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: 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: Judy Garland In Song

I recently realized that I have a lot of vinyl records. Some would say too many, but I say you never have enough vinyl. So I have decided to finally dust my selves and unearth the many gems I have yet to write about, thus I am starting a new series. Some reviews may be short, some long, but this will be a journey of rediscovering the music I already have on my selves.

In other words I’m broke and cannot buy any new records at the moment.

Presenting Post 1 in “Dusting My Selves:” Artist: Judy Garland Album: Judy Garland in Song

Everybody that knows me will tell you that I absolutely adore Judy Garland and her seemingly endless, multifaceted, unexplainable voice. She is by far one of my favorite artists and she is pretty damn close to being my down right, undisputed favorite.

I own many of Garland’s albums, from her Capital years to compilations to live performances. There isn’t much more I can write about this superstar. Yet, each Garland album spurs new emotions, thoughts, and insights into this magnificent performer. I just cannot keep them to myself.

IMG_2943Last night I began my venture through Garland’s catalog with a compilation album, Judy Garland In Song. This is an album released of many “staple” songs from Garland’s MGM movie career released by Metro Records. This album was probably an effort to seize on the success of Garland’s performances post MGM.

This album covers everything from “Over The Rainbow” from The
Wizard of Oz
 to “Last Night When We Were Young” from In The Good Old Summertime. Oddly this collection leaves out “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me In St. Louis.

Each tune is a gem on this album with my favorites being “Get Happy” from Summer Stock, “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun” from Annie Get Your Gun, of which Garland was unable to finish, and “I Don’t Care” again from In The Good Old Summertime. The songs take a journey through Garland’s voice from her adolescent years to early twenties, although they are not in order.

What struck me with this album is the emotional awareness Garland possessed at such an early age. Emotion is raw in Garland’s voice and that was apparent from the very beginning. This album also proved how versatile a performer and actress she was as well. Listening to songs from her movies back to back are nearly like listening to a chameleon sing!

To think that Garland was essentially just getting started when she recorded these songs is remarkable. We still nearly had two more decades of songs, performances, and films to come from this legendary artist. Garland and her voice were in their formative years at the point of these recordings. She still had a lot more in store for the world.

Key Tracks: “Over The Rainbow,” “Get Happy,” “You Made Me Love You”

Deep Cuts: “Better Luck Next Time,” “Last Night When We Were Young,” “Bel Mir Bist Du Schon”

 

 

A Journey, The Brush and The Canvas

Life is full of journeys through family and friends, through your career, and through different life experiences. Everyday we wake up to embark on a new excursion, yet we are losing a subtle and contributive art form that has long been a companion through these journeys…the album.

imagesThe music album is being lost in-between gigabytes and a microwave society. In today’s time we want things quick and perfect. We don’t have time to sit and wait. We need it now and if it’s not supplied, we move on. This is clearly seen in the evolution of music and how it is now being produced. No longer do we buy full albums of artists, but instead we purchase the individually well-produced singles. The rest of the album has turned into perceivable waste.

Oddly, this evolution finds its root in the once archaic distribution of music. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, music began to be widely distributed by 10” vinyl records often called 78’s. These 78 RPMs (rounds per minute) often contained one song on each side of the vinyl disc. Although due to movie soundtracks and artists who recorded more than two songs at a time, these discs began to be provided in a book with individual sleeves for each vinyl.They would range from 10-20 pages, essentially creating an “album” of vinyl records.

$_1Artists began to embrace this concept and the 33 RPMs, 12” record was born. It could
now contain anywhere from 8-13 songs or more depending on the manufacturing of the disc. Artists were now given a larger canvas to paint their recordings on. One or two songs per release was not any longer a restriction. As time kept rolling and thousands of albums were being made, a new art form started to appear on these 12” discs, the concept album.

Concept albums began with the great American songbook musicians, including Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. They would record an album with one general theme. Each song was a new stroke of the paintbrush and by the end you had a full picture.

Towards the mid 1960’s into the 1970’s, concept albums took another turn. Instead of creating an over all theme, they began to create a story. Picture a pure audio movie. This is seen distinctively in The Beach Boys Pet Sounds and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band and later in albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.

Similarly, this trend then carried on to the idea of recording concerts live and releasing them on vinyl discs. In this regard, people who were unable to attend a concert of a particular artist were able to experience the sensation and aura of a live performance. Each recording was “one of a kind”, providing listeners with a more candor approach to artists. Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive and Aretha Franklin’s Aretha in Paris are perfect examples of this impression.

digital-music-converter-1Today, this art form is being lost in the array of music distribution and format. This began with the creation of file sharing sites Napster and Limewire. Once those were deemed illegal, the creation of the iTunes store and the purchase of individual tracks on sites like Amazon now provided this service. No longer did you have to buy an album for a particular song. One was not automatically forced to listen to the rest of the artist’s picture, but one could now create their own image of artists by downloading songs fitting their prerogative. This movement has forced record companies and artists to focus all their energies in a select few tracks of an album. These tracks are the singles and the others just become mediocre fillers that barely see the light of day.

Incidentally, this has resulted in the degradation of the album, which has also resulted in the simplification of individual artists. It is not often we find the overall performer who can sing and touch on every kind of song to create any concept.

Now there are still artists and albums that champion this idea, such as Adele’s 21 and Eminem’s Relapse, but these are few and far between. Yet, the music industry is going to continue to follow down the path of dumbed down albums at the price of genius singles.

$T2eC16V,!zEFIfKbzlz-BSYQl55-MQ~~60_12Although artists are beginning to take back this art form with the resurgence of the 12 “,
33 RPM, vinyl record. Nevertheless, the sales of these records are not enough to save the album. In the larger picture, these are appreciated by a few, while the majority are simply satisfied with the iTunes top songs chart or Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” play list.

In the end, the concept album evolved to take listeners on journeys essential to life. Music is the one intangible object that occupies nearly every part of your brain. This gives music the power to channel emotion like no other medium, providing every set of feelings imaginable. This is the essence of what is being lost through an ever-evolving negligent and impatient society. We want quick music to give us a quick high, yet we are robbing artists of their full potential and our own solace in the art of the full, concept album.

Most importantly, we are erasing creativity for the sake of time. We now lose ourselves in data and work, while neglecting how we can take part in art and its many forms. The album and its concepts provide the escape, relaxation, and comfort desperately needed in today’s society. Albums and their concepts provide journeys and escapes that everyone needs, but we just simply don’t have the time. Society no longer gives the artist the brush to paint the full picture. We barely get finger paintings.

Dolly Parton, “New Harvest…First Gathering:” Live Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a bittersweet holiday for me. At one time I had a tight-knit family that willfully and joyously spent the day together. Unfortunately, that family has dispersed and disappeared. Cousins start having their own kids, grandparents start going downhill, and bonds break. Sadly nobody has acknowledged what has been left behind.

I have come to a realization in my life that Thanksgiving is more than just turkey, stuffing, and Grandma’s peach cobbler. Instead I am chosing this time to focus on the life I live. It’s easy to ignore the good things in life, things we should thank God for everyday.

600x600srThe other night I came home and was extremely angry and upset. It’s never easy fighting with someone you are close with. So I did what I always do, I threw on a record. I’m not sure what prompted my choice, but I decided to give Dolly Parton’s 1977 album, New Harvest-First Gathering a spin.

The album opens with “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” This was the only single from this album and it climbed its way to eleven on the Hot Country Charts. The message of this song immediately impacted my emotions. Parton sings, “Cause I can see the light of a clear blue morning. I can see the light of a brand new day….It’s gonna be ok.”

The lyrics resonated with my exact situation and how I was feeling. Parton showed me that there was still tomorrow and she assured me through her brisk and sweet, yet potent voice, that it was all going to be ok, even if I could not see it now. With its gospel infringed instrumentation and backing vocals, this song is nothing but inspiring.

Following this hit comes “Applejack.” A classic Parton story tune where she tells stories of a man who was once called Applejack. He also happened to make the best applejack in town, but he could play the banjo too. We all know Parton can’t give good strumming of a banjo. The song ends with her remembrance of good ol’Applejack and how she is thankful for the lessons she learned on his porch. I cannot count the number of people who fit this exact impact Parton speaks of in my life.

Dolly-Parton-1970s-4Parton then gives Motown a twist with Smokey Robinson’s “My Girl.” She changes the
lyrics to “my love” while giving this song a complete new image. She sings this song almost as a whisper which chimes of her own story and romance. Parton’s husband is much more reclusive then Parton, and there is barely ever a sighting of him. She has a quiet, but strong love, and she doesn’t need to scream that into the world to validate what she has. She was simply contemplating her thanks.

She ends side A with a ballad she wrote both the music and words to, “You Are.” She expressed her love for her husband by stated that he is her inspiration, what makes her happy, and everything she would ever want. If you take this song and mix it with “My Love,” I am convinced that if clouds could sing this is what they would sound like. Her voice is heavenly.

She opens side B with “How Does it Feel.” I was expecting a heart wrenching break up Parton song that she can so generously write, but instead she simply had one question. How does it feel knowing that there’s someone who loves you? It made me think and identify those I am thankful for in my life.

This song is followed by “Where Beauty Lies in Memory.” The song tells the story of a woman that remembers her life as it once was in which Parton concludes “When beauty lives in memory, it lives forevermore.” That’s where my Thanksgiving is. My memories will always live in my mind. I have just not decided exactly what to do with them yet.

Parton then turns “(Your Love Is Taking Me Higher) Higher and Higher,” a number one for Jackie Wilson in 1967, into a gospel medley that you can see any choir swaying to. A good song never dies and ten years later when this album was made, it was resurrected into a new being. This sentiment ties right into Parton’s closing song “There.”

b7569341a49066f8b4179e8af8f97b17“There” is a song of hope that ensures us of a clear blue morning. She sings of what is to become when push comes to shove, when weapons are set down, and peace is resonated among God’s people. She wants to be taken where “lambs lie with lions,” “the meadows grow greener,” and “where there is complete love.” She incases this in a powerful composition that will leave you in goosebumps. The song’s beginnings are chilling, but you can’t utter any other word but Hallelujah when it ends.

She gives the message everybody wants to hear and be a part of, an eternity of love. There is no damnation in her voice; she is simply reminding everybody of God’s promise of eternal life and love.

So in the end there is no need for Thanksgiving, or this time of year, to be bittersweet for me. I am thankful for the memories I have, the people who have impacted my life, and a God that promises me eternal love. I will eventually live a life of Thanksgiving with Him, but for now I must make the best of it on this earth.

It amazes me that Parton nearly wrote the lyrics and music to every song on this album. This record is a testament of her love for family, friends, and Savior. For me it was not just a collection of tunes, it was a reminder.

A reminder of blessings and a God of love that has a place for me. I will see the light of a clear blue morning. I will remember all the blessings in my life and give thanks for what was then and now. I will be taken there.

This album also reminded me that everybody needs to listen to a Dolly Parton album every now and then. I highly suggest it. It’s rejuvenating. As I approach this Thanksgiving, I plan to live it, and I am prepared for a new harvest and who knows what its first gathering will provide.

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Thanks Dolly.

 

Tina Turner, Private Dancer: Don’t Judge a Dancer by Her Past

This may be a vinyl collector sin, but I generally don’t look through the dollar record bins. I often get tired of how unorganized they are and I figure there is a reason those records are there.

As I was walking by the dollar bin the other day I decided to give it a quick flip through. I found a few albums I thought were worth a dollar. I was not expecting much, but instead of buying a few scratched records, I found my new obsession.

Tina Turner.

Tina_Turner_Private_Dancer_original_vinyl_cover_artNow I already had a few Ike and Tina Turner albums. I think every lover of soul and rock is beholden to “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits,” but I had never researched her career post Ike. I only knew a few songs. The album I picked up in that dusty dollar bin was Private Dancer. Many critics claim this album to be the comeback of the 1980’s. I was immediately hooked on not only this records hits, but every song on the album.

Here is my track by track breakdown of the album Private Dancer:

“I Might Have Been Queen:” This album starts out with a bang, showcasing Turner’s sultry, yet raspy vocals. It’s a song you find yourself quickly wanting to get up and shake your hair to. This song is reflective of what Turner’s life was previously. From what I’ve read, this song was given to Turner to review with that exact pretense in mind. She even shed a tear reading the lyrics. Although those previous years had been rough, she was ready to move forward. She declares she is a soul survivor, and that it is time to start where she is now.

1366917244_tina-turner-560“What’s Love Got To Do With It:” Here we have the smash number one hit that propelled Turner’s name back into everyone’s household. It’s a soft rock tune, but with a distinct message. This song could have easily been forgotten, but Turner’s vocals add depth that I am still trying to understand. This song clearly shows her then disdain for love and what she had experienced. Her vocals show a vulnerable and struggling woman, yet she sings the song with confidence in who she is. A perfect companion to her life and sequel to “I Might Have Been Queen,” this song clearly paid off in topping the charts and garnering a few Grammys.

“Show Some Respect:” This is another song you just can’t help but move to. It’s a jammer and Turner declares respect for a love she has to protect.

“I Can’t Stand The Rain:” This is the ballad of the whole album by an 80’s definition. Her vocals sound effortless on this track. They are both a gravel road and a velvet lining. She sings of love lost with a slight yearning for it to return, yet her vocals show a strength that she would also be just fine without it.

“Better Be Good To Me:” This song is a plain statement of how any man was to treat Turner after what she had been through. Some of her “calmest” vocals, without her typical growls, are heard on this piece. She wanted to make sure she got her emotions across, while proving she doesn’t always have to be a vocal acrobat to make her point. She was ready to start from where she was. She didn’t want to forget the past, but she is clearly done dwelling.

“Let’s Stay Together:” We can’t expect Tina to leave all the soul behind. Although she is known as a rocker, Tina has never denied the soul that resonates in her voice.  Her vocals bring something completely new to the song. I think she is both wanting to stay together with her man, but she gives off the persona of a very independent woman. He better be good to Turner if he wants to stay together.

“1984:” This is a quick ode to David Bowie who helped Tina secure a contract with Capitol Records. This is another great dance tune that you can see her immaculate legs moving to.

“Steel Claw:” This song is clearly where Turner’s vocals return to their roots. It is easily the most rock orientated song on the album. Her stylings channel those of “Proud Mary” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” Her vocals are suburb on this track, reminding all listeners that although it was time for a new Tina, it was still the same Tina.

“Private Dancer:” On the surface this song seems to be about a stripper or a call girl, but for Turner it is much more. The subdue tone of the song sets the stage for one of Turner’s most memorable performances. She takes us inside the empty eyes she had lived with for many years, both as a performer and partner. For the longest time Turner was used for her vocal agility and magnetic stage performance, while she was also being used in relationships for pure business benefits. She shows how it is absurd to be a performer if you can’t be true to yourself. She loves her audience, but she is more. It was time for Turner to take Tina by the reigns and declare her own prerogative.

Any old music for Turner would not do anymore.

013Since listening to this album, I have scoured every record store in the vicinity for anything by Turner. I want to know where she has been and I want to know where she went and is still going. Her career is a metamorphosis. She transformed from a young lady with every move being directed to an independent songstress that didn’t need supervision. She was the same Tina Turner everyone knew with this album, yet in name only, for now she was a new creature.

It doesn’t surprise anyone how powerful Turner’s vocals are. In this album, she proves again and again that a singer’s vocal interpretation can make the slightest and most extreme difference in the finesse of a song. Every emotion was expressed to its furthest extreme in this album. The genius of this record is that it can easily be listened to during a relaxing jam session, or it can be heard as a thoroughly articulated journey.

Nevertheless, Turner clearly made a comeback with this album. She was performing in Vegas without a record deal prior to this release. Some might have said she was washed up, while others may have thought she had hit her plateau, but she proved that not all of her struggles were in vain.

With this album, she cemented herself as a legend, firmly replacing the “Ike and” before her name with a “The.”

A Playlist for Your Labor Day

Here we are! Another year has almost come and gone and now we can no longer wear white. Labor Day is the signal of great things to come and that statement does come with a hint of sarcasm.

Labor Day was created in 1887 after the Central Labor Union and Knights of Labor had their first parade, or strike if you will, in New York City. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law declaring the first Monday of every September Labor Day. I guess back then one day was enough,  but couldn’t we have at least gone for a week?

Nonetheless, for your listening pleasure, I have collecting some labor songs to commemorate this monumental day.

“She Works Hard for the Money,” Donna Summer, 1983 

Everybody loves this disco and dance infringed number Donna Summer so graciously gave us in the early 1980’s. This song reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was later nominated for a Grammy. Inspired by real events, Summer wrote the song after talking with a restroom attendant in Los Angeles.

“9 to 5”, Dolly Parton, 1980

There isn’t a better way then to start your day then with a cup of ambition. Parton released this pop infused tune as a companion to her movie of the same title starring Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Has there been a song that commemorates a working person better than “9 to 5?” I think not. Once I hear the opening of this song and its piano infringed riff, there is no stopping me. I’ll belt this song at the top of my lungs till it’s over….and then start it again.

“Take This Job and Shove It,” Johnny Paycheck, 1977

This song was originally written by David Allen Coe, but eventually fell in the lap of Johnny Paycheck. This song peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot Country charts. As “9 to 5” explains getting ready for the grind, this song aptly explains one’s attitude once 5 rolls around. Another interesting fact about this song, it was produced by the late and legendary Billy Sherrill.

“A Hard Day’s Night,” The Beatles, 1964

We can’t forget about the bit of romance there is in working a job….or can we? This song hit number one in both the U.S. and U.K. and was also a companion piece to a movie of the same title. The song generally speaks of one who works all day so that his girl can have everything she wants. I just hope she has a job too. Nonetheless, it’s just one of the nice sentiments that the Beatles left us. I’m sure they’ll regret this when yesterday comes.

“Is There Life Out There,” Reba McEntire, 1992

Now when one initially hears this song, they don’t think of a hard day’s work, but I think we need to leave this list on an optimistic point. This song talks about a girl, both working in her personal and private life, wondering if it is all worth it. As Reba reminds us, there is life out there and endless potential. This song is just one of Reba’s 377 number 1 singles on the Hot Country charts.

That my friends is what you can all enjoy on this fine Labor Day Monday. Sometimes working is a joy, sometimes it’s rough, but it is always worth it in the end. We may always work hard for the money, and it often takes us 9 to 5, but we can’t ever truly just take the job and shove it. Remember after a hard day’s night there is always life out there…..

And a paycheck.