By David Browne
March 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher's Greatest Hits

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To: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame staff
From: Museum Curator
Re: Upcoming Symposiums
Date: March 2027

Dear Staff:

I’m pleased to report that our lecture series on ”Single-Moniker Heroes of the Rock Era” — focusing on such luminaries as Madonna, Prince, Sting, and Tennille — has generated ”rockin”’ interest from both the good people of Cleveland and the music community. In fact, it’s been such a ”smash hit” that the Hall has extended the event an extra week by adding one more symposium: ”Cher: One Name, Several Noses, Multiple Hits.”

Although speakers have not yet been determined, the syllabus will be If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher/Greatest Hits, a 1999 ”album” (see Hall of Fame library for explanation of antiquated format) that has been preprogrammed by Uniwarner-EMI Ltd. to be pumped into your home or office. This ”career overview” should be ample preparation for the following classes:

Gypsy, Tramp or Thief?: Cher and Popular Songcraft: Rock took many turns between 1960 and 2000, and this class will employ If I Could Turn Back Time as a vehicle for exploring those changes. The collection, sequenced in reverse chronological order (thereby turning back time — get it?), opens during the peak of the ”power ballad” (1985-1991), when performers with big voices and often bigger hair married expressions of emotional longing to melodramatic musical backdrops. Though a questionable genre, it did have its highlights, among them such Cher hits as ”Love and Understanding” and ”I Found Someone.” The popular ”disco” format is addressed in Cher’s appealing cookie-cutter 1979 hit ”Take Me Home.” The album then touches upon the heyday of the AM-radio story-song, which attendees can experience in 1971’s ”Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” and ”Dark Lady.” The folk-rock burble of the mid-’60s, with its nasal voices and middlebrow psychedelia, is evoked in ”I Got You Babe,” recorded with a U.S. congressman to whom Cher was once linked. (Alas, this compilation does not include her work with her 1980 rock band Black Rose, nor her end-of-century hit ”Believe.” Still, lecturers may use both examples to discuss how Cher attempted to extend her career.)

By giving her music (if not her personage) an occasional face-lift, Cher elbowed her way into the top 10 for more than three decades — far longer than any other ”boomer.” The results could be bra-zenly artificial, yet these recordings — notice the melodic craft of the ”verses” and the way they lead into undeniably powerful ”choruses” — are not only historically intriguing but extremely enjoyable.

Cher as Harbinger of the MP3 Era: Extensive research shows that Cher’s original long-playing recordings never held up. She shone solely in the singles format. In fact, at the time of its release, If I Could Turn Back Time was deemed ”the only Cher album worth owning” by Entertainment Weekly, the last popular-culture journal available in the wasteful print medium. In retrospect, Cher’s singles-oriented strategy was her salvation. Once MP3 took over the marketplace, with fans abandoning albums in favor of ”fragmented song bytes,” it came as little surprise that Cher was one of the few pre-millennial artists to flourish into the next century.

She Found Someone: Cher and Womanhood: As again demonstrated by If I Could Turn Back Time, Cher’s evolving musical persona paralleled women’s shifting roles. She was to the rock era what Jane Fonda was to movies and exercise. The public first heard Cher as subservient hippie pal (”I Got You Babe”), but it wasn’t long before the self-worth feminism of the ’70s was incorporated into such recordings as ”Half-Breed” (Cher as scorned semi-Native American) and ”Dark Lady” (Cher as scorned woman who guns down the title character). The sexual promiscuity of the late ’70s ran through ”Take Me Home,” just as the hardened-divorcee outlook of her generation came through in her steely, seductive ’80s hits ”We All Sleep Alone” and ”If I Could Turn Back Time.”

Lecturers can, at their discretion, mention how Cher’s high-profile love affairs invested the latter songs with more meaning than they were intended to have, and how those songs were more powerful for the way they tapped into her personal foibles. It’s no wonder that in March 1999, the aforementioned Entertainment Weekly gave If I Could Turn Back Time an A for its ”breadth,” and wrote that it contained ”pleasures so guilty, they deserved life imprisonment.” See you in class!

If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher's Greatest Hits

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