Cher delight, live Hackett and soul music

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 23, 2020
Photo by: Time Life The cover of the new "Cher" video collection.

Owls Head — The Best of Cher (Time Life, 9 DVDs, NR, 945 min.). Where else but on Cher’s variety show would one be able to see and hear Cher, Tina Turner and Kate Smith singing together? Or find out that Elton Joh is really funny as he sings and acts with Cher and Bette Midler? Now, “The Best of Cher” presents 10 classic episodes from 1975, as well as her TV specials of 1978 and 1979, plus rocking live concerts from 1991 and 1999 and the documentary, “Dear Mom, Love Cher.” The set also includes new interviews with Cher, costume designer Bob Mackie, executive producer George Schlatter and comedy icon/Cher friend Lily Tomlin. The extra topping on this sundae of a set is a 32-page booklet filled with photos and sketches of Mackie’s costume designs for Cher.

Cher, whose body Mackie says is perfect (even her armpits), first rose to fame as part of a singing act with her then-husband Sonny Bono in the 1960s. They topped the charts with “I Got You Babe” in 1965, sold more than 40 million records worldwide by the end of 1967 and starred together on “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” from 1971 to 1974 and on “The Sonny & Cher Show” in 1976. However, as Cher says in the new interview, she grew tired of being only an employee on the show instead of a true partner, so she left the show, even as she had left their marriage in 1975.

As a solo performer, Cher has been even more successful. During the run of “Cher” on TV, she topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “Half-Breed” and “Dark Lady.” To date, Cher has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. During the run of “Cher,” Cher became a fashion trendsetter due to the elaborate Mackie-designed costumes she wore on the show. While she has only won one Grammy Award, she also has won an Emmy Award, an Academy Award and three Golden Globe Awards.

In addition to the aforementioned stars, other guests on the 10 episodes of “Cher” included here are Flip Wilson, Raquel Welch, The Pointer Sisters, Teri Garr, Liberace, Linda Ronstadt, Ike & Tina Turner, Art Garfunkel, Jimmy Webb, then-husband Gregg Allman, Carol Burnett, Ray Charles and the Raelettes, and The Muppets.

The two TV specials are from 1978 and 1979. In the former, “Cher … Special,” and better of the two, Cher performs several songs from “West Side Story,” playing all the parts herself, including singing a quartet made up of herself. The guest star is Dolly Parton,” who performs “Two Floors Down” and, as part of a sort-of gospelish medley, “People Get Ready.” A disco segment includes a dance number to “Disco Inferno.” Unfortunately, the two numbers by The Tubes are rather tacky. Airing on March 7, 1979 was “Cher and Other Fantasies,” which basically is a show mostly about Mackie’s costumes, more than a dozen of which take center stage during “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” alone.

Both live shows were filmed in Las Vegas. The first, filmed at the Mirage on Feb. 4, 1991, is an all-out rock show, including a hot band. There is plenty of stage production too, including some sexy troupe dancing on “We All Sleep Alone” and the big-production “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” Cher also performs The Eagles’ “Take It To the Limit” and her hit “If I Could Turn Back Time,” with lots of video of her visiting sailors on the latter. For “Fire Down Below,” Cher manages to be on stage twice at the same time. The excellent show concludes with The Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ It To the Streets” and, set to a montage of images from throughout her career, “After All,” aka “The Wedding Song” that she recorded with Peter Cetera.

The second live show was filmed at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Aug. 28, 1999. This show’s covers include U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” Michael Bolton’s “I Found Someone” (which seems to contradict the previous song), Kathy Kirby’s “The Way of Love,” Marc Cohn’s excellent “Walking in Memphis” and Betty Everett’s old-time “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss).” Cher does her hits, “We All Sleep Alone,” “Half-Breed,” “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “Dark Lady” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.” There also are four dance interludes, two being flamenco around “Dove l’amore, a video of Cher’s “good moments” and a video/monologue about Cher’s movies.

New are a featurette, “Cher: Then & Now,” which includes excerpts from new interviews with Cher (15:05), Tomlin (13:04) and Mackie (25:36). Mackie points out that Cher and Carol Burnett are the same size, so he was able to reuse some costumes he made for Burnett’s show for Cher. Also new is an interview with producer Schlatter, who talks about the TV show’s guest stars (23:19).

Of lesser video quality are excerpts of episodes of the “Dick Cavett Show” and “Dinah!” (Dinah Shore) that have Cher as a guest in 1975. There is a 2018 excerpt from “The Late Late with James Corden,” as well as Cher’s singing the “National Anthem” at the Super Bowl (1999) and other brief extras.

“Dear Mom, Love Cher” is an hour-long documentary on the life of Cher’s mother, singer-actor-model Georgia Holt. The set is available from timelife.com. Grade: A

I Got You Babe: The Best of Sony & Cher (Time Life, 5 DVDs, NR, 8 hours 23 min.). First released in February and still available individually or as part of a deluxe version of the above Cher box set, this set includes 10 never-before-released episodes of the show, which ran from 1971 to 1074. Guest stars include Dick Clark, Jerry Lewis, Jim Nabors, Joe Namath, The Righteous Brothers, Dinah Shore, Carroll O’Connor, Art Carney, Chuck Berry and The Supremes. Extras include the pilot, part of “The Barbara McNair Show” in February 1970; a 1970 interview by Jerry Blavat on “Jerry’s Place”; and interviews with Frankie Avalon, producers Allan Blye and Chris Bearde and Cher.

Steve Hackett: Selling England By the Pound & Spectral Mornings: Live at Hammersmith (InsideOut, Blu-ray or standard DVD + 2 CDs, NR, 137 min.). Hackett was the guitarist for Genesis when the band recorded the album “Selling England By the Pound” in 1973. Hackett, in the accompanying 12-page color booklet, says the album is his favorite Genesis recording and he places his “Spectral Mornings” album of 1979, his third solo album, as another magical effort. Here, Hackett and the rest of Genesis Revisited perform all of “Selling England” and most of “Spectral Mornings,” as well as three selections from his most recent studio album, “At the Edge of Light” near the concert’s start and two from Genesis’ “Trick of the Tail” to conclude the show.

The band is excellent and includes Roger King on keyboards, Nad Sylvan on vocals (mostly “Selling England” numbers) and tambourine, Craig Bludell on drums, percussion and vocals, Rob Townshend on saxophone, woodwind, percussion etc., and James Reingold on Bass, Variax, 12-string and vocals. Amanda Lehmann sings on a few songs and Hackett’s brother, John, joins on flute for five “Spectral Mornings” numbers and the “Selling England” portion of the show.

After opening with “Every Day” from “Spectral Mornings,” Hackett and band play three selections from his new “At the Edge of Light,” which is Hackett’s 25th studio album. Highlights from “Spectral Mornings” are the softer, more folkish “The Virgin and the Gypsy,” an abbreviated version of “Tigermoth” and “Spectral Mornings,” performed with the seldom-played introduction. “The Red Flower of Tai Chi Blooms Everywhere” features acoustic guitar by Hackett and “Clocks – The Angel of Mons” appropriately opens with clock sounds and includes a drum solo (they still do those?).

After a break, which was 20 minutes the night of the show, the band launches into “Selling England By the pound,” which is a collection of short stories, fables and fairy tales. The album’s title comes from the first number, “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight.” One of the most famous songs from the album is “I Know I Like (In Your Wardrobe).” The bit-epic, lengthy “The Battle of Epping Forest” had been retired in the 1970s, so this is a rare performance of it. Also rare is “Déjà Vu,” an unfinished Peter Gabriel song that was rehearsed for “Selling England” but was never finished, until Hackett worked on it years later. Another highlight is the bright “The Cinema Show.”

“The Trick of the Tail” songs are “Dance on a Volcano” and the encore of “Los Endos.”

A nice bonus (33:53) is a behind-the-scenes look that shows Hackett meeting fans and each of the musicians talking about the show. Drummer Bludell is new to the group. We also get to meet Hackett’s mother, who appears backstage after the show. Grade A+

Burt Sugarman’s The Soul of The Midnight Special (Time Life, 5 DVDs, NR, 572 min.). One of my favorite musical periods in 1970s soul, which includes a heavy dose of the orchestrated Philly Sound, represented by such groups as The Spinners. This set is a wonderful delight as it presents live performances by more than a dozen of my favorite soul acts as performed on “The Midnight Special” TV show between February 1973 and December 1976.

Many of the acts – usually five men in matching suits – open a number by performing some choreographed dance moves, and the attire is often eye-popping. However, the music is always outstanding. Among the highlights are Curtis Mayfield tackling the situation of returning soldiers in “Back to the World,” The Spinners performing “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” and “One of a Kind (Love Affair),” Al Green’s striking, almost preaching like “Tired of Being Alone” and a unique take on “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Gladys Knight and The Pips having fun with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” The O’Jays doing their classics, “Back Stabber” and “Love Train,” and The Stylistics being smooth as always on “Betcha by Golly Wow.”

A rarity is an unrehearsed “Takes Two to Tango” by Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, who does a way-too-long intro to the song. Gladys Knight and B.B. King do “The Thrill Is Gone” together. Also performing are Al Wilson, Barry White, Bill Withers, Billy Preston, Blue Magic, Bobby Womack, Chuck Berry, Earth, Wind & Fire, George Benson, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, James Brown (3 dynamite numbers), Johnny Taylor, Kool & The Gang, LaBelle, Love Unlimited Orchestra, Minnie Riperton, the Ohio Players, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sly & the Family Stone (4 all-time favorites), The Brothers Johnson. The Chi-Lites, The Main Ingredient, The Manhattans, The Miracles, The Staple Singers, The Sylvers and Wilson Pickett.

The acts are usually represented by two performances from a show and often two shows. For Green’s performance, triple screens are used. Among the hosts are Low Rawls, Ray Charles, The Bee Gees, Mayfield and Paul Williams (who talks about choreography with The Stylistics and makes fun of his own shortness).

A nice addition are exclusive interviews with Brown, Knight, Patti LaBelle, Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, The O’Jays (22 min.), Russell Thompkins Jr. of The Stylistics, Womack, Ted Mills of Blue Magic, producer-songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Gerald Alston, The Manhattans and Benson. Grade: A

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