Some hits are timeless, while others eventually fall to the wayside. It’s safe to say that Cher’s 1998 hit, “Believe,” is here for good.
It has been 20 years since Cher released this iconic single, accompanied by its equally trailblazing album. The album Believe comes off the heels of Cher’s 1995 album, It’s A Man’s World. Although It’s A Man’s World truly shows the scope of Cher’s vocals, it was a commercial failure, only selling 700,000 copies worldwide to this day. Believe came at a “do or die” moment in Cher’s career…..
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.” 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, set to a rootsy, Americana, and 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.
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, but they result in beauty.
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.
Some artists music has a timeless tone. Whether you were born when they originally made the music or are listening to it years later, there is a hint of nostalgia that follows their albums. One of those artists is Sonny and Cher.
I have been going through my vinyl collection and revisit old favorites that I haven’t listened to in years. While I was cleaning records the other night, I came across The Wondrous World of Sonny and Cher. This album is the iconic duo’s second, right after Look At Us, which contained the hit single “I Got You Babe.”
Although this album was not as popular or successful as their previous, it still contained the top twenty hits “But You’re Mine” and “What Now My Love.” The album also takes a deep dive into the groove that Sonny and Cher moved too. Even in the liner notes Sonny and Cher Write:
In our first album we introduced our family to you …on this album we thought it would be nice if we got to be friends personally.
The album opens with the Gershwin tune, “Summertime.” Cher’s vocals are very jazzy and I would love to lift them off this recording and set them to a piano or jazz quartet.
Unlike some of their previous recordings, Sonny had his own verse in nearly every song on this album. He often gets slack for his perceived lack of vocal talent, but he carried “Summertime” and many of the other tunes. The same can be said for “I’m Leaving it Up to You” and “Set Me Free.”
Side 2 opens with “What Now My Love.” This is one of my favorite songs, but I usually fancy the more ballad-esque version. Their version of this classic tune was the only version that reached the top twenty in the U.S. and U.K. Sonny and Cher made this song their own by giving it a 1960’s pop twist while leaving the ballad elements behind.
The shining moments on this album were Sonny and Cher’s solo pieces. Sonny sang “Laugh at Me,” which he also wrote, while Cher sang Harry Belafonte’s “Turn Around.” Sonny’s “Laugh at Me” is an anthem of self-acceptance, basically saying that “normal” doesn’t exist. Sonny is telling people to do what you want and express yourself. You have just as much right to be yourself as they do to criticize.
Then there are Cher’s haunting vocals on “Turn Around.” This is a gem of her early career that gets overlooked. It is a heavy Phil Spector inspired ballad that I think could have been a hit.
What I take away from this album are Sonny’s vocals. Although we know him as always being the butt of the joke and second when it comes to Cher’s vocals, he really is underestimated in what he can do. I’m not saying he’s Pavarotti, but he shouldn’t be tossed under the table. Read my article over his only solo album here.
Sonny and Cher will always have that special nostalgia. No matter where you are, or what song you hear them singing, it reminds you of something. From memories of watching the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour to having just pure joy when you hear their voices, their music is timeless and affects every age. They truly created a wondrous world that has stood the test of time.
It has been awhile since I have written any of my musical musings and it’s not for a lack of words. I have discovered TONS of great music over the past few months. My job went crazy and my life went into an awkward spiral, but now I’m back, thanks to St. Vincent.
Over the last few months I decided to rejoin Vinyl Me, Please. I was once a member and I don’t particularly remember why I stopped. Through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram reading all my browsing history and spying on my personal life, I received many advertisements for Vinyl Me, Please, and November’s record of the month, St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, caught my eye.
Now, who hasn’t heard of St. Vincent? The record stores back home in Oklahoma take pride in her career because she was born in Tulsa, but my research tells me she moved to Texas before she was 5. I’d like to call her an Okie, but I don’t know if she would accept it.
Anyways, MASSEDUCTION quickly took me by surprise. Although I had seen a lot about St. Vincent’s music, this is actually my first foray into her catalog. I already have more of her albums on order.
To be candid, I really love MASSEDUCTION. This album served perfectly as an intro to St. Vincent’s work. I understand her earlier work is different, but this record has served as my gateway drug.
There are many reasons why I love this album, so many that it is hard to pinpoint exact reasons. Each song is like an impressionist painting. St. Vincent lays out what she sees, yet she leaves much to the imagination. Like many impressionist paintings, this album is also full of color as the orchestration ranges from heavy synthesizers to basic piano.
This album explores many themes, especially in relationships and self-discovery, but the reigning motif for me was self-acceptance. St. Vincent asks to be someone’s flawed foundation in “Hang On Me,” while calling BS on this world’s standards with “Pills” and “Los Ageless.” She knows what it’s like to be lonely and how her decisions have impacted her plight in life with “New York,” Fear The Future,” and “Young Lover.”
At the end of all these emotions and trials, she is working on accepting herself, because ” “she can’t help what turns her on” in “MASSEDUCTION.” Although this doesn’t result in her over confidence, because she is still completely vulnerable in tracks like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” and “Smoking Section.”
For me, MASSEDUCTION is not a musical journey, yet a musical process, set to the tone of purposeful “pop” if you will (Disclaimer: I think being “pop” is one of the most freeing “genres” of music. It is never a diss in my writings). Through this album’s instrumentation one can find influences of rock, dance, jazz, and electronica. This is easily seen from the rapid tempo of “Pills” to the string arrangement of “Dancing With A Ghost.”
One last note, St. Vincent’s vocals are nearly pristine on this album. Ballads, like “Happy Birthday, Johnny” really show off her “classic” vocal talent. She may be considered an indie or alternative artist, but she can sing circles with the best of them.
MASSEDUCTION completely accomplished it’s title, as it has completely seduced me into the world of St. Vincent and, apparently, I’m not alone. I was online today trying to buy tickets for her shows in New York City this weekend and they are completely sold out. Off to StubHub I go!
Anybody that knows me or has just steadily kept up with my blog knows that I am unapologetic Cher fan. I have nearly all her albums, read numerous books on this legend, and I buy concert tickets whenever she performs. Naturally, I would have to write about her for Women’s History Month.
Tonight, for a little nostalgia, I decided to revisit The Sonny Side of Cher. This album is important to understanding Cher’s career trajectory and how she became the artist she is today. I truly believe she is one of the best, yet underrated, vocalists of our time.
The Sonny Side of Cher opens with Cher’s biggest solo hit to that time “Bang, Bang.” This Sonny penned tune is a tale of two lovers explained as children. I love this composition. I love the exotic feel this song brings. It sounds a bit country at times, it is definitely pop, it takes advantage of 60’s folk, and there is a little Scottish flare for fun. It’s easy to see how this song claimed the number 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Elusive Butterfly” and “The Girl From Ipanema” are among Cher fan’s favorites from this era in her career, but the songs that really take the cake for this album are “Old Man River” and “Like A Rolling Stone,” a Bob Dylan cover.
“Old Man River” comes in at number 1 on this album for me, right behind “Bang Bang.” When I hear Cher sings this song I just picture tears streaming out of some bodies deeply wounded eyes. I literally feel I can reach into this song and drench myself in emotion.
If you have any interest in Cher’s career or the culture of the 60’s, this album is essential. As a bonus, this record is sprinkled with Phil Spector’s fingerprints as Sonny Bono, once Spector’s employee, produces the full album. This is pre “glam” Cher, but post “I Got You Babe” Cher. This small era in her career was a gem in her soon to be legendary status.
Key Tracks: “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” “Elusive Butterfly,” “The Girl From Ipanema”
Deep Cuts: “Old Man River,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Where Do you Go”
For my fourth installment for Women’s History Month, I bring you Liza Minnelli! I was extremely excited to see her Facebook live event this week with Michael Feinstein. You can watch that video here. Ms. Minnelli looked amazing and most importantly, she looked happy!
It was also Ms. Minnelli’s birthday yesterday, Sunday, March 12th. The legend turned 71 years old, but she shows enough energy to compete with any of today’s entertainers. Michael Feinstein also dropped a little teaser on his Facebook that he and Ms. Minnelli are working on shows for 2018, of which I have to say…..
Liza, take your time. We’ll still be here ready for you when YOU are ready.
With all this Minnelli excitement, I decided to revisit one of her albums that has always stood out to me, her 1970 release, New Feelin’. This album took on a new direction for Minnelli and it gave many many American standards a new identity.
This album takes songs like “How Long Has This Been Going On?” “The Man I Love,” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” and gives them a pop and soulful twist with a hint of folk stylings. We all know Minnelli can deliver these American classics unlike any other artist, but this album presents them in a completely new way.
Fun Fact: This record was recorded at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
The album starts out with a funky, horn-filled version of “Love For Sale” by Cole Porter. She then immediately goes into the classic ballad “Stormy Weather.” This song is filled with heavy piano and gospel inspired background vocals. Then comes one of my favorite tracks from the album, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” This song sounds like something straight out of Motown’s vault if Motown was located in Nashville. Then there is that ending note that just doesn’t stop shining.
Side Two also comes with plenty of new experimental arrangements of these classics. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is mixed with an enthusiastic horn section and sounds Americana in style. Then Ms. Minnelli covers Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child, a song she would sing to near perfection two years later on her award-winning TV concert, Liza With a “Z”. This version adds more backing vocals giving it a doo-wop feeling mixed with gospel stylings.
Lastly, there is Ms. Minnelli’s standard, “Maybe This Time.” This takes on a completely new image. This starts out as pure country. As the song progresses, it begins to take on a blues facade with rhythmic bass, horns, and melancholy backing vocals. Although this song does not have its usually dramatic deliverance, it is still a gem in its own right. This song is about taking that first step to self-fulfillment. Ms. Minnelli delivers this message with the same conviction she always does, but just a little more casual.
This album takes songs that people twice her age at the time were singing. She was known for performing these same selections in her live shows. On New Feelin’, she gave these compositions a twist of her own. Her vocals remained constant, shattering every ceiling, but they still felt right with these different arrangements. Ms. Minnelli just does as she pleases.
Revisiting this record has me pumped for what Ms. Minnelli is planning for her fans, but more importantly, it has me excited for where she is in life. I hope and pray she is truly happy, relaxed, and self-assured that she is loved. In her recent interview with Michael Feinstein, Ms. Minnelli spoke directly to her fans stating, “You are what make me happy. I mean it….and I love you.” You hear celebrities say that all the time. The odd thing is, Ms. Minnelli sounds like she means it. I know she meant it.
So join me in celebrating Ms. Minnelli’s career and whatever she damn well pleases to do.
Unfortunately, this album is not on Spotify, but I did find these on some of her compilations.
Another week is upon us which only means one thing…it’s another week to celebrate female musicians for Women’s History Month!!
For my second installment to celebrate women’s history, I bring you the blonde haired, blue-eyed soul of Dusty Springfield.
Dusty is consistently on my list when I record shop. I discovered her a few years ago when I was in a job that was not personally fulfilling and I desperately needed an out. I can not even remember what brought her to my attention, but thank goodness for neglecting my duties!
Tonight, years later, I find myself sitting and listening to the first Dusty Springfield album I ever purchased. It was her second album she released in the United States, but it was really her first record she released in Britain. In the United States, this album is known as Dusty and in Britain, it is known as A Girl Called Dusty.
Although this album was not met with as much praise as her first release, Stay Awhile/I Only Want to Be with You,it is still filled with some of my favorite Dusty tunes. For starters, it has her modest pop hit “All Cried Out.” This song blends 1960’s soul and pop seamlessly, which is exactly what Dusty did perfectly.
The album possesses some great covers of Dusty’s soulful contemporaries including “Can I Get a Witness” by Marvin Gaye and “Don’t You Know” by Ray Charles. There are some great Dusty originals here as well like the mysterious “Guess Who” and “Nothing.”
Then there is the commanding and dramatic ballad, “Summer is Over.” This song has some of Dusty’s best early vocals. It shows how she isn’t merely a little singer, but that she can belt and deliver a song with the best of them. This song was co-written by her brother Tom Springfield.
What I found extremely interesting was the elegant soul she brought to this album with the songs “My Coloring Book” by the famed Fred Ebb and John Kander, and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Both of these writing combinations have become staples in today’s cabaret, ballad, and American Songbook ethos.
“My Coloring Book” was originally recorded by Barbra Streisand and Dusty’s version differs drastically. Where Barbra sang it proficiently, Dusty’s vocals brought a childlike perspective to the song while maintaining its sad tone. Dusty’s version of “I Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” is by far my favorite. It is the impeccable mix of classic vocal style with 60’s pop.
The album Dusty began to truly shape her future recording career, while providing an innovative style in a time when music desperately needed to find itself.
As if Dusty’s music wasn’t enough, she also created an iconic image with her bleach blonde bouffant style hair and her excellent showmanship. Add on a lot of eyeliner, and you have one of the biggest influences on popular music. She is the original Adele and based on their voices, they could be mother and daughter.
Sadly, Dusty left this world in 1999 due to breast cancer, but her influence will continue to live on both in what she was and her innovative image and vocal combination. She pushed the envelope in a doo-wop society and helped bring soul music to the forefront of American and British culture.
To say the least, all my pop and soul vinyl post-1963 is a bit Dusty…