CHER Back to the Dancefloor

 

Cher Believe

By Dean Ferguson & Johnny Lauderdale Danza

After more than three decades of hits, an artist like Cher could be expected to rest comfortably on the laurels of a catalog that already includes some of the most indelible pop anthems of all time. Think again. Somehow, as a recording artist, shes managed to remain relevant, reinventing herself time and time again. And now shes at it again. Her new album, Believe, is a knockout, with the blockbuster title track currently exploding on both sides of the Atlantic (it debuted at #1 on the UK pop chart!). Produced primarily by the METRO teams Mark Taylor & Brian Rawling (with an able assist from Junior Vasquez and Todd Terry) the album has USA Today proclaiming things like This is not your parents Cher. That, if anything, is an understatement. With the album just hitting store shelves as we go to press, the buzz is unprecedented.

The remixing talent roster on the first single alone reads like a Whos Who of cutting edge club fare (Almightys Martyn Norris & Jon Dixon, Xenomania, Wayne G, Club 69), yet its still, unmistakably, a Cher record.

The press, both industry and popular, have been quite enthusiastic in their coverage of the new album, even though Cher herself told us that shes long since stopped paying attention to such matters. She had not read the Entertainment Weekly review (I dont read those things) when we spoke to her for this story, but she couldnt help laughing when we pointed out how reviewer Beth Johnson had closed with the line you gotta love how her Cher-ness shines. And indeed it does. I want to remain relevant and do work that strikes a chordbut at the same time, I dont want to make a record with too many intentions beyond pleasing my fans. We sat down recently with Cher in her New York hotel suite and, for the better part of an hour, talked with her about the new album, and the ups and downs of her incredible career in . First, though, a little background:

JUST THE FACTS: Born Cherilyn LaPierre on May 20, 1946 in El Centro, California, Cher got her start in the industry working with future husband Sonny Bono as a backup singer for producer Phil Spector. After an unsuccessful attempt at recording as a duo under the name Caesar & Cleo, Cher recorded her first solo tracks under the names “Bonnie Jo Mason and Cherilyn. Then, in 1965, as Sonny & Cher, the duos fortunes skyrocketed with the slew of hits that started with I Got You Babe. They were married at the time, divorcing in 1974 just as their weekly CBS television series was at its peak. Though she reunited professionally with Bono briefly in 1975, Cher was already involved in an expanded solo career.

THE BEAT GOES ON: By 1977, a subsequent two-year marriage to ian Greg Allman had also ended, and so had her 1970s pop chart hit streak. Despite a return to the Top Ten in 1979 with Take Me Home, it was evidently the right time for Cher to explore other creative avenues. She went on to emerge as one of the most acclaimed film actresses of the 1980s, winning the Best Actress Oscar in 1987 for Moonstruck. Her heart, though, was never far from the .

Acting is like having a party at your house, and having to do all the work, quips Cher on the publicity blurb that accompanied pre-release press copies of her new Warner Brothers album, Believe. She goes on to describe the difference between her two primary career paths by adding, Music is like being at someone elses house. I dont have to worry about it. I just get caught up and carried away.

THE PEAKS: A unique blend of panache and tenacity has always kept Chers al inclinations sounding fresh and vital when many of her contemporaries falter. To wit, her earliest solo hits (circa 1966 and 1967) shared chart space with similarly successful singles from pop divas Petula Clark, Nancy Sinatra, Lulu, and Bobbie Gentry. By the 1970s, however, those other ladies had become, in terms of pop relevance, little more than archival footnotes while Chers hit streak began a second faze in the wake of the tremendous popularity of The Sonny & Cher Show. From 1971 to 1974, when high-profile chart competitors included Roberta Flack, Carole King, Helen Reddy, Gladys Knight, Melanie, and Carly Simon, Cher was reestablishing her own Top 40 credentials with hits like Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves, Half Breed and Dark Lady. She re-defined herself once again as the decade closed, emerging in 1979 at the height of the disco craze with the timeless dance anthems Take Me Home and Hell On Wheels. The latter track, featured on the Roller Boogie soundtrack, effectively captured the innocuous pleasure of the phenomenal late 70s roller-skating craze, which Cher herself had a hand in popularizing. Chers Billboard chart sorority sisters at that point in time included Gloria Gaynor, Amii Stewart, Donna Summer.

Fast forward to 1988, when pop s leading ladies included Debbie Gibson, Expose, Tiffany and Paula Abdul. For Cher, it was time to get down to business once again. Newly signed to Geffen Records, Cher succeeded in establishing a new identity as a serious rock and roller. It was a crown that shed worked long and hard to capture, and with it came her most impressive string of hits to date. Michael Bolton, Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Richie Sambora (of Bon Jovi fame) produced her first Geffen album, simply titled Cher, and it yielded her 13th, 14th and 15th Top 40 Billboard chart hits. First up was I Found Someone, a scorching rock-and-roll ballad (originally recorded by Laura Branigan) that subsequently became Chers first top ten pop hit in over eight years.

It was followed in quick succession by the Bon Jovi-penned smash We All Sleep Alone and the chart-topping After All, a duet with Chicagos Peter Cetera. She followed the Cher album a year later with an equally prolific set called Heart Of Stone. In addition to the title track, which became her eighteenth Billboard Top 40 hit, this album yielded the top ten singles Just Like Jesse James and If I Could Turn Back Time. The latter track, an international #1written and co-produced by Diane Warren, quickly became one of Chers biggest hits ever.

Her 19th Billboard Top 40 solo hit came a year later with The Shoop Shoop Song (Its In His Kiss), a highlight from the Mermaids soundtrack, a film in which she also starred. Though shed rack up hits #20 (Love & Understanding) and #21 (Save Up All Your Tears) before the year was through, it was evidently time to turn the page once again.

THE VALLEYS: Six years would pass before the release of her next album, revealing yet another side of Cher both to herself and to her insatiable public. Before entering this current phase, however, its worth taking a moment to note some of the more intriguing in-between projects—recording projects, that is—that have escaped all but the most die-hard Cher fans attention. Over the years, these have included some of her most interesting recordings of all.

A number of ill-fated projects for Warner Brothers that began when her tenure at MCA Records ended in the mid-1970s have gone on to become not only cult classics, but highly-prized collectibles as well. Case in point is an album called Stars, featuring an amazing rendition of Geronimos Cadillac. Although its been out of print for years, it is generally considered one of her best, and demand for pristine copies of the album remains high. Equally rare is an incredible single called A Love Like Yours from the same period that reunited Cher with producer Phil Spector (with whom Sonny & Cher had started over a decade before). Spector tested, but never released, this particular single with the intention of using it to launch his own, short-lived Warner Brothers specialty label. It was a one-off duet on which Cher was teamed with Harry Nilsson (We were just coming in to do backupthe song was supposed to be for John Lennon). Their spur-of-the-moment recording, however, turned out to be brilliant (it contained one of the catchiest choral hooks ever recorded) but legal complications prevented it from ever hitting the market. Both the single and the Warner/Spector vanity imprint disappeared quickly and were forgotten.

Chers only studio venture with second husband Greg Allman is also part of the long lost Warner Brothers cache. Though the album they recorded together, Allman & Woman, is decidedly unremarkable in terms of its being any sort of recording landmark for Cher, it contains a deliciously boisterous love song called I Love Making Love To You that holds up incredibly well almost two decades later. Allman basically sleepwalks though his part, but Chers enthusiasm is so irresistibly infectious that she all but carries the track by herself. If the Allman & Woman set was meant to bolster Chers rock & roll credibility, it backfired. Her own fans response was lukewarm at best, and the Allman contingent (both press and public) considered the project downright blasphemous. The press was only slightly kinder to Chers subsequent pairing with Meat Loaf on Dead Ringer For Love, the controversial title track of the latters widely panned second album. Over the years, Meat Loaf himself has steadfastly defended his choice of Cher for the girl part, insisting then and now that she was the only one capable of delivering the power and passion that the track required. Dead Ringer, the follow-up to Meat Loafs groundbreaking Bat Out Of Hell album, is only now getting the respect it deserves.

Next came the Casablanca years. Chers one and only top ten hit between 1974 and 1988 was the title track from the first of her three Casablanca albums, Take Me Home. Though the track and the album both proved to be wildly popular, Cher was reportedly less than fond of the finished product (Not true, she told us, but more on that later). The final two albums in her Casablanca deal, the uneven pop set Prisoner Of Love and an ambitious, self-titled album from a Cher-fronted rock & roll band called Black Rose, were both commercial disasters.

When her next album, the brilliant I Paralyze set (released on Columbia in 1982) also failed to click, Cher told us that she thought her recording career was definitely over. It would be six years before anyone could persuade her to give it another try, and even then she did so reluctantly. Still, deep down, part of her has always been ready to Believe. She was anxious to talk about her new album, so thats where our conversation began.

We started by asking her what made her decide to do a dance album this time. You know, I love this album (and) Im very proud of it but I cant take any of the credit. It wasnt my idea at all. Rob Dickens, the head of Warner Brothers-UK, said to me, Cher, I think you should do a dance album and at first I resisted it. I said oh…ahNo, I dont wanna do that. Fortunately, Dickens persisted. He persuaded her to at least listen to some of the new songs hed found, and she agreed. He sent me these songsand there were two that I really loved. One was Dove Lamore and the other was Strong Enough, both of which were written by the METRO team. He then suggested that I come to England to work with these boys, and so I did.

The boys in question here are, as we mentioned before, the METRO team leaders, Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, who produced most of the album, and songwriter Paul Barry. Its hard to explain how METRO works. I mean, its likeWhat is METRO? Brian runs the office, and keeps everybody enthusiastic. Mark is the engineer, and Paul writes the songs. Paul just kept writing songs (and) Mark and I would record themin the tiniest studio Ive ever seen! As the recording sessions continued, the albums focus began to take shape. Before I knew it, it had turned into a dance album.

The first song actually recorded for the album was Strong Enough, and it is definitely one of Chers personal favorites. Rob told me that he said to the boys Im gonna give you a chance to produce Cher. I want you to write a song for Cheryou know, a Cher song, and Strong Enough is the song they came up with. That track, in particular, has the kind of undeniably catchy, retro-disco flavor that Cher herself favors when she goes out to a club. If Im going to go dancing, I wanna go on a night when theyre playing 70s hits, because thats my favorite to dance to. As far as the new album is concerned, Cher likes the fact that several tracks seem to capture that same disco-era essence. Its not that I think this is a 70s albumbut theres a thread, a consistency running through it that I love. Its more obvious on certain tracks than it is on others, especially Strong Enough. She told us that Mark had tried approaching the track from several different, more contemporary angles before admitting, begrudgingly, that it worked best when they did it the way Cher suggested, meaning the way they did it in the old days. That meant real strings and the dramatic, a capella-into-slam dunk disco punch of classic hits like I Will Survive. That was the only way to get into that song. The boys tried a whole bunch of different ways to do it (but) I told them it wasnt gonna work. Cher says that they finally bit the bullet, and did it her way. The results, of course, speak for themselves, with Strong Enough is emerging as the near-universal choice for the next single release in Europe.

Surprisingly, Cher said that a different track would probably be selected as the next American single. Music seems to be a little different over hereso I couldnt say for sure what the next single might be. But Believe was just the obvious choice for the first single everywhere. Its the best song on the album. The evolution of the albums chart-charging first single, with its infectious, sing-a-long chorus and ear-catching vocal flutter, is a story in itself.

We had done the song, and we loved the chorus, but the verse was just st. Later, while soaking in a bathtub, Cher herself came up with the line Ive had time to think it through, and maybe Im too good for you, and suddenly the whole song made sense. Additionally, Cher told us that the tracks unique vocal hooks were inspired by a similar sound effect that shed heard on an album by Roachford.

She met with some initial resistance, however, when she tried getting the boys to experiment with her own vocal tracks in the same way. Finally, they relented. Mark got busy (in the studio) and first he added the compression to the first part of the vocal so that it sounds kind of like its coming out of an old radio speaker. And then we started screwing around with the pitch machine (for that fluttering vocal effect). We put that on, looked at each other and said, Thats it!

Cher knew instantly that she had nailed it. From that moment on, it was my favorite song. I said Im calling the album Believe, and Believe is going to be the first single. Still, others involved needed some convincing. Rob Dickens, for one, tried his best to dissuade her, arguing that to him it just didnt sound like a Cher record.

Rob tried to talk me out of using that weird thing on my voice, and finally we all had a big meeting. Cher sat down with with everyone involved in the project and said, Alright, you guys. I understand what youre sayingI understand that at first it doesnt sound like me–but eventually it doesand, if you want to change the mechanical stuffI want you to know that it will be over my dead body. We never talked about it again.

Suffice it to say the mechanical stuff stayed, and last month the single debuted at #1 on the UK pop chart. It had been 33 years since the last time that had happened to me (with Sonny & Chers I Got You Babe in 1965). I was pretty excited. We were at a Blockbuster in Italy when we heard. Her manager, Billy Sammeth, was waiting in the car when Cher got the call on her cell phone. I was banging on the door, going Were #1! Were #1! but he couldnt hear me. She continues, saying that he just went yeah-yeah-great, but still had no idea what she was trying to tell him. Then he understood, and we were all jumping around. The people around us probably thought we were insanebut eventually they understood what we were talking about. Then everyone was jumping around. It was great.

With Strong Enough already locked up as the next UK single, we asked again what she thought the next American single might be. Cher said that it might be Dove Lamore. Interestingly, Dove Lamore is a Spanish song with Italian lyrics, and we asked Cher how that came to be. When the boys wrote Dove, there was an Italian restaurant next door—there werent any Spanish restaurants around—and they just kept running to the guy in the restaurant who spoke Italian and said tell me how to say this, and how do you say that?, and thats how they wrote it. She laughs, continuing. And I love the Gypsy Kings, so we got one of the Gypsy Kings to do the guitar work. We then asked if what wed heard about Madonnas fondness for the track was true. When Madonna heard the song, she called Liz (Rosenberg, of Warner Brothers-US) and then Liz called me. She said that Madonna insisted that Dove had to be the next single and that, if it was, she wanted to direct the video. Other possibilities include All Or Nothing (I really love that song), Taxi Taxi (a thumping, Chicago-styled house track produced by Todd Terry), and the sets lone Junior Vasquez contribution, The Power (Its kind of a strange song, but I really like it. Theres just something about it).

The new album also contains a reworked version of her 1989 hit We All Sleep Alone, and we were curious as to why she chose to revisit that particular track. Because (at first) they were talking about re-doing Bang Bang, and I was just soooo over Bang Bang—I mean, Id just done it and done it (so many times) that I didnt want to do it again. Then her hairdresser suggested reworking We All Sleep Alone into a dance song and she liked the idea. I sent it to Todd (Terry), and he said, oh yeah, Id much rather do thatand so we did it.

The original version of We All Sleep Alone comes from the period in her recording career that Cher says, prior to now, had always been especially significant to her. We asked her about that period, her Geffen label hit years, and specifically 1989 to 1992. It was my favorite time as a singles artist, because I was getting to do songs that I really loved. songs that really represented me, and they were popular!

I loved I Found Someone, If I Could Turn Back Time, Main Man. It was really an exciting time for me. I loved working with Jon (Bon Jovi) and Richie (Sambora), and I loved getting back into the business after so long.

Although this period produced more consecutive Billboard Top 40 hits than any other in her career, Cher initially resisted going back into the studio. She eventually succumbed however, to the gentle-but-persistent pressure of producer John Koladner and her long-time friend David Geffen.

I had just come off three moviesI mean back to back, literally, without any days off. I did Witches Of Eastwich, Moonstruck, Suspect, and then the album, just like that. John Koladner was so up (for the album). He was just so great. I was supposed to record before I started the moviesand he waited for me. She smiles softly, recalling how she kept trying to talk him out of it. I said, Why are you pressing me with this? Why are you bothering? Nobodys going to be interested. My singing days are overtheyre OVER! but he just said no, no, no and kept pushing.We then asked how she and Koladner had met in the first place, and she recalled their auspicious introduction with a hearty laugh. I remember the first time I saw him.

I was at some awards thing with David (Geffen), and John was sitting five or six rows in front of us. He just kept turning around and looking at me. Finally, I said to David, Who in the fk is that guy, that weird guy? And why is he looking at me?. David said Oh, thats John Koladner. He works for my label and blah-blah-blah-blah. Then, all of a sudden, David says You know, John thinks that you need to be singing again.

Though Cher had been linked romantically with David Geffen by the press at one point, hes actually a treasured friend. Talking about him prompted us to ask if working with a husband or lover enhanced or hindered a recording project. Oh, I think it definitely enhances it. Ive worked with husbands, loversand I just worked with my son (on a cover of Crimson & Clover that son Elijah Blue produced for an upcoming Sire Records soundtrack project). As a producer, Cher says that her son was especially fun to work with. He was so sweethe said, Mom, dont worry about it, just relax, everythings gonna be fineand it was! Cher is also fond of the album she recorded with Elijahs father, Greg Allman. I loved being in the studio with Gregory. I loved making that album with himbut it didnt stand a chance, did it? I mean, everybody hated that we were together, didnt they? The album didnt stand a chance.

Story Continued Here When prompted by some ten-second sound bites we provided (on a miniature boom box that we brought with us to the interview), Cher took the time to look back at some of the other hits that got away. We started with a snippet of I Paralyze, and proceeded from there. Listening intently, she begins singing along with herself and says, smiling broadly, Im sorry, that was just such a good song! I loved I ParalyzeRuPaul said that it belongs on my next Greatest Hits album (Note: there is one, forthcoming, from Geffen). Written and produced by John Farrar (the man responsible for Olivia Newton-Johns Physical), this 1982 Columbia label release is one that Cher says she would like to re-record someday. Ditto Rudy, a Phil Spector-styled pop ditty from the same period that somehow fell through the cracks in spite of an enthusiastic single review in Billboard. That was a good oneI remember liking Rudy a lot. I had a lot of fun recording it. Like Turn Back Time, this is the kind of song that pulls you up. I think Believe is kind of like that too.

Cher continues, reminiscing about about other personal favorites of hers. I loved making the Stars album (Warner Brothers, 1977). I loved Geronimos Cadillac. I wish Id been a better singer then because I would have done a better job on it. I had the emotion, but I didnt quite have the control that I needed. Also, I just got so tired of people making fun of my vibrato that I worked really hard with my teacher to control it, you know? To be able to get rid of it at will. Other songs that, popular or not, remain close to Chers heart include Save Up All Your Tears (Nobody liked it but me) and Do What You Gotta Do, which she recorded with Greg Allman. Theres a song that Sonny wrote for me called Where Do You Go—I loved that song. Another really favorite favorite record that I did was with Genie (Simmons), a Kiss song called A World Without Heroes.

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3 Responses to CHER Back to the Dancefloor

  1. CHER i love you so much. I only want meet you . You ‘re THE BEST.

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  2. Strong Enough and Believe are one of my fav songs. Cher has such an amazing voice that when you hear her sing these songs you could dance the nigt away. Rock On Cher! We Love You:)

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  3. omg she looks so good in blue

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