Odds & Ends – ‘A Woman’s Story’

Time for another installment of the ‘Odds & Ends’ feature I introduced some months ago with a blog post about the Crystals version of ‘I Wonder’. 

You may remember that this feature was meant as a means for writing a bit more in depth about some of the obscure Spector productions out there. You know, those that always get lost in the shuffle among ‘Be my Baby’, ‘You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ in the general write-ups about Phil Spector’s achievements.

Today, I’d like to dwell on one of the three sides Spector recorded with his old session singer from the 60s, Cherilyn Sarkisian, – or Cher, as the record-buying public came to know her.

In the early 60s Cher sang background vocals on numerous classic Spector cuts. As ‘Bonnie Jo Mason’ she even debuted on one of Spector’s sub-labels with the Pete Anders & Vinni Poncia-produced Beatles-knock-off ‘Ringo, I Love You’. All this was down to her relationship with Spector flunky Sonny Bono – the pair was soon to re-invent themselves as Sonny & Cher and find tremendous success with a very close adaptation of the formula that had worked so well for Spector in Gold Star studios.

Darlene Love, Phil Spector and Cher at a 60s Gold Star studios session.
Darlene Love, Phil Spector and Cher at a 60s Gold Star studios session.
Come the mid-70s, Cher was shortly reunited with Spector as a result of a new label, Warner-Spector, that the Tycoon of Teen set up with Warner Bros. Records in 1974. Cher was a Warner artist at the time and so it was decided that her distinctive voice and Spector’s trademark Wall of Sound would make a winning combination. But if the head honchos at Warner Bros. Records had fantasized about energetic, booming drums and throbbing rhythms jumping out of speakers, they were sorely disappointed!

Instead, the three tracks Cher and Spector recorded were super-slow and heart-wrenching odes to love that some have described as more of a dirge of sound than the well-known Wall of Sound. The tempo on ‘Baby, I Love You’ is almost non-existent, a duet with Harry Nilsson on ‘A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Every Day)’ was only a tad faster and brighter and with a Nilsson vocal sounding like a punched-in afterthought. And then there was ‘A Woman’s Story’ – the only new song and a co-write between Spector and his longtime friends, siblings April Stevens and Nino Tempo.

chernilsson

Let me emphasize that I’m a big fan of Spector’s 70s productions – I find something interesting in all of them and to these ears the very best of the bunch are just as good as his iconic 60s hits. 

‘A Woman’s Story’ is one of those stellar 70s productions as far as I’m concerned. Dark, brooding and enveloped in an otherworldly chorus, the song almost comes across as a requiem if not for the chorus where Cher declares that she’s finally found light at the end of the tunnel; love.

cher ws

Rather unusually, the lyrics dramatically tell the story of an down-on-her-luck former prostitute who’s ‘seen every room with a bed inside it.’ The production is extremely powerful, almost strangely mesmerizing in all its slow grandeur no doubt due to the dramatic contrast between Cher’s low register vocals and the eerie ghost-like backing vocals. The backing track is almost overpowered by the mass of vocals floating in and out but if you listen past those there are lots of interesting things going on in the background. The three Cher productions definitely heralded a new sound that Spector would work to perfection on Dion’s soon-to-follow ‘Born to Be with You’ LP.

Dion-Born-to-Be-With-You

Alas, the interesting pairing of Cher and Spector went nowhere. Despite a respectable promotional push, ‘A Woman’s Story’ backed with ‘Baby, I Love You’ failed to chart. In their book ‘Collecting Phil Spector’ John Fitzpatrick and James Fogerty write about how a quarrel between Spector and record executive David Geffen, Cher’s then-boyfriend, may have played a part in the single’s failure. But honestly, as great as ‘A Woman’s Story’ is, it is so unusual and ‘un-hit-like’ that it’s lack of chart success comes as no surprise. The single was even re-released in 1976 but still to no avail.

Ad for the new Warner-Spector single with 'A Woman's Story' on the A-side.
Ad for the new Warner-Spector single with ‘A Woman’s Story’ on the A-side.
So let’s dust off this fantastic production and enjoy this rare, extended mix of ‘A Woman’s Story’ found on a US promo single:

As a postscript, what Cher and Spector couldn’t do in the 70s, UK singer Marc Almond of Soft Cell-fame did in 1986. That year he released a cover version that, lyrics untouched, finally made the charts. It reached #41 on the UK Top 100. Here’s Almond’s version:

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Odds & Ends – ‘A Woman’s Story’”

  1. Like you I’ve always enjoyed Spector’s 70s productions. It’s a shame that most of these records didn’t do well at the time, because there was so much promise with this new version of the Wall of Sound. It seems that most of them (Cher, Dion, Jerri Bokeno and Darlene Love) are all highly regarded these days and that’s good! One side note: The Nilsson/Cher duet (A Love Like Yours) was actually recorded in October 1973 during the John Lennon ROCK’N’ROLL sessions on an off-night for John. Phil had apparently wanted John to sing it, but he couldn’t make the session at the last minute, and since Nilsson and Cher were already there, Phil pulled them into service!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for clearing that up, Steven. I actually wasn’t aware that ‘A Love Like Yours’ was recorded a little earlier during the Lennon sessions. That explains Nilsson’s involvement. By the way, I much prefer Cher’s and Nilsson’s version to Tina Turner’s from the River Deep album.

      Like

  2. I had a nice long comment about this wonderful record – and the internet connection crashed. Suffice it to say that this has been one of my favorites since I first heard the first bar of it; the slow throbbing yet cookin’ beat is unparalleled, and Cher, never my favorite singer although a favorite actor and personality, really nails it perfectly (in a way Dion couldn’t seem to get in his work with Spector – and I love Dion as a musician and singer). I also just found the extended version of the song about a year ago; now I know what that “early” fade on the 45 went!

    Thanks for posting this – maybe the song will pick upat least a few new folks to enjoy it.

    (PS – Marc Almond is oversouling, in my opinion; Cher almost seems to be talking the song as much as singing it and it has a real feeling of authenticity (even though we know it’s just a story).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You mentioned, John Fitzpatrick and James Fogerty wrote about how a quarrel between Spector and record executive David Geffen, Cher’s then-boyfriend, may have played a part in the single’s failure.

    I can’t see that. Woman’s Story was just not what was selling in those days. In fact most of Spector’s 70s productions “drag on” at a slow pace. I think he was trying to reinvent himself and the public was not buying it. One of the complaints by the industry during the 60s was his music tracks were too loud, so in the 70s he quieted the music and raised the lead vocals.

    If Cher had issued the “Here It Comes” instead of an unknown Jerri Bo Keno then it would have had more chance at chart success. Cher had just come off success (GOLD status) with Dark Lady and Half-Breed. Here It Comes just fits in better with those styles.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s