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”

 

Dolly Parton: My Top 5

For my celebration of Women’s History Month, I have neglected to write about a legendary country artist. To be honest, it is hard to narrow down the Queens of Country music. There are so many, from Patsy and Loretta to Reba and Tammy.

I’ve touched on many of them throughout the tenure of my blog. I have always wanted to write about Patsy Cline, but I’m still searching for words. So I decided to ask my mom, who knows my music taste better than anyone, on who I should write about next. She promptly reminded me that I had not written over one of the most influential female vocalists that does it all, from writing and producing to singing and performing. For my 5th installment, I bring you my top 5 favorite Dolly Parton songs.

I have been a Dolly Parton fan since the seventh grade. It’s odd that I remember this exact time, but I remember I first became interested in her when I saw her on the Conon O’Brien show. She was promoting her latest album, Little Sparrow. Like so many artists with me, it was all down hill from there. I haven’t stopped listening to her music since and I always check the record racks for more of her vinyl.

1. “A Tender Lie”

This song was originally sung by Restless Heart and was their last number one on the country charts. Parton gives it a tinge of classic country and a full bluegrass makeover. Her voice is so fragile on this song, but we all know the strength she possesses. This song was a perfect choice for her Little Sparrow album and Sugar Hill trilogy.

2. “Here You Come Again”

I love so many aspects of this song, from the opening piano riff to Parton’s sassy and sarcastic vocals. Every time I think somebody is gone and they return, my mind always sings this song. This is classic Dolly at her 70’s best.

3. “Joshua”

Parton has some of the best story telling skills of any musician. She encompasses every theme of country music. She often does this through creative stories, not personal accounts. This is part of her legacy. “Joshua” came out in 1970 and was Parton’s first number one hit.

4. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”

I discovered this song a few years ago when I lived in Oklahoma. Thanksgiving was coming up and I was feeling really down about my family situation. I grew up in a tight-knit family that just seemed to fall apart for selfish reasons and holidays always brought that to mind. This song was a comfort for me and for a bright future ahead.

5. “He’s Alive”

Throughout my faith journey, I have found many of Parton’s songs to be inspiring (“Raven Dove,” “Hello God”). I adore how she stands up for her faith unabashedly without the judgment of others. She shows the love of Jesus through her spiritual compositions, performances, and actions. The video above is one we all know. It is her legendary performance of “He’s Alive” from the 1989 CMA awards. I get chills every time I hear this song and see this performance.

These are my top five favorite Dolly Parton songs at the moment. It’s safe to note that this is a fluctuating list and it is not comprehensive. I would need a list of 20 songs or more to truly list all my favorite Parton songs and then I’d still miss many!

Dolly Parton is one of country music and America’s greatest treasures. I have yet to see her in concert, but I will make it soon. The fact that she is still creating new music and states that she has 100’s of songs she hasn’t recorded blows me away. She can’t stop making albums; we must not let her!! I will gladly sit and wait for every last note.

 

Liza Minnelli, New Feelin’: She’ll Do As She Pleases

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.

Diana Ross: My Top Ten

As I have pondered over my music collection, I have started to notice a trend. The artists that I go back to repeatedly are oddly my mother’s favorites as well. When she would play these singers for me when I was younger, instead of rebelling and listening to the music of the day, I fell in love with what she liked.

I think this was all part of her plan. She didn’t have a desire, nor did she like the current music. She definitely didn’t want a “rebellious” child listening to the “devil’s music” (I did grow up in Oklahoma). Needless to say, her master plan worked, and she’s had to fund a vinyl addiction since around 2004.

For my third installment for Women’s History Month, I decided to go with one of our favorites, Ms. Diana Ross. My mom and I have gone to see Ms. Ross twice in concert and both times she was impeccable. What I loved most about these shows was what Ms. Ross and her music brought out in my mom….

I found out my mom could dance! She would be a regular on American Bandstand if those moves were still in style. My mom was stopping in the name of love and literally turning upside down. Seriously, my mom totally could have been the white Supreme.

So for this post, I have gathered 10 of my favorite Diana Ross songs. This list is not comprehensive, complete, or in any order. It’s all a little glimpse into one of my musical journeys with my favorite duet partner.

1. “He Lives In You”

The above clip is the first I remember seeing of Diana Ross. In 1999, Ms. Ross starred in the made for television movie Double Platinum along with Brandy Norwood. This movie was an instant hit for my mom, which in turn became a must-see for me (whether I liked it or not). Although she is not performing one of her hits in this clip, I believe it shows how iconic Ms. Ross is. From the dress and staging to her ever fragile yet strong vocals, Ms. Ross captured my heart in this scene.

2. “I Will Survive”

I know this song was not originally Ms. Ross’, but she has made it a staple in her live performances. This song holds a very important memory for my mom and I. We had second-row seats at one of Ms. Ross’ shows in Tulsa and I had brought along Ms. Ross’ first solo album with me to wave in the air. Push literally came to shove and I found myself right by the stage holding this album in the air with a sharpie. I now have a signed album of Diana Ross on my wall, but my mom got so excited she forgot to take pictures.

3. “Summertime”

As I venture down Ross street, I have found many favorites on some of her lesser-known albums. Here is one of my favorite songs from her 1987 album, Red Hot Rhythm & Blues. Fun fact, this song was co-written by Leonard Cohen.

4. “Endless Love”

Most know this song as a duet with Lionel Richie, but she also recorded a solo version on her 1981 album Why Do Fools Fall In Love. I’m a sucker for the original, but I love Ms. Ross’ vocals on this solo recording. She is daring with her vocal technique and it is sung straight from her heart. (Sorry for the odd video, the Spotify link was not working)

5. “It’s My Turn”

This was my first favorite Diana Ross song. I’ve had many since, but I will always love this ballad of independence.

6. “Upside Down”

If I need to dance all I have to do is turn this song on. This track’s electric beat mixed with Ms. Ross’ sassy and sultry vocals makes it one of her best.

7. “The Boss”

At my first Diana Ross concert, she opened with “The Boss.” It was magnetic watching her walking down a stairway belting out “Uhhhhhh….yea…” I’ve never seen an audience jump to their feet so quickly.

8. “Home”

After I had watched Double Platinum a few dozen times, I asked my mom if we could go to Blockbuster and rent another movie Ms. Ross was in. We returned with The Wiz. Over the years as I have moved from home and embarked on my life, I have realized that home is where your mom is. On Mother’s Day a few years ago, I surprised my mom in church and sang this song to her. It holds a special place in both of our hearts.

9. “Touch Me In The Morning”

This song is classic Ross. When she sang this at one of her shows, I began to sing it with her. I didn’t realize how loud I was for a lady turned around to me and told me that I had a nice voice. It was just another great moment brought to me by Ms. Ross.

10. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

I never get tired of hearing this song. As Ms. Ross’ first big solo hit, it serves as a staple in her career, especially in defining her as a solo artist. It differs drastically from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s version. This arrangement is dramatic and literally feels like a musical mountain range. Ms. Ross’ vocals soar over these mountains like a bird going in and out of valleys. It’s one of those songs that is just perfection.

Whew, I don’t want to stop! I could make a list of my 50 top favorite Diana Ross songs, but I thought that would be overkill. Diana Ross is an icon of icons and this list barely touches on her music catalog.

For me, Diana Ross will always hold a very special place in my heart, because she is one of the artists my mom and I love together. She’s always a safe choice when going on long car rides with my mom. There isn’t another artist that compares to Ms. Ross. I hope one day I can thank her for all the joy she has brought to me and my favorite duet partner, my mom.

Check out my full playlist here on Spotify:

 

Feeling a Little Dusty: Dusty Springfield, Dusty

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!

img_1617Tonight, 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.

dusty_springfield_youngWhat 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…

 

Karen Carpenter: My Top 5

For Woman’s History Month I am going to predominately post over trailblazing female singers. I feel guilty that I did not write over many African-American artists for African-American history month, but February just got away from me. I’ll make it up.

There are so many amazing female vocalists throughout the years and many of them are amongst my top favorites. I had no idea who to start with. Then divine intervention occurred. Yesterday was Karen Carpenter’s birthday and what better vocalist is there to kick off my series?

I have been listening to The Carpenters since I was very young. My mom bought me one of their albums when I was around 6 or 7. It was a compilation of some of their best love songs accurately titled Love Songs. Karen’s pristine vocals mixed with Richard’s genius accompaniments were love at first listen for little Gabe.

My mom used to play this CD every night when I went to bed because of Karen’s rich and soothing vocals. When she would go to work on Saturdays or stay late to put in overtime I would take my prized possession, my boombox, and listen to The Carpenters as she worked. As I have grown older my fascination with The Carpenters and Karen’s voice has only grown.

For the kick off for Woman’s History month, I give you my top five songs sung by Karen Carpenter! These are in no particular order because it would be impossible to rank them. They change places every time I listen to a Carpenters album.

1. “Song For You”

This is one of my favorite songs across all genres and artists. I love that it has been sung from the original artist and writer, Leon Russell, to the likes of Whitney Houston. I have yet to find a version I didn’t like, but I will say that Karen’s is my top favorite.

2. “Superstar”

This song’s melancholy mood, yet mysterious delivery always gives me chills. I love how this song using Karen’s higher register during the chorus. Simply superb.

3. “Solitaire”

This was one of my first favorites I had of The Carpenters. I think it was because my mom had just taught me how to play solitaire on our Window’s 95 PC. That doesn’t take away from the genius of Karen’s vocals in this song. Sometimes I find myself humming or singing this song randomly for no reason.

4. “Rainy Days and Mondays”

This song doesn’t need an explanation. It’s obvious why it’s one of my favorites. I’d say it’s one of everybody’s favorite Carpenters songs. I love this live version from 1971. So many of today’s singers aren’t even worthy to hold Karen’s drumsticks.

5. “If I Had You”

This song is from Karen’s shelved solo album. I will never understand the reasoning of shelving this album. The verses of this song show Karen’s impeccable ballad style with a disco-heavy chorus. It wasn’t released until 1996, 13 years after her death.

Although I was not alive when Karen passed I still say I miss her. I’ll always listen to her catalog and know that it was not properly completed, but what she did give us was pure gold. I am so thankful that God blessed us with Karen Carpenter. He created one of the greatest voices in recording history. Rest in harmony sweet Karen.

Reba McEntire, Self-Titled: Humble Beginnings

I have been a Reba McEntire fan for nearly my entire life. You can read more about that musical journey here. When I began to collect records I knew I had to have every album she had released on vinyl, but there was one little hiccup.

img_0506For the life of me, I could not find her 1977 Mercury self-titled debut. I searched everywhere from garage sales, record stores, and eBay. There is not a significant hit on this album nor did it even chart on Billboards Country Albums. I guess that means there are not many floating around.

Well, I finally found one in Oklahoma, the perfect place for one to be! We love our McEntires in the red dirt and have supported Reba since the beginning. I have now listened to it many times over and I don’t find it insignificant, but a foretelling of what was to come. This album is her humble beginnings.

Reba’s debut album takes a more traditional route compared to her later recordings. It might sound odd to some fans, but it firmly shows where her roots are planted. The album begins with the sweet, mid-tempo “Glad I waited Just For You.” I would say this is “bubblegum country” at it’s finest. One is then quickly taken into the first ballad of the album, “One to One.” This track is a highlight.

“One to One” echoes 70’s soft rock and shows Reba’s versatile vocals. Ballads are among some of my favorite Reba songs and nobody portrays pure love and pure heartbreak like she does. Although this song is not a “break-up” song, this album does give Reba much room to sing some heart-wrenching tunes.

45db73c6bd77c9326d4e8d185119a4caReba begins to show her emotional chops with songs like “I Was glad To Give My Everything to You,” “Take Your Love Away,” and a cover of Hot’s 1977 hit, “Angel in Your Arms.” One can clearly see where “For My Broken Heart,” “She Thinks His Name Was John,” and “Till You Love Me” come into play later in her career.

Sadly, this album only charted two songs, “I Don’t Want To Be A One Night Stand,” which came in at 88 on Billboards Country Singles chart, and “(There’s Nothing Like The Love) Between A Woman and A Man,” coming in at 86. Each of these songs is memorable, but not chart toppers for late 70’s country.

Lastly, two of the biggest gems are “Why Can’t He Be You” and “Invitation To The Blues.” The first was written by Hank Cochran and previously recorded by Patsy Cline. The later was written by Reba’s Oklahoma contemporary, Roger Miller. Reba’s version of “Why Can’t He Be You” is almost the exact same arrangement as Cline’s and although it still falls short of Cline’s greatness, it is remarkable. Reba’s version proves she had the performing chops in 1977 and it has shown a light to her later career. She was going to be a show stopper.

This album shows an Okie girl making it in the big music world. It’s merely her humble beginnings, just like her ones in the fields of Oklahoma. Although not considered a commercial hit, this album sets a precedent and lays a foundation for Reba’s career.