Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves
by Cher

Album: Cher (1971)
Charted: 4 1
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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 six 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" three 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.

    "When I was in the studio, at the end of the day, I'd run a playback right away," said Garrett. "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 percent 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 the Season 2 episode of The Simpsons, "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish," where a character sings it a karaoke, dedicating it to his wife.
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    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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Comments: 9

  • Susan from Atlanta, GeorgiaI've always liked this song. I think the people CALLING them gypsies (NOT GYPSYS like the title of the song misspells it), tramps and thieves is the whole point, Showgirlmimi -- the people in the towns will partake of their entertainment, but then put them down for what they do. I'm sorry your family has received such putdowns, but I'm glad tramps was not a label you've had to endure.
  • from UkI have always loved this song and wondered how it come about to be written. My mother and her mother and her mother before her were born in wagons of travelling shows in the UK. However I want to point out they were certainly not prostitutes. They were travelling bioscope, menagerie, equestrian etc. Over years the travelling shows were replaced by fairground rides. Laying the money down. Well to me this puts me in mind of my great great grandfather and his brother and indeed many other showmen who gambled heavily. In fact travelling shows were lost and won in gambling games. My family are travelling show people, not in fact gypsies. However we do know what it is like to be called gypsies and thieves. Must say were never labeled tramps though.
  • Patrick from Bremen, GaI 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.
  • Karen from Manchester, NhWhen 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...
  • Kat from Adelaide, AustraliaI 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.
  • Darren from Bedford, United Kingdomis 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.
  • Paul from Kennewick, WaAn 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.
  • Kristin from Bessemer, Althis record is kind of a bit of everything: creepy, sad, haunting, depressing...but overall, still a great song!
  • Dale from Santa Fe, NmI like the message: people are hypocrites.
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