She – the Cher - was born Cherilyn Sarkisian in May 1946, the daughter of an American-Armenian truck-driver father and model/actress mother with mixed European and Native American, specifically Cherokee ancestry. Enduring a colourful but troubled childhood, interspersed with periods of TV work and occasionally relative poverty, young Cherilyn made her teachers notice her when she displayed a talent for direction and choreography in a school production of Oklahoma! Moving from El Centro, California to the hotbed of Los Angeles in 1962, just as the pop world was about to explode beyond mere MOR Cher met Sonny Bono and then his friend Phil Spector.
It was Spector who noticed her vocal abilities, using her developing contralto as a backing singer on tracks by The Ronettes – “Be My Baby” – and The Righteous Brothers – “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”: only two of the greatest records ever made! Bono and his new wife (they were married in Tijuana, in 1964) developed a user-friendly variation on the new folk rock as Caesar and Cleo, exemplified by Cher’s magnificent cover of Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do”, which churned listeners up on both sides of the Atlantic.
Changing their attack to Sonny & Cher and taking the world by storm with the record “I Got You Babe”, where TV audiences were transfixed by their intimate, side by side rapport and evident humour, the duo were mobbed in the UK and numbered The Rolling Stones and Beatles as fans. Cher’s look – ground breaking cropped tops, lustrous hairstyles and bellbottoms, inspired the teen beat generation to pursue her look. By 1965 Cher was the hottest female property in town.
As for the albums - the first four are immaculate sixties pop productions. All I Really Want to Do, The Sonny Side of Cher (where you’ll find the definitive version of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, Chér and With Love, Chér all adhere to a successful template, mixing Bob Dylan protest, Sonny’s Spector-esque compositions, carefully chosen songwriter material and a few standards.
By 1968 the pop culture mood had changed. Backstage was an attempt to reflect the transition with Tim Hardin’s ubiquitous “Reason to Believe”, Doug Sahm’s “It All Adds Up Now” and Dr. John’s “I Wasn’t Ready” nodding to the future.
Once the love affair with Bono was over – though they maintained a professional relationship - Cher let it all hang out on 3614 Jackson Highway, her most progressive disc. Mixing Muscle Shoals penned cuts with more Dylan, Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” Cher was backed by a stellar cast of players including David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett, also backing singer and future Graceful Dead member Donna Jean Thatcher (later Godchaux). Though a commercial failure this album has since become a cult item and is an essential ‘second phase’ Cher album for you to discover.
Cher’s revitalisation continues with Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves, that track being her signature song for a while. Having gone Gold again she released the polished Foxy Lady that contains the poignant and personally slanted “Living in a Hose Divided”.
The pop standards disc Bittersweet White Light was a return to old school but didn’t chime with 1973’s tastes. The Snuff Garrett production Half-Breed includes a cover of Paul and Linda McCartney’s “My Love”, also The Beatles epitaph of sorts, “The Long and Winding Road.
Now she struck out. Dark Lady majored on her glamour puss image. The title track became a smash, though the parent disc not so much.
Following a change of label Cher returns to our fold with Take Me Home, released ion the rebound from her failed but highly publicised marriage to Gregg Allman. By now she was embracing multi-media and becoming a favourite fixture on US TV. She also concentrated on her movie career before returning with the self-titled platinum seller Cher for Geffen.
This sees her enter her ‘third phase’ stage; swapping the remnants of ‘60s popcorn for meatier crossover material often penned by Desmond Child and Diane Warren, the gold standard writers of the era. Collaborators Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora had a hand in “We All Sleep Alone” and Cher found her fan base suitably expanded.
The real breakthrough in the late 1980s is Heart of Stone, packed with hits and bolstered by a tour that assisted sales of over 4 million. Although she’d never been away one might say she was back! The slow burning “If I Could Turn Back Time’ reintroduced her epic vocal power and became a feminist anthem. That track was the title of her 1999 Greatest Hits package.
Another label change resulted in another hot streak with the Believe album and single, featuring the Auto-tune vocal, taking her into burlesque and club territory and ensuring her status as an international treasure for ever.
Throughout her various guises she had always craved progress and her Artists Direct album not.com.mercial (released as a reissue on Universal Music Group site Bravado), though a puzzler at first, eventually reveals a slew of fine songs, not least of which is her tribute to Kurt Cobain, “(The Fall) Kurt’s Blues”.
A move towards Euro-disco and dance on Living Proof, the Christina Aguilera liaison on Burlesque: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Closer to the Truth, accompanied by her record-breaking Dressed to Kill tour, brings her bang bang up to date.
As an exemplar of female pop power Cher can’t really be beaten: without her, perhaps no Madonna or Pink or Lady Gaga. For further handy listening we have several hits collections. The evergreen Greatest Hits: 1965 – 1992 covers all the relevant ground and the Gold collection is packed with goodies.
An active campaigner on behalf o the Democrat Party in the US and a constant purveyor of capital E Entertainment, Cher is a great artist and one of the good people, apparently unfazed by success and with a rich sense of humour and compassion to boot. Always D2K for her public she doesn’t hide behind a façade. Discovering Cherilyn should be a breeze and a joy for all. Way to go, babe.
Words: Max Bell
The lady can rock. There is no question about that, and this album is one of several from her catalog that serve as a testament to that fact. Even the opening single, "If I Could Turn Back Time," has a crunchy texture to it, albeit in a poppy, '80s Starship sort of arrangement. Cher recruited some heavy-hitters for this release, including Steve Lukather (Toto), Desmond Child, and Andrew Gold. Not all of the album is hard-edged rockers -- witness the effective ballad "Just Like Jesse James" -- but all of it has an honesty and gritty edge that separates it from some of the more modern Cher material. When you hear the strength of the vocal performance here, it makes you wonder why the producers choose to tinker with her voice in the late '90s and early 2000s. She certainly doesn't need any help holding a tune. This one seems a bit dated in retrospect, with the sound certainly tied to pop/rock of the late '80s, but the performance and musical integrity, not to mention strong songwriting, really set the album apart as one of Cher's strongest.
Words: Gary Hill
1991's Love Hurts follows the same formula as the Cher and Heart of Stone albums that had rejuvenated Cher's pop career in the late 1980s. The result, however, is particularly formulaic, with Cher's vocals sounding largely uninspired and the production and backing musicians content to be obvious. The moderate hit singles "Love and Understanding" and "Save Up All Your Tears" (the former written and the latter co-written by Diane Warren) are pleasantly melodic; apart from those tracks, though, only a surprising cover of the obscure Kiss song, "A World Without Heroes," is really worth seeking out. Love Hurts didn't sell nearly as well as its predecessors, and has all the markings of a woman going through the motions. Not surprisingly, Cher retired the "metal babe" persona after this album and would wait five years before releasing another disc.
Words: Joseph McCombs
2005's Gold is basically an expanded version of 2003's The Very Best of Cher, running to 32 tracks instead of 21. It retails for about the same price, and unless you don't want the extra 11 songs, supplants that album as the best career-spanning collection on the market. And what a career she had. Starting in the mid-'60s with the girl group-styled pop of Sonny & Cher and her solo folk-rock work all the way through to the dance-pop sensation of 1999's "Believe," she has never stayed put for long and that makes for a very interesting collection. The first disc collects songs recorded with Sonny, her early folk-rock hit "All I Really Want to Do," and her solo work from the '70s, including an extended version of her 1979 disco hit "Take Me Home." The second disc combines her '80s rock babe persona and her dance diva work at the end of the century, and includes remixed versions of "Heart of Stone" and "One by One." Both discs are solid listens, though the second disc does rely a bit much on her work for Warner Bros., which is simply not as distinctive as the rest. As long as complaints are being lodged, it would have been nice to have photos in the booklet from all through her career instead of just a handful from her recent diva/mannequin phase. The lack of any real rarities or collector's items makes the disc a little dull for hardcore Cher fanatics too. Still, this is a disc that will certainly please the fans who want a sampling of her career and don't really want rarities or surprises.
Words: Tim Sendra
Released originally as Cher (Kapp KS-3649), featuring a light grey cover with strands of hair over the face of the chanteuse, this LP was re-released (as Kapp KS-5549) with the title Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves in bold white letters with song titles "The Way of Love," "Fire and Rain," and "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" above the cropped cover photo. The original has the word "Cher" in black fading into the grey; the re-release has her name in bold white. Cover issues aside, this is a good album with some great moments, among them a career highlight in the two-and-a-half-minute opening track, "The Way of Love." The Stillman/Dieval tune was originally a British hit for Kathy Kirby, and both Cher and Kirby drove the song right by the censors. The song is either about a woman expressing her love for another woman, or a woman saying au revoir to a gay male she loved -- in either case this is not a mother to daughter heart-to-heart: "What will you do/When he sets you free/Just the way that you/Said good-bye to me." Kirby hit with a similar production in the '60s; Cher's Snuff Garrett production, arranged by Al Capps, broke the Top Ten in 1972 a few months after "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" became her first number one solo hit toward the end of 1971. Both songs lead off this disc with a one-two punch that is impossible to sustain throughout the entire album. "I Hate to Sleep Alone," written by Peggy Clinger, clings onto the Jack Nitzsche/Sonny Bono riff that made "Needles and Pins" so memorable. "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" no doubt satisfied fans, but the performance sounds a bit rushed; four years later Olivia Newton-John would also cover this song inspired by the Boystown logo -- interesting female perspectives four years apart, both on MCA. "I'm in the Middle," "Touch and Go," and "He'll Never Know" are all passable middle-of-the road pop, "Touch and Go" being particularly memorable, clocking in at only two minutes and one second. The cover of "Fire and Rain" is mildly interesting, with Cher saying, "Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you." Cher never minded androgynous or neutral gender identity in her songs; her deep voice could carry both the male and female ranges for the duo with Bono and, musically, her solo material could soar to heights not possible in a partnership -- "The Way of Love" being one example.
Words: Joe Viglione
I pulled this album out after not listening to it for a couple of years. I honestly forgot that I even owned it. I have to say, it's absolutely hard NOT to like this. The music on here features catchy and addictive melodies that will possibly have you singing along, as well as dance grooves that'll get you jumping. Now, I consider myself an open minded listener, but disco music is the only music I can think of that makes my stomach turn. I say this because some of the music on here incorporates mild disco influences combined with the electronica/dance pop. I may be in a minority when I say that Cher has a voice that nearly sends me to tears. It's emotional, husky, sensual and versatile. Her singing on one of her earlier songs, "After All" (which is probably my all-time favorite romantic ballad) sends chills down my whole body. Many of the tracks on here deal with the subject of love. Onto some of the tracks. The title track is pretty much a dance/pop classic - at least in my book. The track is catchy, addictive and moving. Once again, I may be in a minority when I say that listening to Cher's vocals pressed up against the spiralling soundscapes give me goosebumps. The song is also triumphant. "All Or Nothing" pretty much has those same trippy, hypnotic electronic effects fronted by Cher's strong vocal presence. "Dov'e L'amore" is a romantic latin-tinged ballad. My friend used to play this track to death, eventually getting slightly on my nerves with this. Now, since he's moved away, and I listen to this track on my own, I love it as well. It could be for either sentimental reasons, me being a subconscious romantic, or I'm just taken by the sensual melodies & vocals -- which are sung in two different languages. "Taxi Taxi" is somewhat cerebral in scope. For one, Cher seems to be hitting ranges that I've never heard her hit before. Secondly, there's an abrupt switch from a major chord to a minor chord (from the same root note), which makes this sound like you've swapped dimensions -- this probably makes no sense. Anyway, this transition takes place from the verse to chorus respectively. I'm going to be abrupt and end this review right now, given that I think this review is terrible and it'll probably do no justice to Cher or this album. I will say that this album is EXTREMELY addictive, catchy and melodic. Contagious like strep throat would be more like it. Every track on here is great. Recommended for sure!
Released in the spring of 1999, Bang Bang: The Early Years arrived at the perfect time. After years in exile -- she hadn't had a hit single or movie in over five years -- Cher returned to the spotlight in early 1998 under tragic circumstances, delivering a moving eulogy at Sonny Bono's funeral. It served as a reminder to a mass audience that she was alive and well, and within a year, she had a huge hit single with "Believe" and a hit movie with Tea with Mussolini. All in all, it was the perfect opportunity for a collection that spotlighted her recordings for Imperial from the mid-'60s. There had been many compilations focusing on her duets with Sonny, but Bang Bang was the first in many years to focus directly on her solo recordings, and at a generous 18 tracks, it ranks among the best of its kind ever assembled. All seven of her charting singles for Imperial -- "All I Really Want to Do," "Where Do You Go," "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)," "Alfie," "Behind the Door," "Hey Joe," "You Better Sit Down Kids" -- are here, along with most of the B-sides and selected album tracks. There may be a personal favorite or two missing, but overall this is as close as it comes to a definitive collection of Cher's early solo recordings. Overall, the songs aren't quite as strong as those she recorded with Sonny, but it's still very good indeed.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Universal Masters Collection was released Aug 17, 2004 on the Universal Distribution label. A superlative collection of the American icon's highly regarded material.1999
The Way Of Love / 2:32 / Carousel Man / 3:04 / Living In A House Divided / 2:56 / Melody / 2:35 / Rescue Me / 2:23 / Dark Lady / 3:28 / Don't Hide Your Love / 2:49 / Half Breed / 2:45 / Train Of Thought / 2:35 / Fire And Rain / 3:01 / Never Been To Spain / 3:28 / Gypsys, Tramps And Thieves / 2:37 / The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss) / 2:52 / When Love Calls Your Name / 3:31 / After All (Love Theme From "Chances Are") / 4:06 / Love On A Rooftop / 4:26 / The Long And Winding Road
I always believed myself to be first and foremost of fan of Cher's 'rock-chick' years, but since I've had the pleasure listen to her first ever albums, I'm not so sure now. Like Lulu, I have always known that Cher is a versatile talent, and has recorded just about every style of music in her long and varied career. This fine compilation focuses entirely on her earliest days as a singer, in the 1960s, and I'm a big fan of it's folk and pop style. To a modern listener, these songs will sound old fashioned now, very dated, but the decade it was recorded in is unmistakeable. If you don't care for this type of music, then you aren't likely to enjoy this set, Cher fan or not. Here, in chronological order, we have highlights from over five studio albums, recorded for the Imperty/Liberty label between 1965 and 1968. These tracks obviously include including Cher's first hit singles like 'All I Really Want To Do' and 'Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)'. Like a lot of young female singers at the time, she recorded lots of cover versions of popular tunes of the day, and you will be able to listen to lots of Bob Dylan, including ' Blowin' In The Wind', 'Like A Rolling Stone', and the aforementioned 'All I Really Want To Do' was penned by Dylan, and also covered by The Byrds. I am an avid fan of Marianne Faithful, but can still enjoy Cher's interpretation of her early hit 'Come and Stay With Me' without feeling any bias. The sound remastering is very good, all of the recordings sound mostly very clear. The set itself is also nicely put together, featuring liner notes, and some rare black-and-white pictures of the young beauty. There are no duets with her singing partner and future husband Sonny included within, this is strictly early, solo-girl Cher. So, if you're looking for some excellent vintage stuff, you've got yourself a bumper 44 tracks here. 'The Best Of The Imperial Recordings: 1965-1968' is the first chapter of Cher's recording career, and a collection of music I find most appealing. This is essential listening for any fan of 1960s pop/folk music, and is likely to appeal to some people who didn't like a lot of the material that was to follow.
Every track from 'All I Really Want to Do', 1965 (first album)
9/12 tracks from 'The Sonny Side of Cher', 1966 (second album)
9/12 tracks from 'Cher', 1966 (third album)
6/10 tracks from 'With Love, Cher', 1967 (fourth album)
8/12 tracks from 'Backstage', 1968 (fifth album)
So, just 14 tracks from over five albums fail to make the final cut.
After half a century in the music industry, it's amazing that Cher is still making records in 2013. That Closer to the Truth is any good at all is even more shocking. With the help of her longtime producer Mark Taylor, plus Billy Mann and Paul Oakenfold, the album has a fully modern sound, a large portion of the songs (written by the usual cast of many who include P!nk and Cher herself) are hooky and fun, and her voice, aided by technology or not, still carries a lot of weight and power. The album is split down the middle with the first half made up of shimmering, supercharged dance tracks that have disco and house influences and seem destined to fire up clubgoers with their soaring choruses. The empowerment jam "Woman's World" has the most impact, but the whole batch of songs packs a big, glittery punch. Cher sounds absolutely in her element with these songs and her thundering vocals fit perfectly in the mix. After a campy, banjo-led romp that sounds like someone tried to fuse Mumford & Sons with the Scissor Sisters ("I Walk Alone"), the second half heads deep into some heavy adult contemporary sounds. The final four songs are stripped down a little, built on acoustic guitars and strings, and played for maximum drama with Cher emoting for all she's worth, only a little more quietly. These songs aren't as successful, thanks to the somewhat syrupy melodies and clichéd lyrics, but also because Cher's vocals sound a little worn and frayed around the edges. It's not terrible by any stretch, but the first half of the album is so much fun that the second half suffers in comparison. An entire album of disco ball-shattering dance songs may have been too much and worn out its welcome. Too bad Cher and her team didn't give it a shot, though. Maybe sometime in the next 50 years....
Words: Tim Sendra
For those who are used to hearing Cher sing pop and dance songs, they will be pleasantly surprised by this charming collection of ballads and classic 'Evergreens'. Sonny Bono also features on four songs with Cher, producing plesant takes on YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND and YOU AND I. Yet, what really stands out is her perfomance of DANNY BOY (sang live) that is one of the best ever performances by a famous singer, which brilliantly conveys the emotive context of the song and the amazing power of Cher's voice. Also, WHAT'LL I DO and IT NEVER RAINS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (with Sonny) make this collection of songs worth buying. Other songs include takes on Gershwin classics and a rendition of Gartland's THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY and the Lennon/Mcartney legend THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD. These brave covers may disappoint those who seek to here a likeness to the original singers, for Cher performs them powerfully through her own unique and enchanting deep husky-voice that reveals a successful take. This album proves that Cher is more than a mere pop singer and provides the proof, if needed, that Cher is in her own right a legend.