Browse by Title
A B C D E F G
H I J K L M N
O P Q R S T U
V W X Y Z #  




Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves

by

Cher



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This was Cher's first #1 solo hit, and part of a big comeback. 1967 was the last time she had a hit either on her own or with Sonny & Cher. She released a financially disastrous movie in 1969 called Chastity, and that same year released an album that tanked. That year she and Sonny revived their nightclub act, which Cher credits with improving her vocal skills. In 1971 the couple got a deal for their own variety show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and Cher got a record deal. The show launched in August and was a ratings success; "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves" came out in September, and in early November, it became the #1 song in America for two weeks. The show stayed on the air until 1974, and Cher charted 6 more times in the '70s before a career lull that set the stage for an even more remarkable comeback in the late '80s.
This was written by a music producer named Bob Stone, who also wrote Dottie West's 1981 Country hit "Are You Happy Baby?" Cher's producer was Snuff Garrett, who was known for hiring Phil Spector to work at Liberty Records. Garrett was looking for a song that would accentuate Cher's husky voice and exotic image, and Stone delivered it. The song was originally titled "Gypsies and White Trash," but Garrett had Stone revise it to make the title less offensive.
The song is the tale of a girl (the narrator) who was "born in the wagon of a traveling show," where her mother works as a dancer and her father does anything possible to earn money. When the girl is 16, her family takes in a 21-year-old man south of Mobile (located in Alabama). The young man and the girl have an affair, the girl says she's "in trouble" 3 months later, and the man disappears. The girl follows in her mother's footsteps of dancing in the show and has a daughter that is born in the exact same location as she was.
Snuff Garrett produced this song using members of the famous Los Angeles collective of studio musicians. Carol Kaye played bass on the track, but what other specific musicians were involved is cloudy because they are not credited on the album. Garrett, speaking in the Wrecking Crew documentary, made it clear what was on his mind during these productions. Said Garrett: "When I was in the studio, at the end of the day, I'd run a playback right away. And I'd go over what I'd cut and how I felt about it. And when I smell money, that's what I came there for. To make some money. If you make money, you get asked back. That's all I ever knew about it. I never looked at the aesthetics of it or anything. My gut was a hell of a lot smarter than my head was. And when I felt I had a hit, well, 75% of the time I had a hit. It's all I went there for. I was taught if you weren't in the top ten or headed for the top ten, you're not supposed to be on this earth."
This song was featured in two episodes of The Simpsons, one during the second season and one during the fourteenth.
The video for this song was Cher's first music video. It was a recorded performance on the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. A second video was made later on. In both versions, Cher sings in front of a house wagon in some scenes and in front of a fire in others. In the second version, dancing female gypsies are featured. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA, for all above)
Nirvana covered this song in 1987 and changed some of the lyrics. Inkubus Sukkubus covered it in 2001.
This also reached #1 in Canada and France. After the success of the song, the album title was changed from Cher to Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves.
Cher
Cher Artistfacts
More Cher songs
More songs with occupations in the title
More songs about being misunderstood
More songs used on The Simpsons
More songs that had different titles when they started

Comments (7):

I agree with KAT. Karen, you're right as well. More than likely the "dancing" was more along the lines of strip-dancing, and the mother (and later the narrator) were both prostitutes, along with many of the other women in the "traveling show".

Another possibility of this song: The gypsies, tramps and thieves are running a traveling show. I'm thinking along the lines of a carnival or fair. Don't know if they're common in other regions, but here in the South (where the song does take place...Mobile, Memphis), we have small amusement parks that are set up in large parking lots, usually in a mall parking lot or in a shopping center parking lot. The carnival/fair/amusement park takes up maybe no more than half an acre, or maybe about 100 parking spaces (in a lot of over 1,000 spaces), with the typical rides and games.

Most of these are family-run. One of the biggest is McNair. They'd usually stay in tents or RVs parked elsewhere, and then run the rides and games in the daytime and evening. Most people would come at night, play the games and ride the rides, hence "laying their money down".

Of course, with it being just the men, then the entertainment is more adult-oriented: booze, sex, gambling, and quite possibly, drugs.
- Patrick, Bremen, GA
When I hear the phrase "lay your money down", I think of gambling. I have this whole mind-picture of a camp of gypsies: women dancing, various men doing different things, like gambling, selling booze, "preaching a little gospel", while "outsiders" come in and enjoy. Of course, I've been known for being a bit naive...
- Karen, Manchester, NH
I think ALL the comments, so far, are right.

Great song, with a real lot going on in the lyrics.

Yes Dale, it's very much about hypocricy.

Good comment Kristin, it is creepy and haunting - nut really damn catchy too!

And no Dale, you're not the only one to think the men that "lay their money down" is a reference to prostitution. I think the literal reading of the lyric is that the men are laying their money down every night for the dancing and the "bottles of Doctor Good", but there's definitely the double meaning there - at least in my (dirty) mind.
- KAT, Adelaide, Australia
is it just me or does the bit that says about "the men....laying their money down" infer that the gypsies are prostitutes? Recently saw the song being sung by a bunch of 15 year old girls at a amateur dramtic production and suspected that is was only me that read this in the lyrics.
- Darren, Bedford, United Kingdom
An awesome classic! I think one of the most haunting and effective features of it was during an episode of The X-Files which was filmed almost entirely in black and white when Mulder and Scully were still together.
- Paul, Kennewick, WA
this record is kind of a bit of everything: creepy, sad, haunting, depressing...but overall, still a great song!
- Kristin, Bessemer, AL
I like the message: people are hypocrites.
- Dale, Santa Fe, NM
You have to to post comments.
Henry McCulloughHenry McCullough
The only Irishman to play at Woodstock (backing Joe Cocker), Henry was an early member of Paul McCartney's band Wings.
Jaret Reddick of Bowling for SoupJaret Reddick of Bowling for Soup
Is it goofy fun, or is there real meaning in these songs? And all about the Phineas and Ferb theme song.
Does Jimmy Page Worship The Devil? A Look at Satanism in RockDoes Jimmy Page Worship The Devil? A Look at Satanism in Rock
We ring the Hell's Bells to see what songs and rockers are sincere in their Satanism, and how much of it is an act.
Dean PitchfordDean Pitchford
Dean wrote the screenplay and lyrics to all the songs in Footloose. His other hits include "Fame" and "All The Man That I Need."