Original publication date: January 11, 1999
“I had just come off three movies… I mean back to back, literally, without any days off. I did The Witches of Eastwick, Moonstruck, Suspect, and then the album, just like that. John Koladner was so up [for Cher's 1987 self-titled album]. He was just so great. I was supposed to record before I started the movies… and 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? Nobody’s going to be interested. My singing days are over…they’re OVER!’ but he just said ‘no, no, no…’ and kept pushing.” We then asked how she and producer John Kalodner 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 music 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 f—k is that guy, that weird guy? And why is he looking at me?’. David said, ‘Oh, that’s John Kaloddner. He works for my label and blah-blah-blah-blah. Then, suddenly, 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, he’s 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. I’ve worked with husbands and lovers… and 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 sweet… he said, ‘Mom, don’t worry about it, just relax, everything’s gonna be fine’… and it was!” Cher is also fond of the album she recorded with Elijah’s father, Gregg Allman. “I loved being in the studio with Gregory. I loved making that album with him… but it didn’t stand a chance, did it? I mean, everybody hated that we were together, didn’t they? The album didn’t stand a chance.”
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, “I’m sorry, that was just such a good song! I loved ‘I Paralyze’… RuPaul 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-John’s “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 despite an enthusiastic single review in Billboard. “That was a good one… I 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 other personal favorites of hers. “I loved making the Stars album [Warner Brothers, 1975]. I loved ‘Geronimo’s Cadillac’. I wish I’d been a better singer then because I would have done a better job on it. I had the emotion, but I didn’t 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 Cher’s heart include “Save Up All Your Tears” (“Nobody liked it but me”) and “Do What You Gotta Do”, which she recorded with Gregg Allman. “There’s a song that Sonny wrote for me called ’Where Do You Go’---I loved that song. Another really favorite record that I did was with Gene [Simmons], a Kiss song called ‘A World Without Heroes.’”
She mentioned a few other personal favorites and highlights, and then we asked if there were any recordings that she regretted. She thought for a moment and then said, pointedly, “No.” We pressed the issue, albeit gently, just a little bit further by asking if any of her older hits made her shudder when she heard them on the radio, but she remained cheerfully, unshakably steadfast. “I try not to shudder when I hear any of them”, and she clearly doesn’t care about anyone else’s opinions of them either. “I remember playing ‘Dark Lady’ for David Geffen… and Joni Mitchell was there, and a whole bunch of cool people. And David said, ‘Sweetheart, that song is horrible! Do they have to put it out?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, Dave… they do!’.” Asked about her favorite song from that period, Cher says, “I think [it would be] ‘The Way Of Love.’ It was a really big hit for me, and people really loved it. They still love it. I put it back in my show the last time I toured because people were asking for it.”
While still talking about the 1970s, Cher confirmed an often-repeated industry story concerning Vicki Lawrence’s blockbuster #1 hit “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.” It had been originally written for her, but Sonny Bono turned it down. “I don’t know how Son let me (turn that track down)… I would have done it if he had wanted me to… if he’d have liked it. Obviously, he didn’t like it.” We then asked how much control Sonny had over her early 1970s recordings, and we were surprised to learn that he was barely involved at all. By the time The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour took off, he had turned over the recording controls almost entirely to producer Snuff Garrett. Cher explained that the tight schedule she was on at the time made Garrett’s efficient style practical and essential. “I could do a whole album with Snuffy in three days. I’d sing each song through two or three times, and if you got it, it was on to the next one. You have to [understand] what it was like. We were on the road, I was recording, and we were doing the Sonny & Cher show, all at the same time! I was fried! I did the best that I could [fitting] each obligation into what little time was allotted.”
Many in the industry, ourselves included, had assumed through the years that Cher didn’t particularly care for her biggest hit of the late 1970s, “Take Me Home.” Not true, she told us. She’s as proud of that album as she is of any of the others but says that making it proved difficult. “I was kind of cranky at the time because [producer] Bob Esty was just such a d—k. I mean, he’s a cool guy now, and he was a nice guy before that, but at the time, he was just a miserable s—t. And I really didn’t want to work with him.” Cher attributes Esty’s personal turmoil during that period to a substance abuse problem that has since been resolved. “He’s stopped, though, and he’s a really cool guy now.”
Then, as now, Cher says that she’s always loved dance music, just as she has always loved rock & roll. In fact, it’s the labeling or categorizing of specific musical genres that she doesn’t particularly care for. “For me, it’s the song, the song itself, that makes me want to do it… not the category or label that you (might want to) put on it. I don’t care about any of that. What I care about is the feeling, you know? The way a song makes you feel. One of my favorite songs is ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,‘ by Procol Harum, and I have no idea what that song is about, do you?” We shake our heads, and she continues. “The point is that it doesn’t matter. It’s a feeling thing—I feel that song when I hear it. When I hear that organ thing play, it just does something [to me] here,” pointing to her heart. She goes on to say that this is how she listens to all songs, and it’s also how she picks them for herself. “I love every song on [the new album] Believe. When I listen to this album, I think it’s really consistent, and I’m consistent [on it]. I’m more consistent on this album than I’ve ever been before. I think that the songs are all really good and that my performance is really good on them.” This matters more to Cher than one might imagine because, above all else, she’s determined to please her fans.
She had once been quoted as saying, “It’s not easy being a Cher fan,” and we asked her what she meant by that. “Because, in the music business, I’ve never been cool. I’ve always been a hit in spite of it.” She says that she’s always had to battle preconceived notions of who, or what, she was supposed to be, and the limits that those perceptions placed on her were sometimes difficult to overcome. “When ‘I Found Someone’ came out, radio just refused to play us. I [then] did as much TV as I possibly could to let people know that the record was out there. I finally had to put the video that we made for it into a commercial for Bally Fitness, and that’s how we got it into people’s minds. Finally, it just got so much attention, and people started asking for it that radio had to play it. Before that, radio was just not interested. Sometimes, it’s amazing to me that I have a recording career at all! It’s just amazing.”
Amazing? You bet, but then that’s just one of many definitive descriptions that seem apropos when you’re talking about Cher. Resilient is another, and breath-taking is another still. We doubt that any commercial endorsements will be necessary this time. The buzz on Believe is…well, unbelievable! And so is Cher. WE BELIEVE!
(Special thanks to Billy Sammeth, and to the indefatigable Stephen Ford, for their help)