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Counting down 25 cover songs by a true original: Cher

Cher attended the 41st Annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington in December.
Cher attended the 41st Annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington in December. (Washington Post photo by Sarah L. Voisin)

When I say “Cher,” you might think “I Got You Babe,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” or perhaps “Believe.” But do you ever associate the pop goddess with Bob Dylan, the Kinks, or James Brown? It’s time to explore one of the most intriguing parts of Cher’s legacy: cover versions.

When you’ve been in the business for 55 years, you will inevitably perform songs made famous, or perhaps infamous, by other artists. Cher has plenty of these covers under her well-teased wigs. Bruce Springsteen? Yup. The Bee Gees? She’s covered them too. Cher comes to TD Garden Sunday night, promoting her latest, “Dancing Queen,” an album of Abba covers. Let’s take her arrival as an excuse to count down 25 of her cover versions (she’s recorded more than 70), from so-so to so fabulous. Time to flip our hair, lick our lips, and turn back time for this delicious slice of Cher history.

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25. “Rescue Me” (1974, originally a hit for Fontella Bass, 1965) — Cher’s bombastic approach is no match for the original Fontella Bass tour-de-force performance of this classic. Why couldn’t someone rescue Cher from this song?

24. “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” (2018, originally a hit for Abba, 1979) — Cher singing Abba? What could go wrong? Sadly, almost everything. Most of Cher’s “Dancing Queen” album of Abba covers sounds like a rushed visit to the studio backed by a karaoke machine.

23. “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” (1987, originally a hit for Cher, 1966) — How clever! Cher decided to cover her own song 21 years after it was a hit. In the process she took an emotionally tense childhood tale and tarted it up with over-the-top guitars, reducing it to hair metal schlock rock. Fittingly, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora produced this messy remake.

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22. “Fire & Rain” (1971, originally a hit for James Taylor, 1970) — Cher gives Taylor’s sweet little song a heavy Vegas sheen with some splashy orchestration. Her take is much more fire(works) than rain. It’s very easy to picture her singing this in a sequined jumpsuit on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.”

21. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (1973, originally a hit for the Bee Gees, 1971) — There is a huge disconnect between the lyrics and the vocals as Cher turns this Bee Gees mope-fest into a big, bizarre, brassy anthem.

20. “Ol’ Man River (1966, originally included in the musical “Show Boat,” 1927) — Next!

19. “My Love” (1973, originally a hit for Paul McCartney and Wings, 1973) — Cher struggled with subdued AM radio hits of the 1970s (see “Fire & Rain” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”). She’s a belter by nature and vocally stomps all over McCartney’s sweet little paean to wife Linda.

18. “The Long and Winding Road” (1973, originally a hit for the Beatles, 1970) — She puts her vibrato to good use here. When she launches into “The lo-o-o-o-o-n-n-g and winding r-o-o-o-o-o-a-d,” it’s as if a Cher impersonator is having a laugh at the dark lady’s expense. Good fun, but not a great fit for this song.

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17. “Fernando” (2018, originally a hit for Abba, 1976) — While most of Cher’s album of Abba covers sounds like a piecemeal rush job, her version of “Fernando” almost rivals the rebellious spirit of the original.

16. “Knock on Wood” (1976, originally a hit for Eddie Floyd, 1966) — Here is a shockingly good disco-funk interpretation of the song. Cher’s version plays with the syncopation of the original and swaps its urgency for seriously sensuous swagger.

15. “Hey Joe” (1967, originally a hit for Jimi Hendrix, 1967) — Welcome to the dangerous side of Cher. She sounds almost out of breath as she recounts this tale of love gone very, very wrong. We know Cher can deliver the drama on film; on “Hey Joe,” she did it through song.

14. “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” (1990, originally a hit for Betty Everett, 1964) — Perhaps Cher’s most successful cover, this cute version of “The Shoop Shoop Song” stays true to the original. Most importantly, it sounds like she’s having a lip-smacking good time with the flirty tune.

13. “Walking in Memphis” (1995, originally a hit for Marc Cohn, 1991) — Cher skimmed the Top 10 in the UK with a soulful take on Cohn’s milquetoast song, complete with a gospel choir. Naturally she sings rings around the choir and makes a rather mediocre song memorable in the process.

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12. “Do You Believe in Magic” (1968, originally a hit for the Lovin’ Spoonful, 1965) — A delicate and funky take on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s bubblegum original. With the tempo slowed down, Cher’s vocals lazily stretch out over the chorus. Her version of “Magic” is more of a witchy spell than a question of innocent love.

11. “Catch the Wind” (1966, originally a hit for Donovan, 1965) — On her second solo album, a young Cher believably took on a number of folk songs, including Donovan’s hit. While the original is a delicate wisp of a thing, Cher imbues it with urgency and power.

10. “I Found Someone” (1987, originally a hit for Laura Branigan, 1986) — Cher snatched Branigan’s very minor hit (which the late singer co-wrote with Michael Bolton), and turned it from a timid declaration into a sexy cougar anthem with a video that featured her 22-year-old boy toy, Rob Camilletti (a.k.a. Bagel Boy).

9. “Our Day Will Come” (1966, originally a hit for Ruby & the Romantics, 1963) — The original “Our Day” was prime supper club music, the musical equivalent of béarnaise sauce. Cher approaches it as an energetic and optimistic prediction backed by a subtle Bossa Nova beat.

8. “Take Me for a Little While” (1968, originally a hit for Evie Sands, 1965) — Most of Cher’s solo 1960s output is indistinguishable from her Sonny and Cher recordings. “Take Me” marks a sea change of style. She reveals her vulnerable side, and in the process makes us forget that she was part of the iconic pop duo.

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7. “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” (1995, originally a hit for James Brown, 1966) — This one is a pleasant shocker. Cher flips the script on Brown’s chauvinistic slow cooker. When Cher sings “Man made the cars to take us over the road/ Man made the trains to carry heavy loads,” you know the sexist proclamations are ridiculous — because they’re coming from Cher.

6. “Love Hurts” (1975, originally a hit for the Everly Brothers, 1960) — Cher plays the role of delicate, wounded sparrow on her reinvention of this oft-covered song. She re-recorded it in 1991 for the album of the same name with less successful results.

5. “The Man That Got Away” (1973, originally recorded by Judy Garland in 1954 for “A Star Is Born”) — Cher proved she could handle torch songs on her weekly variety show, so an album of American Songbook classics felt like a natural fit. Audiences didn’t agree and the album, called “Bittersweet White Light,” quickly faded. But Cher’s bluesy interpretation of “The Man That Got Away” offers a cheeky, 1970s take on Garland’s impassioned version.

4. “Sunny” (1966, originally a hit for Bobby Hebb, 1966) — Despite the fact that the spelling is slightly different, every note of Cher’s cover of “Sunny” sounds like a love letter to her then-husband Sonny Bono.

3. “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (1995, originally a hit for the Walker Brothers, 1966) — Cher goes deep on this one and matches the Walker Brothers’ mournful, broken-hearted pathos by hitting the chorus full-throttle, and then crumpling back to despondency when she cuts to the line “Lonely, without you baby.”

2. “For What It’s Worth” (1969, originally a hit for the Buffalo Springfield, 1967) — Cher’s take on the protest song comes from her 1969 album “3614 Jackson Highway.” Think of it as her “Dusty in Memphis” Muscle Shoals moment. Much like “Dusty in Memphis,” Cher’s “3614 Jackson Highway” was a flop when it was released. But the album is filled with gems such as “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” and “Cry Like a Baby.” This is one of her best, and most criminally overlooked efforts.

1. “All I Really Want to Do” (1965, originally recorded by Bob Dylan, 1964) — It was Cher versus the Byrds on this Dylan cover. Both entered the charts with their own versions of “All I Really Want to Do” the same week in 1965. Cher not only triumphed in the charts (her version landed at 15, the Byrds’ stalled at 40), but instead of copying Dylan’s playful tone, she approached the song like a Phil Spector, Wall of Sound spectacular. While the Byrds come off as detached storytellers, Cher’s version has true heart.


Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther