Cher

Backstage

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Cher's fourth solo album feels like the end of the first chapter of Sonny & Cher. There are photos of the pair on-stage and interesting liner notes by Sonny Bono where Cher says to him matter-of-factly (in a transcribed phone conversation) "you do your best and hope they like it." Problem is, a good portion of the performances here lack that something special found on her hit records. John B. Sebastian's sparkle is absent from the lackluster reading of "Do You Believe in Magic?." It's a delightful arrangement with a vocal the singer mailed in. The fun presence on her first solo hit, "All I Really Want to Do," doesn't translate well when another Dylan composition, "Masters of War," is put on the table. Perhaps the song was describing behind-the-scenes at the Bono household? "Like a Rolling Stone" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" made it to her second and third albums, clarifying that the folksinger icon was an important ingredient in this phase of Cher's solo career. The counterculture couple gone mainstream certainly could have found a gem from Mr. Zimmerman's vast catalog that could have clicked on the charts. And speaking of clicking, Miriam Makeba's "The Click Song" and Bob West's "Song Called Children" have the emotion missing on the covers of Denny Laine's hit version of Milton Bennett and Larry Banks' "Go Now" and Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe." This was right before Rod Stewart got major airplay with the title, Mercury Records pushing the Hardin classic for Stewart until a Boston DJ flipped the single over and made "Maggie May" happen. Had Cher put some muscle into the popular tunes on this album, it could have been huge. The world was ready to hear the beautiful melody that is "Reason to Believe." She's great on Dr. John Creaux and Jessie Hill's "I Wasn't Ready" but drops the ball on the fantastic composition "Take Me for a Little While." Backstage is a mixed bag including some classy imports with their foreign-language titles -- amusing takes on "Carnival," a song interpreted by Miriam Makeba, and "The Impossible Dream." These pre-Snuff Garrett/Al Capps recordings are an essential part of the Sonny & Cher repertoire -- the final one before 3614 Jackson Highway leading up to the two-year gap ended with 1971's Sonny & Cher Live.

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