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Vanity Fare music re-issues

John Travolta and Cher have new compilations for listeners to check out

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Vanity Fare music re-issues

In the pet sematary we call pop culture, nothing can be counted on to stay dead. It’s unlikely their makers are gratified to see zombified reissues like The Best of John Travolta: Let Her In or Cher: The Casablanca Years lurching back across the highway, wiping the gravedigger’s dirt off their Studio 54 duds. And yet — besides putting a couple more gag gifts on the market — these digital resurrections do give pause for reflection on a greater death: that of the celebrity vanity recording career as top 10 staple.

VH1 could find no smarmier clip to spotlight in those American Bandstand rerun ads than a turtlenecked Travolta shaking his head: ”Gonna let her in…mm mm.” Yet this compilation of his two mid-’70s albums turns out to be slightly less painful than a rubber hose up the schnozz, if only because at least the pre-Greaser wasn’t trying too hard to push his slight, sweetish tenor beyond the most undemanding balladry. And when he crooned about ”the right time of the night for makin’ love,” you knew this fleeting inheritor of Bobby Sherman’s mantle meant the puppy kind; this was the last gasp of an era when sex symbols were allowed to sound so completely asexual.

”Not trying too hard” is an accusation no one will ever lob Cher the singer’s way. And with all due respect to the memory of Casablanca Records mogul Neil Bogart, The Casablanca Years as a title holds all the epochal allure of, say, Cher in the Time of Cholera. The deadly consistent disco thump and horribly arranged orchestrations of ’79 match Cher kill for overkill — though special credit must be awarded to the writing team that gave her ”Git Down (Guitar Groupie)” (”I’m a sucker for his wah-wah”) and ”Shoppin”’ (”While everyone else around is smokin’, tokin’, cokin’, I’ll be shoppin”’). As Cher increasingly turned her talents toward acting in the ’80s, the film world’s gain was the music world’s gain. Travolta: D- Casablanca Years: F+