Cher: The Sonny Side of Cher, A Review

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 (at one point I had all, long story), read numerous books on this legend, and I continue to buy concert tickets whenever she performs. Naturally, I would have to write about her for Women’s History Month.

img_3489Tonight, 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”

 

Dusting My Shelves: The Ike and Tina Turner Show Vol. 2

This last weekend was my first venture into New York City to go on a vinyl hunt since moving to Westchester County.

My first find,was The Ike and Tina Turner Show Vol. 2. The record is in near mint condition and still has the shrink-wrap on it. Any vinyl collector can tell you how hard it is to find these older Ike and Tina Turner albums.

fullsizerender-14We all know the story of Ike and Tina Turner and personally I have no respect for Ike Turner. He may have been a good musician, but anyone who beats women immediately gets a “0” in my book. I love the fact that she went on to have a huge solo career without Ike and has been able to discover a happy life for herself.

“What’s Love Got To Do With It” was virtually a big “screw you” to Ike.

Although, what I discovered with this album, even though it presents Ike Turner, Tina Turner, and The Ikettes, was that Tina was a solo singer long before their divorce in 1978. Ike could not have made it without Tina and he knew she was a hot commodity. With this live album, released in 1965, Tina was already showing the foundation, at least vocally and musically, for a solo career.

This is obvious from the very beginning of the album. If the announcer acknowledged it by saying, “Introducing the main attraction of the evening, meet the star of the show, give her a nice friendly welcome, the fabulous Tina Turner!”

The album then immediately goes into Ike and Tina’s hit “Shake Your Tail Feather.” This track had a little too much Ikettes for me, but It also showed me how talented these ladies were Ike employed to back Tina. This is the same feeling I had for “You’re No Good” on side two.

fullsizerender-13Where Tina really shines is when she takes the mic alone. She first undertakes “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.” Her artistry comes out like a fire-ball wrapped in a lace blanket.

She quickly defines herself as a solor artist with “All I Can Do is Cry.” I have heard this song by Tina before, but never with quite this same passion. She told the story of being at “her man’s” wedding. In this emotional tune she was the preacher, choir, and usher.

Tina’s independence again becomes obvious on “It’s All Over” and “A Fool For You.””It’s All Over” is sang with some of Tina’s deepest emotion. I don’t think the song content was far from reality. She mixed this emotion with gospel styling and a rock sound that hadn’t been invented yet. She ends the show with the classic ballad “A Fool For You.” For some reason I feel like this may have been Tina’s true feelings when it came to fame.

It really didn’t matter who was backing Tina Turner in these early days of her career. After Ike and Tina Turner’s initial launch into stardom she instantly became the brightest star of the bunch.  Ike always resented this fact.

I really don’t feel the need to say “Ike” in front of Tina’s name. I respect that he influenced and arranged much of the music that made Tina famous, but there were others gladly waiting in line (Phil Spektor anyone?).

This album shows that Tina was a solo artist from the start. Ike was simply a dealer and Tina was the commodity. The only problem was, the commodity became larger than the dealer could manage.

Ike was always a better user anyway.

Dusting My Shelves: Tammy Wynette, D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Artist: Tammy Wynette  Album: D-I-V-O-R-V-E

As any music aficionado, I live by the adage, “So much music, so little time.” That is exactly where I am coming to you with this post.

I am a big fan of classic country music. I love the likes of George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Johnnyimg_3033 Cash, and Patsy Cline. These artists have made some of my favorite albums, but I have neglected one founding country queen, Tammy Wynette.

The loss has been completely mine. When I listen to Tammy, I hear the sweetness of Parton, the brashness of Lynn, and the stylings of Cline, yet I think that is an understatement to her career for these leading ladies are not her predecessors, they are her contemporaries.

Saturday evening I decided to finally spin her album from 1968, D-I-V-O-R-C-E. I picked this album up years ago, but I can’t recall where. The title immediately caught my attention, but I wasn’t 100% into classic country at the time. We all make mistakes in our early age.

Starting off D-I-V-O-R-C-E is the Glen Campbell classic “Gentle on My Mind.” Hearing a woman’s heartache over these lyrics opens up a new aspect to this true country tune. Then comes “Honey (I Miss You).” This song completely broke my heart. As I was listening I thought they just couldn’t be together for unforseen circumstances, not for the reason this song revealed.

Later on side A, we come to a cover of the Patsy Cline favorite, “Sweet Dreams.” Wynette brings her own timing and reason to this song. I had the feeling that she may have sweet dreams of you now, but you better act quick, this country girl don’t wait. Closing out side A, we have a cover of the Beatles “Yesterday.” A classic country twist of a Beatles classic done by one of its leading ladies? Yes please.

Side B continues with Wynette’s number one hit “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.” This song immediately breaks my heart. I know the content too well. Wynette sings this song with a whole heart for she had lived and would continue to live its lyrics. Later on side B, we come to “Kiss Away,” a Billy Sherrill penned tune originally recorded by Ronnie Dove. The album then closes with a cover of Kitty Wells’ “Lonely Street.” This song is a perfect coupling with the title track.

After listening to this early, yet classic Wynette album, I can’t help but think, “Where have I been?” I know exactly where I have been. I’ve been flipping through Dolly and Loretta vinyl. Now I am going to have to add Wynette to my ever-growing list. I sure hope New York, my new resting place, has as many classic country bins as Oklahoma.

Dusting My Shelves: Judy In Hollywood

Artist: Judy Garland  Album: Judy in Hollywood Original Soundtrack- Judy Garland T.V. Show

I swear my whole series going through my selves of vinyl is not going to be over Judy Garland. It is just where I started! Tonight I listened to some of my favorite recordings from my favorite era in Garland’s career, the 1960’s.

Some may crack jokes or discredit this time in career due to her many troubles and what some inhollywoodperceived as “wear on her voice.” I take the exact opposite approach. I think these are some of her best vocals that show the rawest emotion. These were her “I have survived and have nothing to prove” performances. She was already a living legend.

All these recordings are from The Judy Garland T.V. Show. This was a short-lived series, but these recordings and performances are some of her best. The album was released by a label named Radiant, which seemed to only release Garland’s T.V. show performances and a variety of country albums. There is not a date on this album, but this was made after Garland’s untimely death in 1969.

This album focus’ on songs that Garland sang specifically from movies. Some of these tunes are from her own films like “A Couple of Swells” from Easter Parade and “The Boy Next Door”  from Meet Me in St. Louis as well as covers of songs from popular movies and shows.

The real take aways from this album are her covers. Garland is nearly flawless in her rendition of “As Long As He Needs Me.” This song compounds many of Garland’s true emotions she had through her many relationships, but it also touches on one of her biggest assets and crutches, her undying loyalty. Other great take aways from this album are “How About Me,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” and her tribute to her son, “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face.”

Key Tracks: “A Couple of Swells,” Medley of “You Made Me Love You,” “For Me and My Gal,” and “The Trolley Song,” “That’s Entertainment”

Deep Cuts: “As Long As He Needs Me.” “How About Me,” “Puttin’ On The Ritz”

Dusting My Shelves: Peter Criss “Kiss Solo”

Artist: Peter Criss  Album: Peter Criss (KISS Solo)

FullSizeRender 7I’ve always felt that Peter Criss was the step-child of Kiss. He never seemed to get the same credit or “buzz” in the media when it came to the other members. Although, he does have one of their most legendary hits, “Beth,” as the lead vocalist.

Since I visited Gene Simmon’s 1978 Kiss solo album last week, I thought it would be fitting to visit them all eventually. To be completely honest, I have listened to every Kiss solo album, but Peter Criss.’ I am guilty of not giving him a fair treatment as well.

This album opens with “I’m Gonna Love You,” a funky rock tune that easily fits in its 1970’s context. At the opening of this album Criss’ voice has a southern rock twang with some gravel.

Next comes “You Matter To Me.” This song immediately has some 70’s flair sounding almost disco-esque with its synthesizers. This was one of two singles released from this album. It’s easily one of the best tracks of the record. The other single was “Don’t You Let Me Down.” This song has the tendencies of a doo-wop band from the 1960’s, within a Hawaiian flair. An interesting track to say the least.

Side B opens with the Peter Criss the public was used to hearing solo. He trades in the piano ballad for a guitar on “Easy Thing.” The passion of this song is really felt in his vocals. This is the first time I truly feel Criss is comfortable on the album.

The record then goes into “Rock Me, Baby.” I found this song quite intriguing for it goes back to rock and roll’s roots with some “honky-tonk” piano stylings, while throwing in some horns. This wasn’t your average Kiss song. Criss then brings the ballad back with “Kiss The Girl Goodbye,” with, dare I say it, some Carpenter’s type stylings (in vocals only).

FullSizeRender 8Criss finishes the album with what would be your typical Kiss song, “Hooked On Rock ‘N’ Roll,” along with another ballad “I Can’t Stop The Rain.” Criss brings a vocal that is reminiscent of  Michael Bolton in his last ballad.

All in all, I feel like Criss really does get the short end of the stick when it comes to many of Kiss’ compositions. Although this isn’t my favorite of the solo albums, I feel it largely portrays Criss as being misunderstood. His album stands out as the least 1970’s “rock and roll,” but it shines a light on the inter-workings of Kiss.

This light shows that Criss’ is not behind the other members of Kiss in talent or intrigue, but that his artistry is made up of more contrasting elements. Now I am not up on my “Kisstory,” but I do know that Criss often had a rocky relationship with the band. This is obvious looking at his solo work.

His 1978 solo album really shows the beginning of what would soon lead to clashes within the band when it pertained to Criss. His makeup was just made up differently versus the rest of the members and this album portrays this difference. No pun intended.

Key Tracks: “You Matter To Me,” “I’m Gonna Love You,” ” Easy Thing”

Deep Cuts: “Kiss The Girl Goodbye,” “I Can’t Stop The Rain”

Dusting My Shelves: Gene Simmons “KISS Solo”

Artist: Gene Simmons  AlbumGene Simmons (KISS Solo)

I really do love Kiss. Their image is revolutionary and their music is timeless rock and roll. When they came out into the public they shook America’s pop culture to its core with their different costumes and on stage antics, and the inevitable meaning of KISS. *Rolls eyes*

The face that is most quickly identified amongst the members of Kiss is that of Gene Simmons. He is the demon and yes he does breathe fire. Pastors beware!!

Simmons is an excellent business man and has really helped construct Kiss into the product they are today. From t-shirts, coffee mugs, shower curtains and dolls, one can always find a Kiss product. I might have owned that shower curtain…

FullSizeRender 2Now back to the music. In 1978 all four members of Kiss released their own solo albums. There are varying accounts of why they did this with the most popular being that the band was starting to not get along so well. Basically, they needed a break from each other.

Simmon’s opens his album with a haunting laugh reminiscent of Vincent Price in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The album then goes into “Radioactive.” This song could easily be identified as a Kiss song with its obsessive guitar rifts and rhyming chorus. The same goes for the second track of the album “Burning Up With Fever.” Although, not easily heard by the untrained musical historian, this track does feature Donna Summer.

We then get treated to some soft rock vibes that continue throughout the record. This is easily heard in the tracks “See You Tonight,” “Always Near You/Nowhere to Hide,” and “Mr. Make Believe.”

Side two opens with the track “Living in Sin.” This track is an odd track that could easily be updated and be the theme song of the dating app Tinder. With lyrics such as “I know you write me sexy letters and you send your pictures for my wall” and “I’m living in sin
at the Holiday Inn,” one can feel a tad uncomfortable. This song is quickly redeemed though once one realizes the lady on the phone is Cher. I also believe she added some backing tracks. A cameo from Cher can never hurt, especially during her 1970’s heyday.

Side two goes on to “Man of 1000 Faces,” which has very Beatles-esque styling, incorporating  ear friendly melodies and a 1960’s pop feel. This song is also mixed with strings and horns, not something you expect from Simmons. He quickly returns to his rock and roll flare though with “See You In Your Dreams.”

1045078_10151748873836412_1047232890_nWhat shocked me the most about this album was the closing song. I thought the album was over until I heard a Disney like medley with Simmons continuing into “When You Wish Upon a Star.” I was definitely not expecting the Demon to cover Jiminey Cricket, but after reading about this album I found the profound meaning behind the reason Simmons chose to record this song.

“When I first heard that song I could barely speak English but I knew the words were true. Anybody can have what they want, the world and life can give its rewards to anyone.”

This song gave a young Simmons, an immigrant from Israel, inspiration for his new life in America. I absolutely love that and the fact that he covered this song going against every fiber of the image KISS had built.

What I really discovered about Simmons while listening to this album was he is kind of a softie. Not in a bad way though. I just alway think of him as breathing fire or spitting blood for the sake of entertainment, but underneath all the showmanship is a true artist. He wrote nearly each song on this album and there are some great lyrics to be had. This album will make you see a completely new side to Simmons. I find this album to truly be the first time he was “unmasked” and vulnerable with his audience, showing some of his core emotions.

I guess one could say he is a sentimental demon.

Key Tracks: “Radioactive,” “Living in Sin,” “See You In Your Dreams”

Deep Cuts: “True Confessions,” “Mr. Make Believe,” “When You Wish Upon a Star”

Dusting My Shelves: Steve Lawrence, “Winners!”

Artist: Steve Lawrence     Album: Winners!

I adore Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé. Every album they made as a duo or as solo artists I can spin continuously. There is a carefree, genuine love that comes with their albums made together and their solo vocal chops are equally golden.

IMG_2964One of my favorite albums out of Steve Lawrence’s catalog is his 1962 album Winners! This record contains the number one hit single “Go Away Little Girl,” co-written by a then unknown Carole King.  Bobby Vee originally recorded this song earlier in 1962.

Winners! is an album of cover songs. The idea behind the album was to find previous song “winners” and let Lawrence give them his golden take. Listening to this album one would never guess that Lawrence was covering other’s songs because he makes each song his own.

The album starts with “Cotton Fields,” which was originally recorded by Huddie Ledbetter in 1940. This is a quick audience grabber as Lawrence’s vocals swoon over this folk classic. Later he goes into Connie Francis’ smash hit, “Who’s Sorry Now?” This is one of the high points of the album. He takes this song and turns it completely on its head. His vocals are confident and crisp, and all but resist the stinging tone of an “I told you so.” Lawrence’s vocals have class and debonair wrapped into one.

The second side of this album contains “Go Away Little Girl,” but the treasures on this side are Lawrence’s covers of Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, and Jack Jones. I would think it would be a bold move for Lawrence to cover his contemporaries songs, but the orignal artist names don’t even cross your mind when listening to his versions.

Lawrence’s smooth vocals gently caress “All The Way,” while he portrays determination to never give up on the one he loves. His rendition of “Moon River” starts out with the conventional beginning, but he ends it with a big band. Lastly, he covers one of my personal favorites, “Lollipops and Roses.” He again is backed by a big band and he gives this song a less vulnerable feel then the original, portraying faith and confidence in his romantic tactics.

FullSizeRenderBesides the fact that I like this album, it is special to me for other reasons. I sent my album cover with a writing I did over an album Steve and Eydie made to an address I found for Lawrence. It was a shot in the dark, but I wanted to try to get his autograph. It wasn’t much more than a week later he sent it back to me with the inscription

“To Gabe, Thanks for all the wonderful things you said about me and Eydie. All the best to you. Fondly, Steve Lawrence.”

This album holds a special spot on my shelf, for both its recordings and the special inscription Lawrence sent to me. As a vocalist myself I consider him one of my models. As a writer I could not be more thrilled that he actually read my post over him and his late wife Eydie Gormé.

Lawrence is just a class act and his vocal cords are plated in gold.

Key Tracks: “Go Away Little Girl,” “Kansas City,” “It’s Not For Me To Say”

Deep Cuts: “All The Way,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” “Teach Me Tonight”