Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Forgotten Hits Musical History Lesson ... And Sharing Some New-Found Respect For Cher

Got an interesting letter from one of our readers the other day that REALLY provided some food for thought this past week ... along with a WHOLE new level of respect and appreciation for the phenomena known as Cher.

For the complete lowdown on today's Forgotten Hits Music History Lesson, read on!

Hey Kent,
I was wondering if Cher had ever done a Christmas album? I certainly remember her singing Christmas songs on the old TV shows (which Paul Schafer on Letterman enjoys mocking once a year) but I don't recall her doing a Christmas record, aside from being a background singer on the Fantastic - Phil Spector Christmas album, my personal all-time favorite Christmas album!!

By the way, speaking of Cher, if one of her songs on the new "Burlesque" soundtrack becomes a hit, will that set some sort of record for having a hit in so many consecutive decades!!?
Orange, CT

I don't know of a specific album that Cher (or Sonny and Cher for that matter) ever recorded for Christmas. As you mentioned, they certainly performed holiday songs on their old CBS television series ... but I'm not aware of any special release done specifically for Christmas Maybe some of our readers can correct us if this is not accurate information.

We saw "Burlesque" opening weekend ... pretty much everything I figured it'd be ... let's face it, you don't go to a movie like that expecting a great storyline ... the hope is that the song material will be strong enough to carry the film ... and I believe it was. There aren't many singers out there who can belt out the range of styles that Christina Aguilera can ... and she more than made up for her lack of acting skills with one great vocal performance after another.

Cher sang TWO songs in the movie ("Welcome To Burlesque" and the appropriately titled "You Haven't Seen The Last Of Me"). She sounded in fine voice ... but was painful to watch ... so much facial plastic surgery has made it nearly impossible for Cher to emit ANY sense of passion or emotion ... she can barely move her mouth (which now contains two JUMBO-sized lips that would make even Mick Jagger envious!) Honestly, it's almost freakish ... as unnatural looking as anything I've ever seen. (I cannot help but wonder if she honestly believes in her own heart that this is an improvement of some sort ... truthfully, she looks like one of her own worst drag queen impersonators!)

But the girl can sing ... always could ... and she sounds fine in this film as well. A hit from "Burlesque" would give her Top Ten Hits in the '60's ("Bang Bang" and "You Better Sit Down Kids" as a solo artist, plus four more as one half of Sonny and Cher), the '70's ("Gypsys, Tramps And Thieves", "The Way Of Love" personal favorite ... , "Half Breed", "Dark Lady" and "Take Me Home" ... plus two more with Sonny and Cher), the '80's ("I Found Someone", "After All" ... her duet with Peter Cetera of Chicago ... "If I Could Turn Back Time" and "Just Like Jesse James" and the '90's (the chart-topper "Believe".) Cher charted ONCE in the 2000's, reaching #85 with "Song For The Lonely" in 2002 ... so if you mean total chart hits (and Cher scored a hit in the 2010's) that would mean an incredible SIX DECADES of hit music.

Now that's a pretty remarkable and amazing feat for ANY artist ... and I will admit that when first posed with the question, Cher would NOT have been one of the first artists I would have associated with accomplishing such an honor ... proof again, I guess, that she's been with us SO long now, we tend to take her career for granted. All in all, that's a pretty remarkable accomplishment and I, for one, am VERY impressed.

However, you raise a VERY good point ... what OTHER artists have even come CLOSE to this sort of achievement?

Right off the top of my head, I know that Paul McCartney has ALSO placed a record on the charts in each of these decades ... (he, too, is waiting for his first 2010's chart hit) ... Elvis NEARLY did it with charted hits in the '50's, '60's, '70's and '80's ... and a couple of "comeback remixes" in the 2000's ... but he failed to make the pop singles chart during the 1990's so at best he would "tie" for the number of decades ... but he would have a longer "start to finish" reign. Frank Sinatra failed to chart in the '90's so he wouldn't qualify to beat Cher in a "Decades Match".

Anybody else got any thoughts on this one?

Normally I would consult Fred Bronson, who used to write the Chart Beat Column for Billboard Magazine, as he was really proficient at keeping tabs on these types of career records ... but I've lost contact with him over the past few years. (Fred was always REALLY good about getting back to us in Forgotten Hits and, over the years, I offered him a few artist tidbits that eventually found their way into one of his publications ... so it was a really nice working relationship. Fred, if you're out there and you happen to see this, please drop me a note!!!)

Speaking of which, I also dropped a note to Gary Trust who currently helms that Chart Beat post at Billboard, but as of press time, I hadn't heard anything back from him as of yet. (I figure either he doesn't know ... or he's looking it up ... or he's going to use this in his OWN column ... or he's just going to COMPLETELY blow me off!!! lol I mean, what else can it be?!?! That covers pretty much EVERY option!!!)

I also sent emails to Joel Whitburn, Gary Theroux and Randy Price, three of the most knowledgeable chart authorities I know ... I was anxious to see what THEY come back with!) kk

Hi Kent,
For a quick response, I can’t think of anyone else, other than those two that you mentioned. Eddy Arnold might qualify on the Country Singles charts with 7 decades if you count his 12/25/1999 hit with LeAnn Rimes (however it was on the Sales chart and not on the main Singles chart (see my “Top Country Songs 1944-2005” edition). He did chart on the main Country Songs chart on 5/31/2008.
If I come up with anyone else, I’ll let you know.
And then ...
Kent ...
I just thought of two more.
Check these out:
The Isley Brothers (50s - 60s - 70s - 80s - 90s - 00s)
and Michael Jackson (if you count his hits with the Jackson 5) (60s - 70s - 80s - 90s - 00s - 10s).

I think we HAVE to count Michael Jackson ... and he's likely to have a few more chart hits in the 2010's despite the fact that he's gone now ... several more new releases are already planned, drawing from his unreleased archives. (Although, quite honestly, The Jackson Five just BARELY made it ... "I Want You Back" debuted on the charts in mid-November of 1969 ... but that DOES place Michael on the charts in EVERY decade since!)

And a chart hit in the 2010's would leapfrog The Isley Brothers ahead of EVERYBODY ... and it's conceivable that they could do it, too ... especially now that Ron Isley is free to record again! (See the related story below!):
Ron Isley Is A Free Man Making Music Again « WCBS-FM 101.1
Kent ...
You might get away with murder ...
But they'll ALWAYS get you for tax evasion.
Frank B.

I wouldn't have thought of The Isley Brothers on my own ... so, doing a quick check of Joel's list of Top 500 Billboard Artists (as published in his latest "Top Pop Singles" Book), I started the process of elimination based on artists that I thought MIGHT qualify:

The Bee Gees? Neil Diamond? Elton John?
Nope - nope - nope
Chicago? Aretha Franklin? The Rolling Stones?

Amazingly, nope - nope - nope!
How about Bob Dylan? Paul Simon? Gladys Knight?

Sorry, NONE of them made it.
The Beach Boys? Eric Clapton? The Eagles?

None of the above.
Rod Stewart?

(Even cheating and counting his '60's harmonica playing on the Millie Small hit "My Boy Lollipop", Stewart failed to reach the pop singles chart in the 2000's, despite a few successful album releases.)
Frank Sinatra couldn't do it either (although Ol' Blue Eyes DID have chart hits in the '40's, the '50's, the '60's, the '70's and the '80's.)
Diana Ross? Dionne Warwick? Linda Ronstadt? Jefferson Airplane / Starship? Bob Seger? Despite STELLAR careers, NONE of these artists put together a six-decade string of hit records.

While I figured that only a handful of artists had lengthy enough successful careers to qualify, I still wasn't convinced that we had captured them all ...

No one has had more of a roller-coaster career than Cher, who has been up and down more times than the Empire State Building elevator. If the lady Sonny Bono shaped into a star does manage a hit after this year ends, doing so will only mark one more remarkable oddity in the long and ever evolving career of one of pop music's most indestructible icons.
Amazon, by the way, lists a Sonny & Cher Christmas DVD. And Cher recorded "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" with Rosie O'Donnell for Rosie's 1999 Yuletide CD.
So who else charted in multiple decades? Well, here's a few unforgettable folks, each of whom cut tons of hits:
Louis Armstrong played cornet as one of Fletcher Williams' Blue Five on Eva Taylor's "Everybody Loves My Baby," which charted April 4, 1925. His first hit vocal (with May Alix) was "Big Butter and Egg Man," which charted for Louis and his Hot Five on April 9, 1927. Mr. Armstrong thus had hits in the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s. His death in 1971 contributed to his skipping the '70s, but there was ol' Satchmo again in 1988 with "What a Wonderful World" (which he'd actually cut in 1966). If Louis had been alive in 1988, he would have been 87 at the time.
Bing Crosby's first hit vocal arrived in June 1927: "Muddy Water," recorded with Paul Whiteman & his Orchestra. Bing therefore scored in the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s and '60s. (His "Little Drummer Boy" / "Peace on Earth" duet with David Bowie, although recorded in 1977, did not chart.)
Although Frank Sinatra recorded a #1 hit -- "All or Nothing At All" -- with Harry James' orchestra on September 17, 1939, the single did not become a hit (and million-seller) until after it was reissued in 1943. Sinatra's earliest charting hit as a vocalist was in April 1940: "Polka Dots and Moonbeams," recorded with Tommy Dorsey's big band.
As for Perry Como, his hitmaking career also extended back to the '30s. Como recorded a #2 hit on October 5, 1939 -- "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" with Ted Weems & his Orchestra -- but it did not chart until a movie came out by that title in 1947! Perry's earliest charting hit vocal was "Goody Goodbye," again with Weems' big band, which appeared on January 20, 1940. Como therefore had hits in the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s.
Who had the longest gap between charted hits? Probably ol' Sugar Throat, George Burns -- who charted (along with his wife, Gracie Allen) with the talking record "Burns & Allen Dialog Parts 1 and 2" in 1933. 47 years later -- in 1980, George returned to both the pop and country charts with "I Wish I Was Eighteen Again." Don't we all.
Say goodnight, Gracie.
-- Gary Theroux
A few more "close but no cigar" candidates here ... but NOBODY that has (or has the potential) to hit a six-decade continuous sweep.

Before you can definitively answer a question like this, you have to define your terms. Do you include an artist (like Paul McCartney) whose hit streak included records as a solo act, as part of duets and as a member of different groups? Or do you limit your scope to those individuals, duos or groups whose hits all featured the same artist billing?

Also, what constitutes a "hit"? Anything that made the pop charts? Or do you include the R&B and Country charts? And: singles only, or singles and albums? Or do you restrict it to just Top 40 pop singles, or Top 10 pop singles?

To me, the greatest accomplishment along these lines is Cher's streak of four consecutive decades with at least one Top 5 pop single in each (the '60s through the '90s). This applies even if you count only her solo releases and don't include those as part of Sonny and Cher. No other act can claim a streak that long of even Top 10 singles, all with the same artist billing.

Even if you extend the chart peak criterion to the Top 40, Frank Sinatra's streak ended in 1969 with "My Way" (his only other Top 40 single was "Theme From New York, New York" in 1980).

If you include all groupings an artist was a part of, as well as his or her solo records, then Paul McCartney does indeed have an impressive streak of 5 consecutive decades with one or more Top 10 records in each (the last being The Beatles' "Free As A Bird" in early 1996).

If you're including all songs that made the Hot 100 at any position, then Stevie Wonder's 2005 appearance at #96 (with "So What The Fuss") gives him a fifth consecutive decade, joining Sinatra, Cher, McCartney and George Harrison ("My Sweet Lord" re-entered the Hot 100 for a week in 2002).

I am not aware of any Christmas albums by Cher alone, although there is a DVD called Sonny & Cher's Christmas Collection, and she has appeared on a few various artists Christmas albums (e.g., A Rosie Christmas and Greatest Christmas Collection on TRX from 2009).
– Randy Price

A few good points here regarding "criteria", always a stickler point here in Forgotten Hits. Cher is unique in that she has achieved HER status as a SOLO artist, releasing hits in every decade under her own "singular" name.
But we'll cut some slack to McCartney and the aforementioned Michael Jackson, too ... let's face it, their group efforts at times eclipsed their solo work. (Too bad "Yesterday" wasn't released as a Paul McCartney SOLO single instead of putting The Beatles' name on the label!)

Unfortunately the recent release of Beatles music to iTunes doesn't earn Macca any new chart cred ... Billboard only charts NEW releases on its Top 100 Singles Chart, so the fact that twenty Beatles reissues would have certainly made the list at any other time, NONE of these recent "hits" will be added to The Beatles' list of accomplishments. (Meanwhile, the Cast of "Glee" earning their 100th chart hit single seems perfectly OK with everybody!!! Easy to do, I guess, if you release six new songs EVERY SINGLE WEEK ... and they only have to chart once!)
But don't feel too bad for Sir Paul ... between the re-release of The Beatles' completely remastered catalog and the interactive "Rock Band" game last year ... the continued success of "Love" in Las Vegas ... the revamping of his solo catalog beginning with the recently released, new-and-improved "Band On The Run" book and CD set ... extended tours these past few years ... and the iTunes coup last month ... I think Mr. McCartney has probably already earned back every single penny ... and more ... that he had to fork over to Heather Mills a couple of years ago!!!

Sticking STRICTLY to Billboard's Top 100 Pop Singles Chart, I missed Stevie Wonder who has, in fact, charted in each decade (at least once) since the 1960's. He, too, would be a viable candidate to chart again in the 2010's.

A bit more research came up with two others that everybody else missed ... but we have to rule out one of these acts on a "technicality".

Fleetwood Mac charted in every decade between the 1960's and the 2000's ... but their only 1960's Pop Singles Chart Hit, "Albatross", "bubbled under" on Billboard's Singles Chart at #104. On January 31, 1970, their single "Oh Well" debuted on Billboard's Pop Singles Chart and eventually rose to #55, becoming their first official Top 100 Hit. Unfortunately, despite an INCREDIBLE career, we've got to rule them out as a six-decade candidate.

But I DID find another artist who can make that claim ...

Santana (first as the band that took his name and then as the solo artist who "sat in" with any variety of "guest" vocalists and musicians) first hit The Pop Singles Chart in 1969 with their instrumental "Jingo", a #56 Hit on The Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart.

The 1970's were VERY good to Santana ... they scored seven Top 40 Hits that decade including standards like "Evil Ways", "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va", a song we watched Laurel and Hardy dance to a couple weeks ago here in Forgotten Hits.

The hits kept right on coming in the 1980's ... "Winning" and "Hold On" both made Billboard's Top 20. Then, in 1999, Carlos Santana had the biggest hit of his career, some THIRTY YEARS after his chart debut, when he teamed up with Rob Thomas of Matchbox Twenty and topped the charts for TWELVE WEEKS with the rock anthem "Smooth".

The 2000's brought Top Ten Hits like "Maria Maria" (with The Product G&B), "The Game Of Love" (with Michelle Branch) and "Why Don't You And I" (with Alex Band or Chad Kroeger). And Carlos seems perfectly poised to keep the streak going in the 2010's with a virtually unlimited source of ready and willing collaborators to help keep the streak alive!

GREAT question, Eddie ... and you made us ALL work for it to get you an answer ... but hey, today is one of those days where we ALL learned something new in Forgotten Hits ... even our team of acknowledged experts!!!
Thanks, everybody!!!