It is difficult to believe that when Cher first topped the charts, LBJ was in the White House and America was taking its first steps into the quagmire of Vietnam. She is one of an elite few in the annals of pop history who aptly deserves to be called a survivor. Her recent album, Closer to the Truth, reached the higher echelons of the Billboard charts, and she performs 49 dates across North America on her current tour. The recent deluge of pop diva darlings is mere perfumed farts in the wind compared to Cher. This lady was rocking it when Lady Gaga was a dystopian nightmare no one had thought of yet. She's won an Emmy, a Grammy, three Golden Globe Awards, and an Oscar and was the first woman to show her navel on national television.
In anticipation of her visit to the BB&T Center on May 17, what follows are some of Cher's defining moments, defying the odds.
By the beginning of '70s, "I Got You Babe" seemed very long ago, as Sonny and Cher became as fashionable as a beige Ford Edsel. However, the duo altered their trajectory with The Sonny and Cher Show. Her comedic timing outshone her costars and led to a rebirth of her solo career with hits such as "Dark Lady," "The Way of Love," and of course the classic "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," topping the charts.
However, the late '70s and early '80s were a difficult time for Cher commercially. Her dabbling in disco was a bit of a flop. She even went new wave, forming the band Black Rose, which quickly wilted after its self-titled debut went unnoticed. However, within this commercial nadir, there are some choice cuts that stand up well. Her 1975 album, Stars, isn't half bad and contains the Jackson Browne-penned "These Days," a lushly shimmering ballad that was made for MOR radio play. From the sessions came the never-released, and to this day highly sought-after, "Love Song." Cher's version of the track is hauntingly emotive, her distinctive vocals adding an unusually moody quality to her catalog. Even among the rubble of her foray into disco is the classic "Take Me Home," a song that proves that not all disco sucked. Its titular album cover shows Cher decked out as a scantily clad disco Viking; it remains one of the great fashion fads that never was.
From Elvis to Britney, pop stars in film have provided detailed lessons in anti-acting. The '80s offered some of the worst. The most memorable thing about David Bowie's performance in Labyrinth was some very tight trousers that showed every contour of his manhood. To this day, Madonna's name adorning a movie poster is as welcome as flatulence in a crowded elevator. However, while her musical career waned, Cher proved herself a surprisingly adept actor in the 1980s. Her acting lessons from Lee Strasberg immediately paid off with her well-received performance in Robert Altman's Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Further roles in Silkwood, The Witches of Eastwick, Mask, and Mermaids underscored that this was no fluke. She deserved her Oscar for 1987's Moonstruck, alone for the fact that she made it believable that someone could fall in love with Nicholas Cage's character, a performance that even by Cage's standards was rabidly ridiculous. Her outfits to the Oscars during this period were a wonderfully characteristic "f-you" to the Hollywood establishment to boot.
Cher's successful movie stardom reenergized her musical career, most notably 1989's "If I Could Turn Back Time." The original video showed the singer in a fishnet body stocking under a revealing black one-piece bathing suit, straddling 16-inch guns on a naval battleship surrounded by a crew of hormonal sailors. "If I Could Turn Back Time" is not Cher's greatest moment sonically, but the stadium-rock tune was a massive hit, reaching number three on the Billboard charts despite MTV refusing to air the controversial video until after 9 p.m. Allegedly, it upped naval recruitment. How disappointed those new recruits must have been when George Bush Sr. visited the ship in 1991.
A few years later came another lull that was dramatically halted by 1998's worldwide hit "Believe." Here the world was introduced to Auto-Tune, invented by an engineer who had worked for Exxon-Mobile and applied the same technology used to assess oil reserves in the Middle East to pitch sinking vocals. The slick application of the device to Cher's Eurodisco smash was the first in a wave of a phenomenon that has taken over radio pop like famished boll weevils on a 1920s Texan cotton crop. Everyone from Kanye West to Madonna to T-Pain has had his or her voice transformed into an angelic Stephen Hawking by the technology. It has helped sustain acts such as will.i.am and Ke$ha, artists whose Auto-Tuned drone is best heard after chiseling out the prefrontal cortex of one's brain. However, it brought Cher back into the limelight and nabbed her a Grammy. It helped her return to touring and got her an Emmy-nominated HBO special that was the broadcaster's highest-rated original show in 1998-99. Cher was back, and you better "Believe" it.