There is something about Cher.
Something beyond her current image.
Regular readers of this blog may find it amusing that I like Cher, but I do.
Certainly I don like her more recent stuff ("recent" being defined as anything after the 1970s) but I do like and love a lot of her music.
I can here sniggering out there but in all honesty, all the people I know who love 60s pop have room for Sonny and Cher and no sniggering goes on there.
So why can't I like Cher's 70s output?
It is corn, it is cheese, but above all it is pop … and I like pop.
You have to admire Cher.
She hasn't the greatest voice (it's not bad but it's not like …), she isn't the greatest interpreter of songs (like Helen Merrill), she isn't a formal musician (she doesn't play an instrument), and she doesn't write her own music.
And yet she has had a successful career.
Strength of personality and one of the most distinctive voices in pop, which she projects and promotes beautifully.
And, yes, she is intelligent.
Well, if that is the case, why doesn't she write her own songs?
She never needed to … starting out she had the gifted Sonny Bono, when she went solo she was a big star and songwriters would throw songs at her and she could pick what she wanted. She could lay back, pick songs, sing them, have hits and enjoy life rather than suffering the anguish of the songwriting process.
It may not be as noble but if you have talent it doesn't matter.
If string a few words together with music is songwriting and songwriting is a sign of intelligence then all I can say there are about 100 Einstein's playing in Brisbane tonight.
No, no, intelligence isn't that. It's something else outside of music. Music may be a part of it but it's not music alone.
For critics to sit back and attack entertainers because they don't write songs as some sort of a reflection on intelligence is stupid.
Sure, you can attack them if they do covers and don't add, interpret or do anything with the song but a good talented entertainer will always do that.
Let's face it. If you like a song you are listening to and you didn't know the singer didn't write it then what's the difference? It's music not literature. Music, unlike literature is usually a collaborative process anyway unless the singer, writes, records, produces, plays all the instruments himself.
Cher knows her limitations and knows that she has to utilise what she has to bets advantage. And that is her voice, her force of personality, and her musicality. And that is smart. And, despite, some missteps and questionable records she has shown she has the smarts when it comes to music.
If you hum to it, tap your feet to it, dance to it it can't be all bad can it?
So what does a person do who doesn't write their own songs, isn't a "musician", isn't a great interpreter of songs but is intelligent and has a desire to express themselves?
You pick songs you think mean something to you and then you have a legend like Jimmy Webb produce, arrange and conduct your album.
And this album is the result.
This was Cher's first album without the influence of Sonny Bono and the first for the Warner Brothers Label. Cher was newly divorced at age 29, independent for the first time since she was 16 and famous. She, clearly, wanted to say something. Her step away from her past security and an uncertain future, especially in personal relationships, gives the album a slightly melancholy tone.
This becomes her singer-songwriter album even if she didn't write anything. She inhabits the songs and with Jimmy Webb's attention to detail makes this mix of bluesy rock, country rock and MOR one of her most personal statements.
Jimmy Webb can be credited for some the sweeping and gently epic big sounds here. He has made a career out of that and he knows how to get the epic without falling into bombast. This is slick, as you would expect from Cher, and she is not adverse to bombast (especially later in her career) but this is restrained. Big, but restrained. Comparatively speaking
The musicianship is first rate and there are no ragged edges but this was the mainstream 70s of the west coast.
A lot of you out there still wont have time for this but then again you probably don't listen to Carly Simon, Janis Ian or Joni Mitchell.
Having said that, that doesn't mean the album will be successful or the audience will be in tune with you.
And this is the case here. The album did not chart well.
Cher had a number of failures in the 70s, album wise(perhaps the 70s and its dominance of singer-songwriter music ), acted against her … she eventually moved more to a dance and disco thing where people don't care it you write your own music or not … and had greater success.
Yes, yes, I'm biased and I had a crush on Cher when I was a teen. Still do. Maybe I'm letting that cloud my judgement in relation to the person and the music but when I hear her sultry low voice she has the same effect on me as Marlene Dietrich … a sort of instant aural erection.
Refer to my other comments for more biographical background and sexual frustration relating to Cher.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Love Enough – (Tim Moore) – from his self titled album (1975). A perfect example of 70s singer songwriter pop song. I'm surprised it wasn't a hit for someone.
- Bell Bottom Blues – (Eric Clapton) – the song first appeared on the Derek and The Dominos (of which Duane Allman was a member) album "Layla" (1970). I'm pretty ambivalent to Clapton but this song was a good one and Cher extracts all the drama from the plea for love. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_Bottom_Blues_(Derek_and_the_Dominos_song)
- These Days – (Jackson Browne) – from Jackson Browne's "For Everyman" (1974) album though it was first recorded by Nico in 1967 and by Duane Allman's brother Gregg on his 1973 album "Laid Back". A good version, well sung.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/These_Days_(Jackson_Browne_song)
- Mr. Soul – (Neil Young) – written by Neil Young when he was in Buffalo Springfield for the "Buffalo Springfield Again" (1967) album. The song is suitably groovy and dirty and of course catchy, as it is in it's original version. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Soul
- Just This One Time – (Jimmy Webb) – from his "Land's End" (1975) album…but first done on his "Reunion" album with Glen Campbell (1974). This is a typical Webb big ballad with the emphasis on "big". Dollops of gospel and soul allow Cher to go the full Diva and it's hard to dislike.
- Geronimo's Cadillac – (Michael Martin Murphey) – This is, perhaps, Murphey's most famous song from Murphey's album "Geronimo's Cadillac" (1972). Cher taps into her (partial) Native American ancestry here as she had in the past ("Half Breed" etc). It's not authentic but the song is a good one and Cher does a good version. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geronimo%27s_Cadillac_(Michael_Martin_Murphey_song)
- The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall – (Jimmy Cliff) – originally titled "The Harder They Come" and written by reggae artist Jimmy Cliff for his 1971 Soundtrack to the movie "The Harder They Come". According to the liner notes Van Dyke Parks arranged the steel drums on this album ..so I'm assuming they are referring to this song. This is, perhaps, a misfire. It is certainly bouncy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Harder_They_Come_(song)
- Love Hurts – (Boudleaux Bryant) – Boudleaux Bryant who, with his wife Felice, wrote "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie," for the Everly Brothers. "Love Hurts" was an album track on "A Date with The Everly Brothers", but Roy Orbison had the first hit with it in 1961 (albeit in Australia #5, it was the flipside to his US #1 "Running Scared"). The song has since been covered many times was by Jim Capaldi (#95 US, #4UK 1975), Gram Parsons (1973), Nazareth (#8 US 1976, #15 UK 1977, #1 Canada 1976) and others. She would re-record later (for the "Love Hurts" album 1991) in a more hard-rock fashion closer to Nazareth's version while this is more slow and dreamy with Webb's influence all over it.
- Rock and Roll Doctor – (Lowell George, Fred Martin) – recorded by Little Feat for their "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" (1974) – down south rock n roll from Cher. This would fit well on a Delaney & Bonnie or, errr Little Feat album.
- Stars – (Janis Ian) – written by Ian for her 1974 album also entitled "Stars". The song, about celebrity and its associated loneliness was relevant to Ian and clearly to Cher. The lyric would become especially resonant with the commercial failure of this album
Another interesting twist in Cher's musical history. Knowing my friends I'm not sure I would be allowed to put it on at parties but I would play it at home myself. It's a undiscovered minor gem …. I'm keeping it.
Bell Bottom Blues
Just This One Time
- "The Warner Bros. years found Cher experimenting with a variety of musical styles and producers for a handful of singles and four complete albums: Stars (1975), I’d Rather Believe in You (1976), Cherished (1977) and Two the Hard Way (1977). The lineup of talent who joined Cher at Warner Bros. is staggering: Phil Spector, Harry Nilsson, Jimmy Webb, Snuff Garrett, Steve Barri, then-husband Gregg Allman, and even Sonny Bono." http://theseconddisc.com/2011/01/27/reissue-theory-cher-a-womans-story-the-warner-bros-years/