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An iconic international star from the mid-60s onwards, including a parallel chart career for several years with then-husband Sonny Bono as bubblegum/folk-rock duo SONNY & CHER, the idiosyncratic and chameleonic CHER has fastened – or indeed fashioned – herself on board the pop/rock/dance music trends of the day. The “Goddess of Pop” has not only a garnered a handful of unforgettable chart-toppers (from `I Got You Babe’ – with Sonny – to the club-friendly/hi-NRG, `Believe’), but she’s become an award-winning actress with several blockbusters under her tight belt. There were of course a few serious clangers along the way, but all ‘n’ all, the honorific CHER has silenced all doubters with her talent, dexterity and good looks.
Born Cherilyn Sarkisian, May 20, 1946, El Centro, California (her father was an Armenian-American trucker; her mother was from Cherokee, English and German stock), tom-boy CHER’s early life was never easy as her waitress mother Jackie married several times while moving the family from the West to East coasts in order to become an actress. In 1961, her mother (who’d long-since changed her name to Georgina Holt) married bank manager Gilbert LaPiere, adopting “Cher” in the process (now Cheryl LaPiere), although dyslexia kept her from achieving anything academic.
Relocating to Los Angeles in her mid-teens, the would-be actress fell in with SONNY BONO (at first as his housekeeper), and had her first taste of the music business singing backup on PHIL SPECTOR sessions for The RONETTES; the production maestro subsequently issued her BEATLES tribute, `Ringo, I Love You’ (under her nom de plume, Bonnie Jo Mason) on his own Annette label, in February 1964. She duly married Sonny that same year as the pair had already cut a handful of unsuccessful duets as CAESAR AND CLEO; one for the small Vault imprint: `The Letter’, and one for Reprise: `Do You Want To Dance’.
Performing on a bill alongside British Invasion acts such as The DAVE CLARK FIVE and HERMAN’S HERMITS, the duo switched to SONNY AND CHER for a further two flops: `Baby Don’t Go’ and `Just You’; the latter for Atco Records where they were to hit pay-dirt in summer ‘65 with the aforementioned `I Got You Babe’, a transatlantic No.1 marrying the cutesy pop appeal of the SPECTOR era to the new folk-rock sensibility of hip Hollywood.
Decked out in garish hippie garb, the incongruous couple became the love generation darlings of Sunset Strip, while never missing a trick, Imperial Records had simultaneously signed up CHER for a solo deal. Although her debut, `Dream Baby’ (as Cherilyn), had stiffed earlier in the year, her cover of DYLAN’s `All I Really Want To Do’, not only competed with `I Got You Babe’, but competed with The BYRDS’ re-vamp of the same song; her reading angered Bob the Bard as he laid the blame strictly at the door of his by-association protégé, Jim/ROGER McGUINN.
Meanwhile, the SONNY AND CHER hit machine continued to roll off the conveyor-belt, although inconsistent albums (with the exception of near No.1 debut `Look At Us’) struggled to penetrate the higher echelons of the charts over the course of the ensuing few years or so on 1966’s `The Wondrous World Of Sonny & Cher’ (#34) and 1967’s `In Case You’re In Love’ (#45).
CHER attempted (not always successfully) to maintain a solo career in tandem with her Sonny partnership. ALL I REALLY WANT TO DO (1965) {*7} – the album – fared better in the UK than its Top 20 placing Stateside. Whether it was down to the inclusion of yet further DYLAN material (`Don’t Think Twice’ and `Blowin’ In The Wind’) or covers from The KINKS (`I Go To Sleep’), CHRIS ANDREWS (`Girl Don’t Come’), JACKIE DeSHANNON (`Come And Stay With Me’), PETE SEEGER (`The Bells Of Rhymney’) and producer SONNY BONO himself (`Needles And Pins’ and the aforementioned `Dream Baby’), Britain looked another safe bet to let the sultry CHER shine.
Her predilection for cringe-worthy puns was revealed with THE SONNY SIDE OF CHER (1966) {*5}, an album that spawned one of her biggest and best transatlantic Top 3 hits, `Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’. Penned and produced once again by her hubby (responsible also for previous Top 30 entry, `Where Do You Go’), the lonesome DYLAN cue (`Like A Rolling Stone’) was on this occasion overcast by BOB LIND folk-rock tracks `Elusive Butterfly’ and `Come To Your Window’; her curious re-hashes of staples `It’s Not Unusual’, `Ol’ Man River’, `Our Day Will Come’ and `The Girl From Ipanema’ were, however, somewhat ill-advised.
The eponymous CHER (1966) {*5} album was another mainly covers set, but although the theme to the Michael Caine movie, `Alfie’, presented her with a fourth Top 40 hit, the LP sold relatively poorly (#59); the sole Sonny-scribed song, `I Feel Something In The Air’, reached the UK Top 50. From recent pop standards `Sunny’, `Twelfth Of Never’, `The Pied Piper’, `You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’ and GOFFIN & KING’s `Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, to BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE’s `Until It’s Time For You To Go’, DONOVAN’s `Catch The Wind’, PAUL SIMON’s `Homeward Bound’ and DYLAN’s `I Want You’, her pop-to-folk exchanges were displayed with her heart on her sleeve.
In keeping with her track record and formulaic, interpretive angle (although producer/composer Sonny would pull out a Top 10 smash, `You Better Sit Down Kids’), WITH LOVE, CHER (1967) {*6} was deemed a little rootsier by comparison; minor hits `Behind The Door’ (written by GRAHAM GOULDMAN), the perennial `Hey Joe’ and covers of PHIL OCHS’ `There But For Fortune’ and DYLAN’s `The Times They Are A-Changin’ (not forgetting Rodgers-Hart’s `Sing For Your Supper’ etc.), did not capture the imagination of a flower-power-addled youth.
The same could be said for her fifth studio set, BACKSTAGE (1968) {*4}, another underrated half-hour of other people’s hits; namely `Go Now’ (The MOODY BLUES), `Do You Believe In Magic’ (The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL), `Reason To Believe’ (TIM HARDIN), `Masters Of War’ (DYLAN), `A House Is Not A Home’ (BACHARACH-DAVID), `The Impossible Dream’, and CHER’s two flop 45s re-vamps of TRADE MARTIN’s `Take Me For A Little While’ and MIRIAM MAKEBA’s `Click Song’.
This signalled the end of her tenure with Imperial as she moved on to Atco Records for a commercially bleak couple of years, kickstarted by 1969’s 3614 JACKSON HIGHWAY {*7}. Learning a lesson or two from her past misnomers, big name producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin had already set her to work a year earlier alongside the Muscle Shoals session team (i.e. lead guitarist Jimmy Johnson, rhythm guitarist Eddie Hinton, keyboardist Barry Beckett, bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins). Chalking up another triumvirate of DYLAN slices (`Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’, `I Threw It All Away’ and `Lay “Baby” Lay’), her voice had certainly matured over the years; STEPHEN STILLS’ `For What It’s Worth’, OTIS REDDING’s `(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’, DR. JOHN’s `I Walk On Guilded Splinters’, The BOX TOPS’ `Cry Like A Baby’ and a re-tread of ARETHA FRANKLIN’s `Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’, all received a resounding thumbs up from the press.
Unfortunately released to coincide with the aforementioned album, the SONNY BONO-scored/produced soundtrack to CHASTITY (1969) {*3} never threatened to turn up another big hit. In fact, there were only two proper CHER songs here: the string-laden opener, `Chastity’s Song (Band Of Thieves)’ – a flop penned by ELYSE WEINBERG – which confirmed both the power and the imprecision of CHER’s famous warble, and `Flowers (Love Of A Family)’, on which Sonny’s warmer voice was more endearing if only a shade more precise. Starring CHER as “Chastity”, the film was the pair’s last roll of the dice as celebrity hippies, but none of this was hippy music. Instead, as if challenged by some cruel compositional school sergeant-major, Bono filled the rest of the album with no less than seven variations on a simple and unexceptional musical theme. It wasn’t all bad though: forced on to the supper-club circuit to pay the bill for this kitsch, the couple would hone the comedy act (dimwit husband out-witted by smart-mouthed sexy wife) that would make them TV superstars in the early 1970s. Their daughter Chastity (born March 4, 1969) may have been less impressed by their decision to name her after the movie – Chaz subsequently came out as a lesbian in 1995 and underwent surgery to become a man between 2008 and 2010.
As SONNY & CHER turned to Las Vegas and recorded a string of pop LPs designed at the mature listener (both had simultaneously signed to Kapp/M.C.A. Records), CHER’s solo career, meanwhile, had been rekindled in September ’71, with the chart-scaling (Bob Stone-penned) title track from her GYPSYS, TRAMPS & THIEVES {*6} album; originally entitled “Cher” until its re-promotion. Produced by Snuff Garrett, the UK version was bolstered by two additional Sonny-penned tracks (`Classified 1A’ and `Don’t Put It On Me’), while on home turf `This Way Of Love’ (formerly a hit by Kathy Kirby), also entered the Top 10; renditions of `He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ and JAMES TAYLOR’s `Fire And Rain’, overshadowed lesser known artists and songs, but CHER was back among the celeb elite.
1972’s FOXY LADY {*5} didn’t quite live up to the promise shown by its Top 20 predecessor, but in Tom Bahler’s `Living In A House Divided’ (about divorce!) and NEIL SEDAKA’s `Don’t Hide Your Love’, there was chart consolation; LEON RUSSELL’s `A Song For You’, HOYT AXTON’s `Never Been To Spain’ and re-make of `The First Time’ (but no sign of a HENDRIX tune), were undoubtedly the star attractions.
Moving along the corporate ladder to M.C.A. Records, last-chance-saloon Bono ditched co-producer Garrett for CHER’s underwhelming ninth LP, BITTERSWEET WHITE LIGHT (1973) {*4}. Nothing remotely pop in sight, instead re-arranging pre-WWII standards from the Gershwins, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein II, Al Jolson and Duke Ellington, this half-hour of torch songs would’ve been better suited to Liza Minnelli or her mom.
CHER’s charismatic, half-Cherokee identity was melodramatically stamped over attendant No.1 narrative title ballads from HALF-BREED (1973) {*6} and DARK LADY (1974) {*6}. The first of these sets garnered mixed reviews, but in songs from The BEATLES’ `The Long And Winding Road’ and PAUL McCARTNEY & WINGS’ `My Love’, to the BEE GEES `How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?’ and her co-composition alongside SEALS & CROFT (`Chastity Sun’), the foxy lady seemed at ease with Garrett and assistant Al Capps.
The Sonny & Cher Comedy Show was also the feeding ground for its Top 75 follow-up. The stone-faced CHER could now raid the American songbook for Irving Berlin’s `What’ll I Do’ and Johnny Durrill’s other two pieces, `Dixie Girl’ and the minor hit `I Saw A Man And He Danced With His Wife’; Alan O’Day’s opener `Train Of Thought’ hit the Top 30.
Estranged from her hubby while lawyers sorted out divorce proceedings, CHER had began a 2-year relationship with record mogul David Geffen. Although they’d split at the time she’d inked a deal at Warner Bros., the JIMMY WEBB-produced STARS {*4} – named after a JANIS IAN piece – was unveiled in April 1975. Shelving sessions with PHIL SPECTOR, she was once again free to cover songs made famous (sort of) by: ERIC CLAPTON (`Bell Bottom Blues’), JACKSON BROWNE (`These Days’), BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD (`Mr. Soul’), MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY (`Geronimo’s Cadillac’), JIMMY CLIFF (`The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall’), Boudleaux Bryant (`Love Hurts’) and LITTLE FEAT (`Rock And Roll Doctor’).
A matter of only a few days after her divorce from SONNY (on June 26, 1975), the glamorous CHER married southern star GREGG ALLMAN, with whom she subsequently recorded the execrable `Allman And Woman: Two The Hard Way’ (late ‘77). The couple had plenty column inches to contend with as their turbulent marriage went under the spotlight; nearly divorced after only nine days, they reconciled and had one son, Elijah Blue (born in July 1976). In the meantime, CHER’s career was still on course, although even Warner Brothers must’ve expected a better public response for both I’D RATHER BELIEVE IN YOU (1976) {*3} – showcasing EDDIE FLOYD’s `Knock On Wood’ and BARRY MANILOW’s `Early Morning Strangers’ – and the Garrett-Capps exercise CHERISHED (1977) {*3}.
Her critical stock was hardly improved with her opportunistic disco/pop effort, TAKE ME HOME (1979) {*4}, although the Top 30 record – complete with an “a-pealing” dress-sense photo-shoot – did put her back in the spotlight. Newly signed to decadent KISS stronghold, Casablanca (she was dating GENE SIMMONS at the time), much of the responsibility was down to co-producer/songsmith Bob Esty (alongside Michelle Aller), who’d furnished her with the massive Top 10 title track and its Top 50 follow-up, `Wasn’t It Good’. Incidentally, CHER contributed lyrics for the finale, `My Song (Too Far Gone)’, concerning her failed marriage to the ALLMAN brother.
On the back of yet another sexually-implicated disaster, PRISONER (1979) {*2} – spotlighting a controversial sex-slave CHER, naked but for a collar and chains – the Dark Lady covered her tracks with an attempt at hard-rock/new wave a la her band’s eponymous piece of history, BLACK ROSE (1980) {*5}. She’d been dating their guitarist Les Dudek (ex-STEVE MILLER BAND), so with a group of musicians behind them (second guitarist Ron “Rocket” Ritchotte, drummer Gary Furgason, bassist Trey Thompson, keyboardist Mike Finnigan and backing vocalist Warren Ham), the James Newton Howard-produced record guaranteed a mixed reaction Stateside; both singles `Young And Pretty’ and `Never Should’ve Started’, unceremoniously flopped.
Unsurprisingly, her BLACK ROSE sojourn withered, as did her relationship with Dudek. Always looking to capitalise on her new-found rock-chick aplomb (in ‘81, she featured on MEAT LOAF’s `Dead Ringer For Love’ hit), CHER moved to Columbia Records, where she cut I PARALYZE (1982) {*5}, before turning her attention to film work. Produced by Australian, John Farrar (who’d recently turned the world on to OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN), support was nigh-on zilch for some DESMOND CHILD-penned soft-rock ballads (including `When The Love Has Gone’), plus singles `Rudy’ and the title track.
Although CHER was a veteran of the TV chat show (having hosted both a SONNY & CHER and solo version in the 60s and 70s), a starring role in Robert Altman’s adaptation of the Broadway play, Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, set out her stall. She proved it was no fluke with sterling performances in Mike Nichols’ fact-based drama, Silkwood (1983), and particularly Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask (1985) – the latter another true story in which she played the mother of a deformed boy – receiving recognition for her efforts in the shape of a Best Actress award at Cannes. Her acting credentials confirmed, CHER went on to hold down starring roles in fantasy comedy, The Witches Of Eastwick (1987), the romantic comedy Moonstruck (1987) – for which she won an Oscar – and courtroom drama, Suspect (1987).
With her profile sufficiently raised, the mainstream resurgence of soft-rock/AOR/metal was a perfect vehicle for CHER’s commercial comeback; newly signed to Geffen Records, she hit the Top 10 late in ‘87 with “power-ballad”, `I Found Someone’. Written and produced by MICHAEL BOLTON (who also chipped in anchor track `Hard Enough Getting Over You’), the corresponding CHER {*6} album (#32) was certainly worth the 5-year wait. While DESMOND CHILD supported her throughout, it was his joint effort with BON JOVI/SAMBORA on the Top 20, `We All Sleep Alone’, that proved she was back on top and in control of her destiny.
Once again a mighty transatlantic Top 10 proposition, CHER reeled off no less that four massive hits from 1989’s HEART OF STONE {*7}:- `After All’ (from the film Chances Are and featuring PETER CETERA), her Diane Warren-sculptured signature tune `If I Could Turn Back Time’, the Child-Warren piece `Just Like Jesse James’, and the title track; BOLTON, the BON JOVI pairing, CHILD and Warren, assumed responsibility for the bulk of the evergreen set.
As a wayward mother in domestic comedy, Mermaids (1990), there was also a chance to save her most cloying material until last; a cover of `The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)’ giving CHER a Top 40 entry and her first solo UK No.1 the following spring. Tacked on to the LOVE HURTS (1991) {*4} album, the song’s massive popularity even pushed the album itself to No.1, whilst CHER enjoyed a British popularity previously unparalleled; `Love And Understanding’, `Save Up All Your Tears’, the updated Boudleaux & Felice Bryant title song and `Could’ve Been You’, stating her case.
In contrast to most pop performers, CHER duly used her acting fame as a springboard back into music rather than the other way round, so successful a move in fact, that it somewhat curtailed her screen activities over much of the next decade. She nevertheless continued to make the odd appearance, popping up as her unfeasibly young looking self in Robert Altman films, The Player (1992) and Pret-a-Porter (1994), as a suicidal wife in Robert Mazursky’s black comedy, Faithful (1996), If These Walls Could Talk (1996) and, in her most acclaimed role in years, as a feisty American abroad (opposite Judi Dench and Lily Tomlin) in Tea With Mussolini (1999).
A 1992 “Greatest Hits: 1965-1992” compilation gave her another UK No.1, while a 1994 re-working of S&C’s `I Got You Babe’ – with the inimitable and animated Beavis & Butt-Head! – proved she at least had a sense of humour under all the histrionics. CHER was back at No.1 again in March 1995 – alongside CHRISSIE HYNDE, NENEH CHERRY and ERIC CLAPTON – with the UK Comic Relief charity song, `Love Can Build A Bridge’.
That same year (although released the following summer on home turf), her comeback set IT’S A MAN’S WORLD (1995/6) {*5} stalled at No.10, and faired even worse Stateside. Basically, it ran up all the traits and foibles of her earlier works, updating and shining out of her comfort zone for a plethora of covers, led by a near-Top 10 rendition of MARC COHN’s `Walking In Memphis’; JAMES BROWN, of course, DON HENLEY, PATTY LARKIN, PAUL BRADY, ERIC KAZ, LOL CRÈME/TREVOR HORN and PADDY McALOON, all respectively donated the odd song; the Bob Gaudio/Bob Crewe classic `The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’ flopped for the simple reason that familiarity breeds contempt.
Tragedy was to strike, however, when on January 5, 1998, her ex-husband and recently elected politician, SONNY BONO, died instantly after hitting a tree during a skiing trip. Later that year, CHER was to gain some consolation when she secured a massive best-selling trans-global No.1 with the Eurodance title track from her Top 10 album, BELIEVE (1998) {*5}. Loved by everyone who’s ever floated on the dance-floor, but not so much by coach-potatoes baulking at the thought of attending “fitness” clubs, CHER’s use of the Auto-Tune vox apparatus was indeed a new musical direction for the 50-something pop goddess; `Strong Enough’, `All Or Nothing’ and `Dov’e L’amore’, all consolidated her position in Britain.
If Christmas 1999’s “the greatest hits” set didn’t convince one to catch the CHER’s soul train, then LIVING PROOF (2001) {*6} was indeed, er… living proof that the evergreen L.A. lass had got more than a little music-biz mileage left in her yet. She may have a few years on MADONNA, but the club-friendly grooves confirmed her newest incarnation as dance-pop diva. Arriving a year on from her “Artist Direct”-sponsored not.com.mercial {*6} internet-only trip – featuring tracks penned by herself (one in particular concerning Kurt Cobain: `(The Fall) Kurt’s Blues’) – her UK chart spread continued with the Top 10, `The Music’s No Good Without You’.
Having documented her final concert appearance on November 8, 2002 – at Miami’s American Airlines Arena – with LIVE – THE FAREWELL TOUR (2003) {*4}, CHER had a chance to recoup lost time in the celluloid world; sadly her role as herself in the Farrelly Brothers flick, Stuck On You (2003), was not her best decision.
Several years down the line, and during a “comeback” tour, a golden opportunity starring next to CHRISTINA AGUILERA came her way in the musical, Burlesque (2010). Although the younger singer/actress of the two was granted several songs on the Golden Globe-winning soundtrack, CHER (as Tess) shone on two: `Welcome To Burlesque’ and the Diane Warren-authored `You Haven’t See The Last Of Me’. A poignant title – and after her voice-over role (as Janet the Lioness) in 2011’s Kevin James movie vehicle, Zookeeper – the 67-year-old CHER found time from obvious cosmetic surgery to hit the Top 5 in both the US and UK with CLOSER TO THE TRUTH (2013) {*6}. Long-since an icon of the gay community, CHER and her shimmering-enhanced vox were able to fire out supercharged, hi-NRG ballads with producers/writers Mark Taylor, PAUL OAKENFOLD, Billy Mann and P!NK; press-play for `Woman’s World’, `Take It Like A Man’, `Lovers Forever’ and `Dressed To Kill’ – the latter the name of her subsequent tour. Phew!
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS/BG/MCS/SS/ND // rev-up MCS Mar2016

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