35 Years Ago: Cher Makes a Triumphant Return to Music
If you tell Cher she can't do something, chances are she'll set out to do it.
That was more or less why she abandoned music in the early '80s and made a move toward professional acting. The decision did not garner much support from those around her, who insisted Cher couldn't be a serious actress given that she was already a singer. Cher had dreamed of acting since she was a child, however, and believed she need not be one or the other.
"I feel I'm a team player," she told The New York Times in 1987, "but I'm really stubborn. I want to do what I want to do. I think that's an interesting thing about me."
Cher had released at least one album — sometimes two — nearly every single year through the '70s, most of which were met with disappointing commercial success. Her style ran a garbled gamut from pop to disco to soft rock, but nothing seemed to stick with listeners or critics. She released I Paralyze in 1982, before taking a break from music to pursue acting.
She hit the ground running and excelled, appearing in five films between 1982-87 — Silkwood (1983), Mask (1985), Suspect (1987), The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Moonstruck (1987). Critical praise followed for Cher's enigmatic and enthralling performances. She'd had little formal training, yet seemed to fit in naturally as a confident and perceptive screen actor.
Newly confident, Cher was well aware that being globally recognized wasn't necessarily the same thing as contributing something artistically meaningful to the world. "I understand how people with very mediocre talent can be the most famous people in the United States," she said. "I was already famous I don't know how many times before I tried to do anything good."
Her long journey to this new career high-water mark began with separating from Sonny Bono in 1975. She'd spent more than a decade as his wife, never really feeling like life was hers to control. "And then when I left him," she said in a 1988 interview, "I didn’t have the skills that a person needed, really, to take care of themselves in any fashion, career-wise, any kind of way, you know. I think I learned how to make out a check when I was 27. I never traveled alone, all kinds of weird things. I had to start from scratch and I made lots and lots of mistakes."
Watch Cher's Video for 'We All Sleep Alone'
Leaving Bono in search of herself was, as Cher once described it, "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life." It meant not only ending her marriage but ending the pop-culture phenomenon that was Sonny and Cher. "No decision that I ever had to make after that was that difficult, because of our intertwined relationship," she said in 1987, "but also, we were the most popular couple in America – and it was very difficult to disappoint America." Back in the country's good graces, Cher remained very much true to herself.
"My boyfriends are young, that's true. My clothes are flamboyant," she told the Times. "But am I a serious actress? I'm serious when I'm acting. Am I going to behave in a way that other people feel is appropriate? I'm at peace with myself."
John Kalodner from Geffen Records couldn't say the same. He continued urging Cher to revisit the idea of making music. "He just kept bothering me and saying 'You know, you really shouldn't stop singing,'" Cher later recalled. "I thought that maybe my best work was already past in singing."
A comeback project gained momentum, however, with submitted songs written by Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Jon Lind and Michael Bolton, among others. Cher re-entered the studio in 1986, with co-producer Peter Asher. The result was Cher, a shift back toward a rock-oriented sound that she said wouldn't have been made without the encouragement of Kalodner.
Challenges remained: Cher had been gone long enough that finding collaborators was sometimes difficult. "She was coming back and putting out a record and nobody wanted to work with her, no one wanted to write with her," Sambora told American Songwriter. "When Jon and I heard she was looking, we said 'We'd be honored.' She's such a legend."
Sambora, Bon Jovi and Child ended up co-writing "We All Sleep Alone," the second consecutive Top 20 single from Cher, following "I Found Someone."
“We wanted to write for other people," Bon Jovi added. "It was at the time when [Bryan] Adams was doing stuff for Tina Turner and a lot of that was happening. So we wanted to write with other people. That, to us, was your peers saying they liked your music."
Listen to Cher's 'Perfection'
The sessions also included Steve Lukather of Toto, Tony Levin of King Crimson, Bill Payne of Little Feat and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. Two more notable guests, Bonnie Tyler and Darlene Love, appeared as backing vocalists on "Perfection," a song written by Child and Diane Warren that hinted at Cher's sometimes-detrimental tendency to overachieve: "Be the best, prove them wrong / A winner's work is never done."
"Obviously," she said in 1988, "it was written about me: 'I've worn my pride as protection.' That certainly is a perfect line."
Cher also revisited "Bang Bang," a No. 2 hit penned by her former husband that first appeared on her 1966 album The Sonny Side of Cher. It was a unique nod back to her previous life, one that hadn't afforded Cher the kind of personal or creative freedom she craved. "When I lived with Sonny, I was very uninteresting because I just did what he wanted," she said, "and I thought that’s what being a good wife was: making him happy and doing what he wanted. And then I realized that I hated it."
Released on Nov. 10, 1987, Cher became her first-ever platinum-selling LP. To some degree, Cher wasn't surprised: "I honestly think it's the best album I've ever done," she said back then.
Promotional appearances for the record included a stop on Late Night With David Letterman, where Cher performed "I Found Someone," a song Michael Bolton keyboardist Mark Mangold had originally written for Laura Branigan. She was also joined by Bono for a duet on their signature song "I Got You Babe," in what would be their last appearance together before her ex-husband died in 1998.
This album's No. 32 finish on the Billboard chart was her highest since the '70s when Cher began an extended period of learning about herself through trial and error. She said that the search would continue.
"I know I've done all this stuff, and I've done it so quickly that I have to kind of figure out what's lacking and who do I want to be," Cher told the Times. "It's much more important to like yourself than to have everybody else like you."
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