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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.
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