Life is supposed to be a hit, much like this album.
With all the ups and downs of life lately, I found myself in some tough situations. I have questions from my career to finances, and there doesn’t seem to be a concise decision. My life status is complicated.
This was the exact situation Cher found herself in when she released her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway. It had been a few years since Cher or Sonny and Cher had a hit . Their record label ATCO were hoping to change that with this record. Instead of stringing together another standard pop album, they wanted to essentially reproduce what had happened with Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis. They wanted to give Cher a “soul” and “blues” feeling with the top studio musicians.
This is an album of mostly covers with a few newer compositions. Covers were nothing new for Cher. She had done many Bob Dylan covers on her previous albums, but this time they were going to be delivered via Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (Fun fact: Cher was the first to record at their then “new” studio, 3614 Jackson Highway). This was also her first album not produced by Sonny Bono.
The album starts with the Buffalo Springfield cover “For What’s It’s Worth.” This rootsy, almost southern rock arrangement, gives Cher’s voice a completely new venue. The first true gem of this record comes in “(Just Enough to Keep Me) Hangin’ On.” Although this song is a lukewarm song on love, Cher’s voice literally sounds like mascara stained teardrops. This theme continues throughout many of the album’s later cuts.
One can’t ignore her version of “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of The Bay.” This Otis Redding cover sounds like it’s come straight from the dock. You can hear the dreams in Cher’s voice as she dips her toes in the bay. Side A closes with “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” a cover from Dr. John. Lyrically, this song serves as a precursor to Cher’s future career.
Side B belongs to the ballads, although songs like “Cry Like a Baby” definitely deserve an honorable mention. Cher completely owns the ballad “Please Don’t tell Me.” This song, again soaked with mascara stained tears, jars the heart into vulnerability. It places you in the most helpless, yet loving moment. It’s a perfect leeway into the album’s conclusion “Save The Children.” Then there is Cher’s version of “Lay, Baby, Lay,” a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay.” Cher uses her seductively rich vocals to bring this song a new facade.
In my life, I have been learning to find my own voice, and that is what sets this album apart from everything Cher had made previously. This album is in Cher’s voice. She sounds as if she is talking to you from across the table about her hopes, aspirations, and heartbreak. This is all set to a rootsy, Americana, blues background.
Yet the album was a commercial failure. The critics loved it, but the album itself bombed on the charts stalling at number 160. For Cher’s die hard fans and many music collectors, this album has become a staple in their collections.
So I sit here, 49 years after this album, and I feel a deep connection to it emotionally. Cher’s vocals have always been underrated, and she has truly spoken straight to my being with this album. Life is meant to be a hit, but sometimes we walk through valleys that result in beauty.
In the end, there will be brighter days ahead. Do you know what songs were next for Cher? “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “Dark Lady,” and “Half Breed,” all of which came in at number one.
So let’s look on our past and present struggles through the lens of beauty. Looking back, it will only be a stepping stone to greatness. Basically, we are all a hit. We may be a commercial failure now, but we could be a gypsy, tramp, or thieve tomorrow….or something along those lines.
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