Half Breed – Cher
Number one in New Zealand 9 November – 16 November, 1973
I suppose it’s not really surprising that Cher’s autobiography The First Time is based around a gimmick. Each entry is supposed to be about the first time she did something, presumably with the deliberately sexual connotation of what “your first time” usually means. So we get a chapter on her first kiss, the first time she met Sonny, the first time she made a recording, and so on. I say that it’s not surprising because I think that if you were going to look for an overall theme in Cher’s music career gimmickry would be about right.
From the start of her career the fact that she was a double act with her husband and that they seemed such an odd couple sort of seems like a gimmick, and the Sonny and Cher Show was a series of gimmicks strung together for laughs. Cher’s hit songs were often a bit gimmicky too. Their first and only enduring hit I Got You Babe (1965) played nicely on the fact that they actually were a couple, and made reference to the then new fad of the hippy. The hippy thing was a gimmick but the song was simple and sincere and I suppose that is why it has lasted. Cher’s later gimmicks were less attractive. I think a whole generation of boys have been emotionally damaged by seeing Cher try to turn back time, and her pioneering use of the electronic voice on Believe has spawned a generation of synthesised, plastic, pop wannabes.
Even though Cher’s autobiography (as told to Jeff Coplon – he either wasn’t listening properly, or was drunk at the time) is incoherent, and gimmicky, and superficial, the woman telling the story comes through not unattractively. Her relationship with Sonny has clearly been the defining one of her life, and it sounds like they had great fun together for ten years. Although Sonny wasn’t much to look at he clearly radiated charisma.
I was fascinated by Son from the moment he walked through the door. And I actually thought to myself, Something is different now. You’re never going to be the same. As he walked through the coffee shop, smiling, Son immediately became the centre of attention. I could see that everyone liked him.
The First Time
That meeting was in 1962 and Cher was sixteen. Something else had happened to Cher in 1962: she had met Warren Beatty. Warren doesn’t come across too well as he passes through Cher’s story. He appears as a twenty-five year old movie star running a sixteen year old girl’s car off the road and then putting the moves on her. All class.
Sonny appears to have been fairly ambitious, and was a hanger-on of Phil Spector. I was surprised to find out that Sonny and Cher were background singers on You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, Da Doo Ron Ron, and By My Baby, but by far the best story in the book comes after Sonny and Cher have become famous and are invited around to Salvador Dali’s suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York:
We walked into what looked like a sex scene in a Fellini movie. Four or five strange people were sitting around the living room, including one chick who had her breasts right out there in a see-through blouse…. I sat down in a big plush armchair and tried to look as if nothing fazed me, but something was poking me. I reached behind me and found what I thought was a rubber bath toy: a cute little fish, with a remote control gizmo that moved its tail back and forth. Dali smiled at me. Then he spoke the only English he would speak all night: “It’s wonderful if you place it on your clitoris.”
The unhappy gathering went out to dinner.
I was seated next to a woman named Ultraviolet. She was dressed in a velvet skirt and man’s shirt and tie, and she kept rubbing my leg with her walking stick…. Less than ten minutes after we had sat down, [Dali] turned to us and said, “Excuse me, but we forgot we have a previous engagement.” And then his group got up, moved to another table, sat down, and ordered dinner.
I have never read a biography of Dali but I’m picking that he got beaten up a lot at school.
In 1973 Half Breed was a brief number one in the USA, Canada and New Zealand. At first the video seems a piece of inspired tack, and then after about thirty seconds you realise that nothing is going to happen. Youtube “commentators” make suggestive comments about wanting to be the horse, but this video is about as erotically charged as a pair of bloomers. The song’s story is this:
My father married a pure Cherokee
My mother’s people were ashamed of me
The indians said I was white by law
The White Man always called me “Indian Squaw”
The troubled young lady at the centre of this story seems to have resolved her identity crisis by wearing sequins. Oh, and sleeping with lots of guys. Cher is half Armenian by the way – just in case you thought there might be some autobiographical reference in the song.
As a comment on the state of race relations in the USA in 1973 Cher’s song is not a particularly incisive one. In fact, given the events of that year for American Indians, Cher’s gimmick this time was in fairly bad taste.
In February of 1973 a group of American Indians (a group called AIM) had seized a church and a trading post and begun a seventy-one day seige at Wounded Knee. Their protest appears to have been worthy and legitimate although a little mismanaged. In March, while the seige was still on, Sacheen Littlefeather went to the Oscars instead of Marlon Brando, and when his name was read out as the winner for best actor (The Godfather) she went up on stage on his behalf and stated that owing to the “poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry” Mr. Brando would not accept the award. (Sacheen Littlefeather’s other claim to fame was winning Miss American Vampire, 1970.)
One of the things that bothered members of AIM was how American Indians were portrayed in American culture. The author of the article below for example thinks that this kind of logo might be slightly racist,
During the past couple of seasons, there has been an increasing wave of controversy regarding the names of professional sports teams like the Atlanta “Braves,” Cleveland “Indians,” Washington “Redskins,” and Kansas City “Chiefs.”
Thankfully, he has a handy solution.
First, as a counterpart to the Redskins, we need an NFL team called “Niggers” to honor Afro-Americans…. And why stop there? There are plenty of other groups to include. “Hispanics?” They can be “represented” by the Galveston “Greasers” and the San Diego “Spics,” …. Asian Americans? How about the “slopes,” “Dinks,” “Gooks,” and “Zipperheads?”
I’m guessing the leaders of AIM weren’t regular Sonny and Cher Show viewers.
At least, I hope they weren’t.
This post is part of a series about the number one songs of 1973 in New Zealand. The series can be found here.