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 at karaoke, dedicating it to his wife. It was used again in the season 14 episode "A Star Is Born Again," where it was sung by a mechanical Cher doll.
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.
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.
Grammar sticklers will notice the incorrect spelling of "Gypsys" in the title: It should be "Gypsies." In some instances, such as soundtrack listings, an alternate title with the correct spelling is used.
Cher isn't a fan of this song but includes it in a medley of her '70s hits in concert. When asked what it was like working with producer Snuff Garrett on the classic tune, Cher laughingly replied: "Oh, Snuffy was so funny and such a Texan... and he could do a whole album in a weekend. I'd get a vocal down and he'd go, 'Great, that's fine...' And we became good friends with Snuff and [his first wife] Yolanda, they were really sweet. Snuff was very proud of what he'd achieved and he was always telling you about it." (Rock's Backpages, 2001)
Vicki Lawrence covered this on her 1973 debut album, The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia, which was also produced by Snuff Garrett.
In the season 2 Gilmore Girls episode "The Roadtrip to Harvard," Lorelai is weirded out by a group of dentists singing the tune at a bed and breakfast. Also in the 1995 Animaniacs episode "This Pun For Hire," Dot recites the lyrics as her life story.
The song was also used in these TV shows:
Six Feet Under ("Knock, Knock" - 2001)
Charmed ("That '70s Episode" - 1999)
The X-Files ("The Post-Modern Prometheus" - 1997)