Comedian Frank DeCaro recently tweeted: I’m convinced Cher gave us the Dancing Queen album so we could get through the Kavanaugh hearings.
I was intrigued with this album concept from the moment it was announced: Cher covering ABBA. Two great tastes that taste great together. I put it on my Christmas wish list. But after the album’s release last week, a wave of raves washed across my very gay Facebook newsfeed. So I purchased it and, I must say…. listening to this album makes me downright giddy. It’s the perfect antidote to 2018: Chicken soup for the ears, if you will.
Dancing Queen scored an A- minus from Entertainment Weekly and is likely to debut atop the Billboard album charts later this week. Reminder: Cher is 72 years old. This is 20 years after the #1 success of Believe, which was considered to be an impossibly late career comeback at that time.
This seemed like a good time to have a look at some of the forgotten moments of Cher’s fifty-fucking-five year career.
Let’s face it – some things are not remembered because they are just not very good. But there will always be some uber-fan in the comments section that will argue that Cher has never had a bad moment, EVER and you can go to HELL if you disagree.
Also – some critical or commercial failures do fare better when viewed through the lens of time. So let’s not categorize the following examples as good or bad… just… worth a mention.
Like this outfit.
1) Bittersweet White Light (1973)– In certain circles, this LP is considered a camp classic. It’s up to you to decide if you belong in that camp. If you want to hear Cher tackle an Al Jolson medley and other American songbook standards while wading through a muddy, dated Sonny Bono production, look no further! Although her vocal rage had expanded since the 1960’s, she was still partially stuck in her honking Dylan-by-way-of-Sonny-style of singing. Compare her vocals here to anything she has recorded in the past two decades: Vocoder and pitch correction aside, her range now – vocally, stylistically, dramatically – is a world away from her own limitations 40+ years ago.
2) A Woman’s Story / Baby I Love You (1974) Cher reunited with producer Phil Spector for this single, which has never appeared on any Cher LP or compilation. The A-side was written by Spector with brother / sister duo Nino Tempo & April Stevens. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond covered this with a spot-on Cher imitation that few realized because the original was so obscure.
The B-side is a cover of the Ronettes classic – Cher sang backing vocals on the 1963 original. Here, the song is slowed down to a snail’s pace while ramping up the bombast that you would expect from a Spector production. I won’t argue the pros and cons of this venture – some think it’s brilliant, while Ronnie Spector reports that John Lennon referred to it as proof that Phil had gone ‘round the bend.
3) Cherished (1977) – Cher’s last Snuff Garrett-produced LP continued in the storytelling style of their earlier #1 hits Dark Lady and Half Breed. But by 1977, both Cher and the pop music world had moved on. Like her other mid-70’s solo LPs, this album never charted and has never been released on CD. Cher reportedly owns the rights and has no plans to re-release them.
4) Black Rose (1980) People forget that Cher is a rock chick at heart. She seems to have made peace with dance music now, but in 1980 she was bristling under the disco material she was recording for Casablanca records. Cher formed and fronted Black Rose, a punkish indie rock band with then boyfriend/guitarist Les Dudek. Casablanca released one LP – it was neither a critical or commercial success and closed out her tenure at the record label.
5) Cher & Meat Loaf: Dead Ringer For Love (1981): From Mr. Loaf’s follow up to the hugely successful Bat Out Of Hell LP. This duet was a moderate chart hit in other countries, but inexplicably not released as a single in the U.S. If you want to hear Cher take part in the trademark aural excesses of a Jim Steinman production, here it is.
6) I Paralyze (1982) Continuing her early 80’s musical slump, this sole LP for Columbia records was a flop. New Wave Cher didn’t translate well to the current pop market. She then focused on her acting career for the next 5 years before resurfacing with 1987’s self-titled comeback LP. At the time it seemed like she had been gone for much longer, since her early 80’s material had all gone largely unnoticed. Here she is on American Bandstand:
7) Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean (1982) – Robert Altman directed this low-budget movie version of the Broadway play, which he also directed with the same cast. Cher co-starred with Karen Black, Sandy Dennis and a young Kathy Bates. While not commercially successful, people did sit up and take notice of her acting chops. Surprisingly, the whole movie is on YouTube, but skip to 1.29 if you want to watch her character’s heartbreaking meltdown.
8) Not.com.mercial CD (1994/2000) – In 1994, Cher attended a songwriter’s workshop that garnered an album’s worth of songs that she had co-written. The resulting album was subsequently rejected by her record label as “Nice, but not commercial.” Cher held on to it for 6 years before releasing it with little fanfare via the internet during her post-Believe renaissance. At the time, she said “I think that the internet is a place that at least it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s life and if you want to go there you can go there and check it out, and if you don’t want to be bothered by it you don’t even have to know it’s in the universe” Reviews were generally favorable.
9) Walking in Memphis (1995) – When the record company rejected Cher’s songwriter LP, she returned the following year with It’s A Man’s World, about which she told the Advocate “I don’t know. It’s kind of good. It doesn’t suck.” The standout track is her cover of Marc Cohn’s signature song. A modest success in Europe and the UK, it sank without a trace in the U.S. It should have been a hit, with a music video featuring Cher in Elvis drag. Cher liked the video so much, it was played in its entirety on the big screen during her live shows for years after. Take that, bitches.
10) Faithful (1996) – Director Paul Mazursky’s final film – written by Chazz Palmienteri based on his stage play. This was the end of Cher’s A-list Hollywood film career – whether it was the cause or she purposely walked away is debatable. In any case, the film was a commercial failure – criticized for not translating well to the big screen. A charming LA Times review also said “she’s had so much cosmetic surgery, you can’t get through a single close-up without marveling at the cadaverous mask she has become.” Which… by the way… have you seen Palmienteri lately? But I digress: It’s a pretty good movie that is definitely worth revisiting.
BONUS: Don’t Come Crying To Me (1991/1999)
Originally recorded during the Heart Of Stone album sessions, the song was unreleased until 1999, when it was remixed and included in first pressings of If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher’s Greatest Hits. The song was later removed, at Cher’s request. In any case, it’s a favorite of mine.