Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on well-known albums of the past and the reissues they could someday see. Before Madonna, before Lady Gaga, there was Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere Bono, better-known as Cher. Today, we look at a largely forgotten period of the diva's career, now entering its sixth(!) decade.
Cher's latest hit song may be titled "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," but really, who thought we had? We listeners don't need a modest little Diane Warren power ballad to remind us that Cher isn't going anywhere. Even as she bade farewell to the concert stage for the umpteenth time, we knew we hadn't seen the last of Cher. And so it wasn't surprising that the superstar recently became the first artist in Billboard history to attain a chart-topping single in six consecutive decades when the Golden Globe-winning "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" (from the critically-lambasted film Burlesque) hit No. 1 on the Dance/Club Play chart. (Only Barbra Streisand holds a similarly impressive record, with No. 1 albums in five consecutive decades.) What is a surprise, however, is that the ever-chameleonic singer/actress/entertainer still hasn't had her entire catalogue represented on CD.
In 1975, Cher signed with the decade-defining Warner Bros. Records label, after a long string of solo hits first overseen by Sonny Bono at Imperial and then Snuff Garrett at Kapp and MCA. (Sonny & Cher's duet records were released on Atlantic's Atco division, and a brief detour to Muscle Shoals in 1969 produced one of Cher's most underrated solo albums, 3614 Jackson Highway, for that label. It was expanded by Rhino Handmade in 2001 and then reissued as a bare-bones edition by Collectors' Choice in 2009.) Yet none of Cher's albums or singles released between 1975 and 1979 has received CD release. How could Cher's Warner Bros. output could be successfully reissued? Today's Reissue Theory answers with A Woman's Story: The Warner Bros. Years.
The Warner Bros. years found Cher experimenting with a variety of musical styles and producers for a handful of singles and four complete albums: Stars (1975), I'd Rather Believe in You (1976), Cherished (1977) and Two the Hard Way (1977). The lineup of talent who joined Cher at Warner Bros. is staggering: Phil Spector, Harry Nilsson, Jimmy Webb, Snuff Garrett, Steve Barri, then-husband Gregg Allman, and even Sonny Bono.
Hit the jump for the details on how we would collect this sadly-neglected period of Cher's career as a two-CD set, and a full track listing with pertinent discographical information!
By 1975, Warner Bros. Records was prospering under the aegis of Mo Ostin, and the combined Warner group boasted a roster drawn from not only the parent label but Reprise, Elektra, Atlantic and David Geffen's Asylum. Artists being nurtured under this system ranged from Alice Cooper to Randy Newman. The family of labels was releasing an unheard-of amount of records; in 1976 alone, over 300 titles hit stores. Luminaries on Warner's A&R team included Lenny Waronker, Ted Templeman, Russ Titelman, and Tommy LiPuma, among others. Cher should have been able to continue her successes under this productive and inspiring climate, but things weren't destined to go so easily for her.
For her first recordings under the Warner Bros. deal, Cher was paired with Phil Spector, for whom she had sung background vocals during the halcyon Philles days of a decade earlier. Spector was establishing his own Warner Spector imprint, but as it turned out, Cher's releases would be among the small amount of new material ever issued on the label. Notoriously expensive sessions with the legendary (and legendarily mercurial) Spector yielded two singles. "A Woman's Story" b/w "Baby, I Love You," a dirge-like, lengthy remake of The Ronettes classic , comprised Warner Spector single SPS 0400. A duet with Spector's friend and drinking buddy Harry Nilsson of Holland/Dozier/Holland's "A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Every Day)" was Warner Spector SPS 0402, but Warner dipped into the Atlantic vaults for its B-side, 3614 Jackson Highway's "(Just Enough to Keep Me) Hangin' On." While the duet is fun and even commercial, Nilsson asserted to Creem that the backing track was actually intended for John Lennon's Rock 'n' Roll album! Needless to say, the Harry & Cher pairing didn't have the same kind of success that Sonny & Cher did.
The Nilsson duet was relegated to promo status as a single, and was also found on the Warner Bros. sampler Burbank's Finest: 100% All Meat (Warner Bros. LP PRO 604), but didn't have much of a chance to become a hit. The Warner Spector label soon foundered, leaving Cher without a producer and Nilsson back at RCA. We've included the original single mixes of all three Spector-produced tracks at the end of Disc Two of our compilation. (These three tracks were also included on the various artists compilation Phil Spector 74/79 (Philles SUPER 2307 015) which was only released internationally.)
Cher turned to another sixties wunderkind, Jimmy Webb, to produce, arrange and conduct her proper Warner Bros. debut, the April 1975 LP Stars. This LP remains one of Cher's strongest ever, despite its lack of availability in the CD era. Oddly, acclaimed songwriter Webb only contributed one track of his own, "Just This One Time," and instead curated a collection of diverse covers. But "Just This One Time" was a doozy. This grandiose, dramatic track sounded more like prime Spector than did Spector's recent productions. Among Stars' remaining tracks, Cher recorded Neil Young's "Mr. Soul," Jackson Browne's "These Days," Lowell George's "Rock and Roll Doctor," Michael Martin Murphey's "Geronimo's Cadillac" and the Janis Ian song which gave the album its title. All were aided immeasurably by Webb's sympathetic arrangements. Cher appeared on The Flip Wilson Show and The Carol Burnett Show to promote Stars, but to little avail, as the album peaked at No. 153. One unreleased track is known to exist from this period, a beautiful version of "Love Song." Cher's take on Lesley Duncan's haunting melody (recently revived by Neil Diamond on his Dreams) has circulated among collectors, and may be an outtake from Stars. We've included it after the original Stars album in our sequence.
Over a year passed until the October 1976 release of I'd Rather Believe in You, with Steve Barri and Michael Omartian in the producers' chairs. This was decidedly a more pop effort than Stars, which had had the flavor of the label's Los Angeles singer-songwriter family (Webb, Browne, Young, George) but with Webb's trademark lush arrangements. Cher covered Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" and Barbara George's "I Know (You Don't Love Me)" while Omartian himself contributed the strong title track. Cher also tackled "Early Morning Strangers," a particularly underrated track written by the unlikely pairing of Barry Manilow and Hal David, in his period of estrangement from Burt Bacharach. (Manilow contributed a melody worthy of Bacharach, and the song was also performed by Dionne Warwick on her 1977 Warner Bros. LP Love at First Sight. Manilow himself introduced it on Barry Manilow II in 1974.) Omartian felt that lack of label promotion doomed I'd Rather Believe in You, and the album didn't chart.
Eleven months later, the Dark Lady reunited with Snuff Garrett (the producer behind "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "The Way of Love" and "Half-Breed") for September 1977's Cherished. Perhaps predictably, the album was another commercial failure. Garrett attempted to recapture the sound of those early '70s story-songs, but despite the minor chart success of "Pirate" (which hit No. 93), Cher would still have to wait two years for another hit single. "She Loves to Hear the Music," written by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager, was a fun, theatrical album track, and John Durrill's teaming with Brill Building stalwart Doc Pomus for "Love the Devil Out of Ya" was a winning one. Even the album artwork, photographed by Harry Langdon, was designed to recall the earlier part of the decade, with Cher strikingly decked out in Native American garb. Yet potential buyers stayed away.
Cher's next and final album for Warner, a duet album with then-husband Gregg Allman, may be her best-remembered LP for the label, not for its contents but because of the tumultuous marriage itself. Credited to Allman and Woman, Two the Hard Way was released just a couple of months after Cherished, and also sank like a stone. The album itself, with production by Allman Brothers collaborator Johnny Sandlin, is an uneasy blend of pop and southern rock that largely doesn't work, but the experiment remains fascinating. Allman sounds as if he assumed the lead, and he gave Cher a potent solo spot on his bluesy "Island." His solo was Jackson Browne's "Shadow Dream Song," and like Browne, Stars alumnus Jimmy Webb returned via their recording of his classic "Do What You Gotta Do." Also worth hearing is "You've Really Got a Hold on Me," a song which was previously recorded by Cher with ex-husband Sonny Bono.
One irony of this period is that despite her lack of success in the record stores, Cher was still extremely popular thanks to her visibility on television; CBS-TV's The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour had run from 1971 to 1974, after which Cher and Sonny launched competing solo programs. After nearly a year with the solo Cher show, it was announced that Cher would reunite with her former other half for The Sonny & Cher Show in 1976. Despite many feeling that the magic was gone (the playful banter seemed a little more mean-spirited after the divorce, after all), the show was successful enough to be picked up for a second and final season.
Cher's Warner Bros. tenure didn't end auspiciously as she reteamed with Bono in the studio as well, for one final Sonny & Cher project. The duo is said to have recorded as many as fifteen tracks for the reunion album. However, it remains unreleased to this day, with only the disco-style single "You're Not Right For Me" b/w "Wrong Number" emerging from the sessions as Warner Bros. WBS 8341. We've included this single at the end of Disc One of our set.
In another grand irony, Cher would have her longed-for hit almost immediately after leaving Warner Bros. She signed in 1979 with disco specialist Casablanca, home to Donna Summer. Her first album for the label, Take Me Home, spawned a hit single in the form of the title track, and the LP (produced by Bob Esty and Ron Dante) went gold. But that's a story for another day.
It's believed that various labels have approached Warner Bros. over the years about reissuing these albums, to no avail, and some have speculated that Cher herself has an ownership stake in the masters and could be preventing their release. We remain hopeful that these LPs will see the light of day on CD, as they would make for revelatory listening, especially when taken in the context of her entire, record-breaking career. So it's without further ado that we ask you to sit back and imagine A Woman's Story: The Warner Bros. Years, bringing four lost LPs back into the spotlight, Reissue Theory-style. Let's turn back time, shall we?
Cher, A Woman's Story: The Warner Bros. Years (Warner Bros. Records/Rhino Handmade)
- Love Enough
- Bell Bottom Blues
- These Days
- Mr. Soul
- Just This One Time
- Geronimo's Cadillac
- The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall
- Love Hurts
- Rock and Roll Doctor
- Love Song
- Long Distance Love Affair
- I'd Rather Believe in You
- I Know (You Don't Love Me)
- Silver Wings and Golden Rings
- It's a Cryin' Shame
- Early Morning Strangers
- Knock on Wood
- Borrowed Time
- You're Not Right for Me - Sonny & Cher
- Wrong Number - Sonny & Cher
- He Was Beautiful
- War Paint and Soft Feathers
- Love the Devil Out of Ya
- She Loves to Hear the Music
- L.A. Plane
- Send the Man Over
- Move Me
- I Found You Love
- Can You Fool
- You've Really Got a Hold on Me
- We're Gonna Make It
- Do What You Gotta Do
- In for the Night
- Shadow Dream Song
- I Love Makin' Love to You
- Love Me
- A Woman's Story
- Baby, I Love You
- A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Every Day) - Nilsson & Cher
Disc One, Tracks 1-10 from Stars (Warner Bros. LP BS 2850, 1975)
Disc One, Track 11 recorded circa 1975, previously unreleased
Disc One, Tracks 12-21 from I'd Rather Believe in You (Warner Bros. LP BS 2898, 1976)
Disc One, Tracks 22-23 from Warner Bros. single WBS 8341, 1977
Disc Two, Tracks 1-10 from Cherished (Warner Bros. LP BS 3046, 1977)
Disc Two, Tracks 11-21 from Two the Hard Way (Cher & Gregg Allman) (Warner Bros. LP BSK 3120, 1977)
Disc Two, Tracks 22-23 from Warner Spector single SPS-0400, 1975
Disc Two, Track 24 from Warner Spector single SPS-0402, 1975