Quick: what’s the first song that comes to your mind when I say “Cher”? Maybe it’s “Believe” or “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Maybe you go old school and now you can’t get “I Got You Babe” out of your head. Or maybe “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” is more your speed (long live the story song!). Whatever the case, if you thought of a song, you just proved my theory. The set list of a Cher concert acts as a live greatest hits album, and I am of the firm belief that everyone of a certain age can go to one and sing along to at least one song. And that age has definitely gotten younger thanks to the advent of Burlesque; I’m not even mad if your one song is “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” because that is a FLAWLESS anthem and should be treated as such.
Cher has been able to successfully adapt to changing trends in music so often that she’s had a number one hit in each decade she’s been in the business, and I am all for the hits. I have a “Life after love” tattoo on my arm. I will don my sailor hat and turn back time with the best of them. I’ve sung myself hoarse at six concerts. But we’re talking about career that spans over fifty years, and it seems criminal to confine that career to the track list on a greatest hits album. Nestled in between the hits of her discography is a wealth of songs that deserve acknowledgement. So let’s acknowledge them.
This is in no way my definitive list, because we’d be here forever if I could talk about every single song I love. Nor is it in any particular order (okay, MAYBE it’s in the order I think would make a cool-sounding mix); it was hard enough whittling it down to fifteen, let alone ranking them. But this is a sampling of songs that go deeper than the usual compilations that have been released since “Believe” exploded onto the charts. If you’re a diehard fan, let’s compare notes to see which tracks we’re mutually crazy about. And if you’ve never heard these songs before, I am so happy to be the one to introduce them to you.
Shall we dive in?
“Love Is the Groove” (1998)
I know almost everyone who bought the Believe album in the ‘90s probably bought it because of the title track, but don’t let that take away from the fact that this is an overall stellar album. “Love Is the Groove” sits towards the end of Believe and I just think everything about this song is beautiful. The music fits right in with the dance vibe of the better-known tracks, the lyrics are wonderfully powerful, and the vocals are magic because Cher is magic. I honestly can’t remember a time when this song popped up on my iPod and I didn’t play it one more time after it ended, because I love it so much.
Favorite lyrics: If I promise not to laugh,
Will you promise not to cry?
Will you promise not to let this life slip by?
“The Look” (2001)
If you tell me you don’t feel like dancing when you hear this song, you’re lying to me, and shame on you. “The Look” can be found as a bonus track on the Japanese version of Living Proof, because the rest of the world could do without it on their copies of the album? Come on, guys. This would have made the perfect lead-in to “Body to Body, Heart to Heart” because they both have the same feel (maybe that’s why it was left off of Living Proof’s official track list). It’s fun, it’s seductive, and it’s everything you could possibly want in a pop song. So just give in to the dance already.
Favorite lyrics: I’m flying too close to the sun
But it’s a beautiful way to burn
“I’m Gonna Love You” (1967)
Hey, remember that time Sonny and Cher starred in a movie together? Good Times came out around the time all those Beatles movies were huge, and it follows the duo as they reject a film script offered to them in favor of coming up with their own plot. It’s cute, definitely worth the watch if you’re a fan, and the soundtrack holds its own. Which leads us to “I’m Gonna Love You.” I found a copy of the soundtrack on vinyl a couple of years ago, and was legitimately surprised when I put it on my turntable and got to this track. At that point, it had been years since I last watched the movie, but I felt like I would have DEFINITELY remembered a song like this. The driving beat, the guitar, her crazy amazing vocals. WHY did I have no recollection? Upon a recent viewing, I got my answer: it’s featured in the background for a large portion of the song, and I probably wasn’t paying close attention before. So I’m bringing it to the forefront now, because that’s where it should be.
Plus, it’s sexy as hell, so there’s that.
Favorite lyrics: No one can ever make me feel like you do
And there ain’t no one who can ever put me through those changes like you do
And no one can make me feel so bad, I wanna die
No one could look at me the way that you do and get me high
Okay, if we’re splitting hairs here, this TECHNICALLY isn’t a Cher song. She was in a short-lived rock band called Black Rose, and the self-titled album they put out in the beginning of the ‘80s is everything. She always sells whatever she sings, but you can just tell in her voice that this was a passion project. While I love the entire album, “Julie” is without a doubt one of my favorite tracks, because it basically serves as the badass rocker version of “Jolene”, filled with warnings and threats and a fleeting reference to David Bowie (oh my!). Don’t get me wrong, “Jolene” is one of my favorite songs of all time, but do you hear Dolly Parton calling her rival a lying bitch? I didn’t think so.
Favorite lyrics: Well, I now know
Julie, you’re the shape of sin
But I can strut like Bowie
When the line gets thin
So cool it, Julie, or I’m gonna do you in
“I Walk on Gilded Splinters” (1969)
3614 Jackson Highway was one of those albums where I had literally every single song on my preliminary list for this post, and I had to stop myself before I completely destroyed the purpose. But to those who have heard the album before, I ask you: can you blame me? It was a true and brilliant break from the sound she had become known for, and I think “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” is the best representation of that. But also, this album is a masterpiece, and everyone needs to have the experience of listening to it at least once. If you haven’t, why are you doing this to yourself? Go find it now.
No, really. Do it. It’s okay…I’ll wait.
Favorite lyrics: I’ll make your heart melt like butter
I say, I can make you stutter
“Just This One Time” (1975)
Speaking of Cher albums that are masterpieces, Stars is basically the 3614 Jackson Highway of the ‘70s. And I’m going to warn you now, this decade will come up a lot here, because I’m fascinated by the turns her music took during these years. I mean, she scores number one hits with stuff like “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” and “Dark Lady,” and then she turns out covers of Buffalo Springfield and Derek and The Dominos on Stars, before finishing out the ‘70s by going disco? It’s called range and she has a lot of it.
Out of all the favorites that I have from that album, “Just This One Time” takes the cake, and it’s ALL because of that high note. You know she’s using that bridge to ramp up to something, but the first time I heard this song, I was in no way expecting that. She never hit that note in any recording before, and I can’t remember it coming around again since. That note stops me cold every time I hear it, which is why I had to stop listening to it when I’m in public.
Favorite lyrics since high notes don’t count as lyrics:
I know I’ve given you every reason
In this whole round world to fear me now
But my love’s a raging river
And you’ve wrapped it in your hands
“With or Without You” (2000)
We need to recognize how much of a gem Singer/Songwriter Cher is. Back in 1979, she gave us a little taste with “My Song (Too Far Gone),” on the tail end of the Take Me Home album. Then, 2000’s Internet-only release, not.com.mercial, took it further and showed a side of the queen diva that her record label deemed “not commercial” (hence the title), but I deem incredibly rewarding. Cher wrote eight of the ten tracks on this album, and they serve as amazing windows into her life. “With or Without You,” is a heartbreakingly real and incredibly relatable look at the demise of a significant relationship; we’ve all been there. My listening habits are very lyrically driven; if I can’t get on board with the lyrics, I’m probably not going to get on board with the song. This song is so well crafted that it makes me wish she kept putting out albums like this; I just want her to write all the time.
And even though she doesn’t explicitly say it in the liner notes, I’m like 90% sure I know who this song is about. But I don’t want to say anything out loud in case I’m overanalyzing, because I really like being convinced that I’m right. Pull me aside one day, and I might tell you my theory.
Favorite lyrics: I’m scared in a crowd of people
And you’re afraid to be alone
I had prayed you’d be beside me
I guess I’m meant to stand alone
“The First Time” (1972)
Let it be known that I am a sucker for Cher’s story songs. The more melodrama, the better; I can’t get enough. “Dark Lady” has been my default ringtone for as long as I can remember. “I Saw a Man and He Danced with His Wife” has been one of my favorite songs since I was a kid (which admittedly is a weird favorite song for a nine-year-old to have, but it is what it is). Where is my story song compilation album, you guys? Because I can’t be the only one who loves this stuff.
The second you start listening to “The First Time,” off of Cher’s fantastic Foxy Lady, you’re waist deep in melodrama. Right off the bat, the lyrics begin to tell you in the best way about the morning after our diva sleeps with an unnamed man: “Oh, I heard a rooster crow/I think I’d better go” (Yeah, I get it, imagery and rhyme scheme, but just let me enjoy the vision in my head of a one night stand on a farm, okay?). What follows is her small talk as she gets ready to leave, wanting to comb through her hair before she goes, fretting over the proper goodbye for a situation like this. The great thing about this song, though, is that the music really brings out the melodrama of the lyrics. It’s quiet in all the right places, and intense in all the right places, thanks to the horns…I love me some well-placed horns.
Favorite lyric: I don’t know if I should laugh or cry
Do you want a kiss goodbye?
Or was I just another try?
You’re a funny kind of guy
Don’t know what I’ll say when they ask me why
“It Ain’t Necessarily So” (1994)
I need an entire album that sounds like this, and I need it now. Between this, the duet of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” she did with Rod Stewart, and the thirty seconds in Tea With Mussolini when she sings “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and leaves me craving a full-length version, I wish I had the authority to make the album of my dreams a reality. Cher’s voice is perfectly suited for this style, and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” proves it. She completely masters this Gershwin song, teasing you with her vocals at first before full on belting it. It’s a great example of her ability to nail every genre she touches.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be sitting in my corner with this on repeat until I get my album.
Favorite lyrics: I take my gospel
Whenever it’s possible
With a teeny hint of salt
Is it too on the nose if I say this song is perfection? Of course it is. But I don’t care, because that’s exactly what this song is. And it’s exactly what ‘80s Rocker Cher is. I vividly remember my mom keeping a copy of the 1987 self-titled album on cassette in the car when I was a kid, inevitably leading to sing-a-longs as we drove around town. Since then, Cher has been one of my go-to albums, and is more often than not what I default to when I can’t make a listening decision, because it never fails to make me want to break out my best Cher impression (which is honestly terrible) and belt it. “Perfection” is straight up fierce, which is kind of amazing once you realize what the song’s about. How does she make a song about loneliness in the face of success such a rock out number? As I said before, Cher is magic.
Side note: Do the background vocalists sound familiar? They should; Darlene Love and Bonnie Tyler serve up the killer intro and harmonies.
Favorite lyrics: When love is here today
And then it’s gone today
You got a list of lovers looking like a résumé
You gotta take some time
To make it something real
I guess that when it comes to love
I just don’t know how to feel
“Boys & Girls” (1979)
Prisoner is basically a bridge album to me. There are some remnants of Take Me Home’s disco vibe, but at the same time, she’s starting to move towards the Black Rose end of the spectrum. “Boys & Girls” is the moment of the album where she starts to cross that bridge, and what better way to do so than with a song about total debauchery? Everything clicks with this song, but my favorite thing is that you can either look at it as a promotion of said debauchery, or as Cher judging the hell out of you for doing shitty things. And judgey Cher just works so well for me.
Favorite lyrics: Feeling you’re cool is as good as looking it
Thinking you’re cool is as good as knowing it
Playing it cool’s as good as blowing it
“What About the Moonlight” (UK version, 1995)
I grew up thinking the US version of the It’s a Man’s World album was the only version. I don’t know whether to feel totally gypped for never knowing of the UK version back then, or grateful for the oddly cathartic experience I had as an adult of hearing the original version of an album I heavily relied on for solace. The UK album is clearly the superior version (the original mixes! The additional tracks! THE SPOKEN WORD INTRO/OUTRO TO “THE GUNMAN!” Why did you hold out on me, America?!), and “What About the Moonlight” is one of its strengths. Nothing against the remix, but the music of the UK version suits the lyrics so much better than the version that was released in the States. It’s beautifully understated, and allows Cher’s vocals to soar.
On a more personal note, I had to move back to my hometown in the summer of 2014 after having spent six years building a pretty great life in New York City. It was like starting again from square one, and I felt completely defeated. Thankfully, I was able to come back to the place I call home eight months later, but the day I unpacked my things in Pennsylvania, I wrote down a chunk of lyrics from “What About the Moonlight” and put them in a place where I could look to them whenever I needed to remind myself that things would eventually work out. I looked to those lyrics a lot during those months, and it definitely helped.
Favorite lyrics: Nobody said it would be easy
To take a fall and stand
Just wrap your arms tight around me
And we’ll stumble together
Until we learn to dance
“Love & Pain” (1979)
Let’s set the stage here for a second: Take Me Home is meant to serve as Cher’s foray into disco music, and it works so well. We’re talking dance track after dance track after dance track here. And then “Love & Pain” happens, this dark ballad that puts the dance party on pause, and it sideswipes you in the best way. There are two additional tracks on the album that have this feel—one of which Cher wrote—but “Love & Pain” has the most impact for me because it came first in the track list; you’re satisfied to give yourself up to disco, but as soon as the change happens, you realize you want this style just as much. Remember that whole range thing I was talking about earlier? Yeah…case closed.
The above video comes from her ’79 TV special, Cher…and Other Fantasies (which is the greatest title for anything ever), and I know this has nothing to do with the music, but I have to say it: I am all for the wildly elaborate costumes she’s known for wearing, but her jeans look in this video is one of her most stunning to me.
Favorite lyrics: Well, there’s a hunger in my veins
And it’s driving me insane
So won’t you help me?
“Walk With Me” (1982)
I Paralyze is the lesser-known album of Cher’s ‘80s catalog, but it’s important nonetheless. With a duet with Meat Loaf already under her belt, people took notice of how she could rock it out (and let’s not forget Black Rose happened too). But I Paralyze definitely played a part in forming the foundation for Cher and Heart of Stone, which are responsible for songs like “I Found Someone” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.” What I love about “Walk With Me” is that it sounds like a song that she easily could have recorded in the ‘60s, but updated for the 80’s (“Rudy,” the album’s opening track, has that kind of feel too, but I only had fifteen spots to work with here). It serves as proof that she can adapt her sound at will, but she will always remember how she started out.
Favorite lyrics: Baby, baby I am here
When you can’t see me, see me through your tears
Feel me, feel me make it real for you
And you’ll make it, baby
“Many Rivers to Cross” (1992)
This feels like church to me. That’s literally the only thought I have when I hear this song: this is church. Maybe it’s because of the keyboards? The background vocals? The way she just slays the song and also my emotions? I don’t know, but I’m left speechless every time. “Many Rivers to Cross” is on a UK greatest hits compilation from the early ‘90s—which is great for whenever I need to feel all the things on my walk to work—but it also comes as a bonus feature on the Extravaganza: Live at the Mirage DVD, and I am so glad it is. It’s not that the song alone isn’t flawless; there’s just something about watching her perform it that elevates it to the next level.
Favorite lyrics: Many rivers to cross
And it’s only my will that keeps me alive
I’ve been licked and washed up for years
And I merely survive because of my pride
What are your favorite Cher songs? Did one of your favorites not make the list? Chances are it’s one of my favorites too, so let’s have a karaoke (Cher-aoke?) party in the comments.