

And a video blogger talking about why it's great and how challenging it was to arrange and pay for: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7NqfEVMC74

Jeep2Turns out it was the USA Today Superbowl ad fan favorite:
https://adage.com/article/special-report-super-bowl/jeeps-groundhog-day-commercial-wins-usa-todays-super-bowl-ad-meter/2233626


Cher in Show Biz 2020

ChertimeI went out looking for collages of Cher through time and turns out there are a ton of them! This was the best.

Anyway, I have a bunch of random thoughts today and couldn't figure out what umbrella to put them under. This is all about Cher in show-biz.

The Pop Star Crisis

My friend Christopher sent me this older article from 2017 from the Wall Street Journal. It's about an identity crisis with today's female pop stars. The article contains interesting statistics about what’s selling on streaming these days (R&B and hip-hop) and what’s not selling as well (rock, pop and even country is declining).

The article gets under my skin a bit when it talks about “the pop playbook” being unpredictable (you think?) and when it mentions that women are criticized for hosting hip-hop artists on their albums but male artists are not. (And the difference would be?)

And it confounds me that in the post-Cher and Tina Turner era music execs are still saying things like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus “may simply be past their hit making primes.” My friend Christopher tells me that female artists still disappear at the ticking time bomb of middle age! Oy. 

The 1% of Touring Acts

Here is another older Wall Street Journal article from Christopher about how large arena acts are eating up all the concert $$$. And due to the fact that streaming is making record-making less lucrative, smaller acts depend on concert revenue.

It feels so much like large corporations swallowing up their competition.

In any case, to consider Cher in this 1% list is downright bizarre. If you would have told me back in 1980 that Cher would be one of the 1% of popular touring acts in the late 2010s, I would have thought you were a crazy person. This is the artist who has been on a zillion record labels with a disproportionate amount of bomb albums and a bad reputation with just about everybody from hipsters to squares. Which is why it drives me nuts when people accuse Cher of being a mainstream artist. Where is this mysterious stream?

And yet, the people do come out to her shows in those ginormous, block-sized buildings. 

How. Did. We. Get. Here???

Although Cher is not listed as one of the highest grossing acts of the 2010s, she is named as #11 for highest grossing in 2019, ahead of Mumford & Sons, Michael Bublé, Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks and Ariana Grande. And I'm sure all of those acts are more popular than Cher is.

But why am I complaining. This is great. Finally, right? I’m actually very conflicted about it. Popularity: good. Monopoly: Bad.


Gary-jerryEvil Geniuses

I recently came across a clip of Gary Lewis (of Gary Lewis and the Playboys) and his father Jerry Lewis singling together on the show Hullabaloo. That prompted me to look up what kind of relationship they had. As it turns out, Gary and all his siblings from Jerry Lewis' first wife were all disinherited (as a group!) and Gary has called Jerry Lewis "a mean and evil man." I don't know how Cher really felt about Jerry Lewis but I've read he was always nice to Cher on her variety shows and she seemed to like him. She's never came out with any trash talk about him in any case. Mr. Cher Scholar, like a large population of the country France, considers Jerry Lewis a comedy genius.

Likewise, Cher had no rough encounters with the homicidal Phil Spector, holding her own against his in-studio verbal taunts. Many consider Spector a producing genius of the early 1960s.

And that reminded me that Sonny’s running mate for the Palms Springs Mayoral race once called him a “mean little Italian.” Others have mentioned difficulty working with Sonny too, but Cher enjoyed working with Sonny. She even seemed to forgive him for his egregious business scams involving Cher Enterprises. Her beef with him concerned mostly personal marital and control issues. And on a recent Good Times movie DVD, the director William Friedkin called Sonny an unqualified genius. And although this is maybe not a popular view of Sonny, I would argue he was probably a promotional genius of the scrappy kind. A lot of his ideas about career longevity and independent/guerrilla promotion were before their time by at least 30 years.

And all these things taken together, you might wonder if Cher has a high tolerance for dysfunctional male geniuses.

Cherjerry Cherjerry Cherjerry


Thinking About the Cher Biography

Cher_oscars_6_a_h

Before I forget, Cher performed at the finale of this season's Dancing with the Stars. I don't know who won. I don't watch that show unless Cher or her peripherals are on it. But USA Today reported on Cher's appearance on the show. I found it striking she appeared on a 2019 show singing a 1967 song or rather she sang her own 52 year old song.

Dwts2019

I've been thinking recently about Cher's upcoming biographical projects: the Cher musical to travel in 2020, an upcoming biopic and her autobiography. 

I don't know if her book is in the can but I hope it includes music and artists she was influenced by aesthetically, interior design influences (and other "hobbies"), records she loved (and what Sonny thought of them), movies she loved, what the big mistakes were, who helped in little and small ways, and maybe even some dish on a few dramatic kindnesses and large slights. 

I think about the evolution of the Katharine Hepburn biographies (aside from Cher, I've read as much KH), and she got really reflective and reconsidered some of her earlier stances on issues (like boycotting the Oscars) toward the end of her life and it felt very human and enlightening. Actually, Hepburn's last opinion on attending the Oscars helped me show up at a book awards event this year. 

While I was making one of my unsuccessful attempts to find Cher's copy of Marie Claire, I picked up a British film magazine that caught my eye, Little White Lies, the Judy Garland issue. (I've read a few JG bios too).

Anyway, I liked how the articles in that magazine described the aims of her recent biopic:

“There is no two-bit mimicry here, no over-rehearsed tics or obviously detectable plummy accent. Both [Rene] Zellweger and [the director] understand that overzealous imitation in this type of film only serves to drive a wedge between audience and material. The ten-a-penny peacock turns by up-for-it chancers doing their best karaoke so often drains a movie of nuance and credibility, as all the focus is placed on, what is, a pageant for paid-for narcissism.”

In another article in the magazine Zellweger says

“We feared that the more you veer away from what is authentically you, the less likely you are to connect with the person you’re representing.”

Ironic but true.

And here's a quote that I feel sums up something unique about Cher. In a recent interview, Cher was telling the story again about the theatrical trailers for Silkwood and nobody knowing she was sitting in the theater. When her name came up in the trailer, everybody laughed and how painful that was to experience. 

The interviewer asks Cher if she felt a strong reaction at the time, like "they're all wrong about me!" and Cher said no, it was an organic response. "I never argue with reality."

What a quote, huh?  

My friend Christopher alerted me to an old Entertainment Weekly review of Cher's album Love Hurts. Christopher says the magazine had just started when this review appeared. It isn't great at a B+ and takes so many attacks at her Geffen era that I almost feel protective of Diane Warren, Jon Bon Jovi and the decade of schlock rock:

"[This album] finds the warbler surrounding herself with the most formulaic hit songwriters alive (Diane Warren, Desmond Child). To boot, Cher has cannily stuck with the production style most lusted after by cynical radio programmers, stressing power chords that plotz all over the place, battalions of backup singers who scream their guts out, and keyboard blasts so resonant they sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon. Every song approximates that most reliably commercial of half-breeds, the part-rock, part-pop power ballad. So why, given this gluttonous buffet of calculation, is the album so much fun?"

Then going on to say,

“For all the fakery that surrounds her, Cher remains weirdly genuine.”

A common refrain of later-day Cher scholarship right there. What are the ingredients that made that?

  


The Clinger Sisters on The Danny Kaye Show

Clinger1The Christmas season is upon us. And this reminds me that two years ago my friend Natalie spent Christmas in New Mexico. We watched one of her favorite movies, White Christmas with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. Natalie, turns out, is a big Danny Kaye fan. So we watched a lot of his clips on YouTube that month, including one with some young girls named The Clinger Sisters on Danny Kaye's variety TV show (1963-67).

I don't know why, but I looked them up on Wikipedia to see what became of them. Well, Peggy Clinger became a songwriter and wrote a song for Cher on her 1971 album, the song "I Hate to Sleep Alone."

Cherlp

 

In other news, check out this cool Christmas photo shoot with a Cher doll.


Bob Etsy RIP

TakemehomeOne of Cher's major producers from the late 1970s recently passed away.

Bob Etsy also produced big disco classics such as Donna Summers' "Last Dance." Here's his obit in the Hollywood Reporter.

And here's an interview where he talks about working with Cher.

Bob Etsy was a big part of the two 1979 Casablanca albums, Take Me Home and Prisoner.  He produced Prisoner entirely and shared production of Take Me Home with Ron Dante.

From Take Me Home he and with Michelle Aller wrote "Take Me Home," "Wasn't It Good," "Say the Word," and "Git Down (Guitar Groupie)." FromPrisoner Prisoner he and Michelle Aller wrote "Shoppin'," "Hell on Wheels," "Holy Smoke," and "Outrageous." He also co-wrote "Mirror Image" with Michael Brooks.

These Prisoner songs contained one-of-a-kind biographical lyrics meant to give people a view of Cher's life at the time. 

 

 

 


Cher on Sirius


SiriusSirius Radio did a limited run Cher channel back in April. I don't have Sirius but my friend does so I was able to listen to the last 7 days, not 24/7 but during work hours, give or take a meeting when I had to turn it off. I would estimate I listened to 5 to 6 hours a day. 

Immediately, I nerded out with the decision to write down every song they played so that I could partake in the nerd activities of (1) cataloging them by album, (2) analyzing the choices and (3) judging them. 

Below are the results of what they played by album. Is it random? It's surely mysterious and I can't imagine Cher was involved in the selecting because most of her reported favorites are M.I.A. The playlist definitely favored deep cuts and later-day Sonny & Cher. As you would expect, all Warner Bros. albums (70s and current) are also missing, including her latest album!! So strange but part of the mysterious world of Cher.

See how many times your favorites were played...

Continue reading "Cher on Sirius" »


The Universal Fire and a New Believe Cover

PissedcherThe UMG UGH!

Earlier this year the Universal Fire story broke and details about the huge losses by the Universal Music Group when a warehouse of master tapes in Los Angeles caught fire and were destroyed. And then they covered it up. 

Here is the New York Times coverage:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/magazine/universal-fire-master-recordings.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/25/magazine/universal-music-fire-bands-list-umg.html

This story brings up whole new slate of debates about the value of digitalization and problems with authorship, corporate consolidation, corporate bullying and the tragic danger of having too much intellectual property in one physical location. 

It's a cultural loss on a huge scale with original masters lost from artist such as Billie Holliday, Johnny Coltraine and Martin Luther King, but also on a very small specific scale for individual artists and their fans. 

Anyway, Cher's name was mentioned a lot. Many, by no means all, of her many labels were long ago consumed into Universal Music Group, only to be consumed once again. 

I was making the case to my music-biz-scholar friend Christopher that curation of large cultural holdings, even if you're a private entity, should come with extra responsibilities such as a museum, (even a private one) would be pressured to adhere to.  

I remember one phone call about 10 years ago where he rattled off all the major music label conglomerations off the top of his head! I asked him to reiterate the tangle for me again here and forensically trace the behemoth that has become United Music Group and which labels it has swallowed up. This would be another way to figure out which Cher albums might have been affected.

But sadly, we are beyond such quaint displays of memory. Instead, he simply just sent me this link. It's a graphic of all the consolidations and it's so goddamn big, it's unprintable!

Mess

Christopher's comments:

It truly is shocking.  Not the fire, per se, but their slimy way of keeping the news from the artists for over a decade!   Although, I should probably say it is shocking...but not surprising.  I harbor such distrust of corporations; their ranks seems always to be filled with individuals who pass the buck to someone else when accountability enters the picture.  The larger the corporation, the less likely anyone is willing to take responsibility when something goes awry.
 
Here is a great graphic that New York Magazine put out a couple years back which gives an excellent summary of the conglomeration of the music labels over the years.
 
Personally, I think of all the major labels, UMG is the most higgledy-piggledy in terms of its roster; both Sony and Warner's various absorptions involved more organic matches/compatibility.  All the feverish flipping that occurred in 1995-1999 between Seagram/MCA/Vivendi/Universal may have created the largest conglomerate, but I believe it also created the most inherently unstable one.  So in some ways it makes sense that if there was going to be a disaster of this sort it should occur amid their holdings.  If the ass doesn't know the elbow, the lack of proper archiving (that is, record-keeping--aside from the lack of the materials' physical safety) would appear to necessarily follow, and who knows, maybe the same could be said for their basic physical operations.

 

But the graphic does mostly explain where all the holdings of Cher are and she is spread out pretty wide across all the three behemoths:   

- At Sony Music Entertainment are holdings for Columbia (everybody breathe: the I Paralyze album is safe!)

- At Warner Music Group are holdings for ATCO, Reprise, Rhino (Cher’s 60s output), plus her already lost albums from Warner Bros (was there a mini fire somewhere?), not including the later-day Warner Bros. UK albums. 

- At Universal Music Group were holdings for MCA/Kapp, Casablanca (very early 70s Cher and Sonny & Cher and very late-70s Cher), and, although I can't even find it on this stupid chart, Geffen Records (Cher's 80s label). This is not great news. Some iconic stuff in there. Young-cher-mlk

Still, some of the news stories mentioning Cher were somewhat humorous, like this one with the angry Cher face as the lead photo.

Or this article with this hilarious photo by juxtaposition: implying the biggest cultural losses were Neil Young, Martin Luther King and Cher.

Hey, I'm the first to defend Cher's cultural impact, but... 

A New "Believe" Cover

BHuman has made a pretty decent "Believe" cover, keeping it techno-friendly but slowing it down. 

ABBACher 2.0

And a new Cher ABBA album is in the works. No full set list yet but she's been talking about individual songs on her Twitter feed. My vote was for "When All Is Said and Done." Fingers crossed it makes it.


Revisiting Good Times and 3614 Jackson Highway

Good-timesI totally missed this when it happened in 2017, but there's been a re-release of the movie Good Times. My friend Dave alerted me to the situation while we were in Amoeba Records in Los Angeles this spring. It's quite amazing and has me rethinking the movie.

It's extras include an interesting interview with William Friedkin describing how he came to the project and how it all came together. Friedkin talks about their guerrilla film-making (they had no permits) and how they filmed skits first in studio. Afterwards, they only had 45 minutes of film, so they padded it.

There's also a fabulous commentary track across the movie with film historian Lee Gambin who highlights things you’ve never noticed (or at least I never noticed): Friedkin’s mark on the movie, for instance with the chaotic edit of the wrestling scene, typical angles and shots, and subversive low shots. He comments on George Saunder’s "faustian" performance.

He categorizes all 1960s films into dark films, Elvis films, avant guard cinema and rock docs. He feels Good Times is very meta.

He references the western skit to the spaghetti western Ringo movies of 1965, A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo. He labels Friedken as a  documentary realist at that time, who dabbled in fantasy (The Exorcist). Sonny liked the hard edge of Friedkin and shared his sense of humor (note the Los Angeles parking signs on the Western street). He notes the crane work and says that, in fact, Good Times went crane happy.

He notes the "incredible dancing" in the western musical, saying the choreographer (who's name I couldn't catch: Andre T?) was one of the sharks in West Side Story. I like how they keep the whole body of the dancer in frame and long shots of the whole dance, which was the unfortunate issues with dances in Burlesque.

Gambin says the movie got a few good reviews. The LA Times said there were moments of Woody Allen brilliance and The Hollywood Reporter said it was the best directorial debut since Coppola. It might shock fans to hear that.

Gambin calls it a fun tributes to genre movies, full of beautiful colors. He said originally a Sonny & Cher fan was to write initial script but that took too long.

He describes he movie as a tension between artistic integrity vs. commerce, turning artists into commodities which is exactly what they don’t want to become. Cher is trying to get control of her own trajectory. S&C are reclaiming their turf. They are decidedly here not a rags to riches story, although I think it's curious that their variety show would recycle a rags to riches mythology for its “behind the scenes” fake documentary reels and skits.

Gambin relates the movie to the backstage musical similar to Vincent Minnelli's The Bandwagon, a genre about The Hollywood Machine. As always, Gambin insists that Cher owns her own presentation. He also doesn't deny the camp sensibility of the "It's the Little Things" video reel, and use of Batman iconography.

He also loves the studio lot scene where Sonny & Cher discuss their dilemma with the big studio and play with backstage costumes and props. Gambin calls this a place "where costumes have lost their meaning." The Hollywood Tzar, the studio wants to fix them." Note the part where they tell Sonny, “This nose will have to go” and remember the ongoing teasing Sonny gave Cher's nose on their variety show four years later. Interestingly, Gambin says that women in clown garb is rare. Is this true?

He equates the S&C script scene here with the one in The Exorcist.

Jungle Geno is Mikey Dolenz. I always wondered about that. Gambin notes that all Tarzan movies always had a “boy” who was young and athletic. So their elderly son is a joke on that convention. Animal trainer Ray Halfaster was used and Gambin says he was better than some (I'm assuming he means regarding abuse of his animals). Gambin reminds us that Saunders' role in this skit is a nod to the Great White Hunter and his coldness and malevolence. He notes the moving camera work in the chase scene.

He notes Sonny's interesting phrasing and chord progression in his favorite musical number, "Don’t Talk to Strangers."

Gambin says the detective story is a nod to Film Noir and was also the seed of Cher's Vamp. He likes the texture palette in this skit.

He says some Friedkin fans feel the songs in this movie drag on the momentum. But Gambin feels they give film time to breathe and are like soliloquy moments. They give the characters space to grow.

Overall, Gambin notes Cher's fiery acting performances in strong female roles (Jimmy Dean, Moonstruck, Silkwood, Mask) and says she is underappreciated as both a vocalist and an actress, having worked with many greats including Friedkin, Altman, Nichols, Bogdanovich, and Jewison. He says, "Cher songs are institutions" about race relations, the occult and people on the fringe.

After this, Gambin says, Sonny & Cher were hired to do the Speedway movie, but were replaced by Elvis and Nancy Sinatra.

I also noticed two things in rewatching this movie. First, how their LA house (in Encino) is surrounded by undeveloped land! Second, this is another movie with Cher playing herself and showing a disinterest in show business. What an amazing foreshadowing of the Cher story, as if her life were scripted. Gambin talks about how she later reinvented herself as a multi-medium business woman decades later.

20190612_144147There's also a new release of 3614 Jackson Highway on purple vinyl.

The same Ward Lamb essay from the CD re-release booklet years ago is also included in the vinyl release. 

 


Revisiting Cher's Catalog & Rock Status

Cher60s2

Cher has a pretty big musical catalog, with over 30 studio albums alone, forget about soundtracks, live albums, rare bootlegs. Recently reviewers have been taking a look back.

Rolling Stone did a light but nice tribute story on Cher's endurance.

Christopher Muther at The Boston Globe recently did a fabulous piece revisiting her best covers. I have to quote a lot of it because it was so surprising and mind-blowing:

He starts by asking, "Did you ever associate the pop goddess with Bob Dylan, the Kinks or James Brown? Bruce Springsteen, Bee Gees…"

And then he goes through some less-than-successful covers, including the album Dancing Queen which he feels was rushed karaoke music, except "Fernando" (the only track produced by ABBA's own Benny Andersson) which he says “almost rivals the rebellious spirit of the original.”

Here are other songs he liked:

  • Eddie Floyd's Knock on Wood: “shockingly good disco-funk interpretation of Eddie Floyd…seriously sensuous swagger."

  • Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe: "the dangerous side of Cher. Can deliver the drama on film and through the song."

  • Marc Cohn's Walking in Memphis: "soulful take on Cohn’s milquetoast song….sings rings around the choir and makes a rather mediocre song memorable."

  • Loving Spoonful's Do You Believe in Magic: "delicate and funky take on the bubblegum original….her vocals lazily stretch out over the chorus…a witchy spell."

  • Donovan's Catch the Wind: "imbues it with urgency and power." Cher76

  • Michael Bolton's I Found Someone: "sexy cougar anthem"

  • James Brown's It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World: "a pleasant shocker. Cher flips the script on Brown’s chauvinistic slow cooker…you know the sexist proclamations are ridiculous…because they’re coming from Cher."

  • Judy Garland's The Man That Got Away: "Cher’s bluesy interpretation offers a cheeky 1970s take on Garland’s impassioned version."

  • The Walker Brothers' The Sun Aint Gonna Shine Anymore: "hitting the chorus full-throttle, and then crumpling back to despondency when she cuts to the line…'lonely, without you, baby'"

  • Buffalo Springfield's For What It’s Worth and the 3614 Jackson Highway album: "filled with gems….criminally overlooked."

  • Bob Dylan's All I Really Want to Do: "approached like a Phil Spector, Wall of Sound spectacular. The Byrds come off as detached storytellers, Cher’s version has true heart."

It's interesting to me how much music critics love Jackson Highway and how fans always love on Stars more or Backstage.

And then last month, Sirius Radio had about a two-week Cher channel that my friend Julie hooked me up with. More on that later because I wrote down all the songs they played for 7 days and it's pretty interesting what made it in and what was left out. Coming soon. I'm dong real scholarship on it...with like a spreadsheet an all. Nerd alert.

RockFinally, over Christmas I was given the book Women Who Rock, an encyclopedia of 100 women artists edited by Ed Evelyn McDonnel. 

It's also interesting to see who made it in the book's list and who has fallen by the wayside. It includes gospel, blues, country, folk, pop, Latino, Caribbean, rap, Motown, SoCal, Experimental, New Wave, Punk, R&B and rock artists and includes Darlene Love, Carol Kaye and June Millington (which is great) but not Pat Benetar or the Indigo Girls. 

The intro essay says the book focused on "game changers" and leaders vs. geniuses and survivors in the wake of rape, bad contracts, sexual exploitation, anorexia, bad management, Svengalis, addiction, suicide and murder. For instance, they couldn't put in every singer-songwriter (like Carly Simon, who didn't make it in either).

The Cher essay was written by Lucretia Tye Jasmine, who summarized Cher as a "singer, actor, comedian and business woman" and calls Cher "woefully underrepresented and unappreciated in the canon, that she "kicked down doors and painted flags" in music, feminism, fashion and social justice. 

She smartly picks up on this very important angle regarding Cher being cast as a Vamp: "sex was a joke but she was not the butt of it." She says Cher made theater of social issues with "Half Breed," "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves," songs about outcast and the condemned. 

With her "crooked teeth and low voice" she was always "strong, in narrative control" with an "elaborate self-presentation" that signaled "a trust in one's own experiences." Honestly, I'm not sure what that last phrase means, but she calls it a "panache of glitter" and says she "commands the stage." 

She admires Cher's decision in the "Turn Back Time" video to use a Navy ship, "the bastion of masculinity." Most importantly she had the "ability to withstand and transcend critics."

Jasmine also elaborates on Cher's musical record breaking stats: only artist with a #1 single in decades from the 1960s-2010s, oldest female artist with a #1 US Billboard song, only three artists of five with a US#1 hit single and an Academy Award. Plus a Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe awards, an Icon Award and a Razzie. 

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