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Why Cher’s Christmas Album Is Already A Modern Classic
In Depth

Why Cher’s Christmas Album Is Already A Modern Classic

Taking even its creator by surprise, Cher’s Christmas album is as traditional as it is unexpected, bearing the pop icon’s stamp throughout.

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“I never wanted to do one,” Cher has said of recording a Christmas album. “I didn’t relate to it. I love Christmas, but I didn’t know how I was going to make it a Cher Christmas album.” However, after a bit of time to think – and by bringing in her own pop nous and celebrity phonebook – she succeeded brilliantly. Simply titled Christmas, Cher’s Christmas album is a blistering return to form for the singer, and her first album of new material for ten years.

Listen to Cher’s Christmas album here.

The idea: “What can I do that’s different?”

When Cher tweeted “Are you spending Christmas with me?” in September 2023, there was an immediate sense of anticipation – perhaps mixed with trepidation. Would Cher’s uniqueness be squashed under Santas, sleigh bells and other seasonal cliches?

It turns out that Cher herself shared these worries. “Everyone has done [a Christmas album],” she told The Guardian. “So, when my manager called and said, ‘We’d like you to do this,’ my immediate answer was, ‘No!’ He said, ‘Just think about it.’ So, I sat down and thought, What can I do that’s different?”

Mixing covers of older songs with brand-new material, Cher’s Christmas album reflects the season itself: tradition alongside freshly-wrapped presents. “I was taking things that I loved, that I’d heard, and that were brand new,” Cher has said of the record. “It seemed to work when all things were said and done.”

The beginning: “I thought, OK, that’s good”

Cher was still not completely convinced by the idea of recording a seasonal record until she heard the first proposed track for the album. Easily standing among the best Christmas songs of the modern era, DJ Play A Christmas Song was presented to her by one of its writers, Sarah Hudson. Cher fell for its glittery take on the season, more disco-ball than tinsel. “I thought, OK, that’s good,” she told Associated Press.

DJ Play A Christmas Song is a collaboration with producer Mark Taylor, with whom Cher also famously worked on her 1998 megahit, Believe. The yuletide track revisits Taylor and Cher’s most notable innovation: using Auto-Tune as an artistic form in pop. Previously only reserved for evening out wonky vocals, the production trick explored how aural bending and stretching could give an almost-alien quality to Cher’s famous voice.

The pair return to this uncanny valley on DJ Play A Christmas Song. It’s a pop banger, but definitely comes with teeth, as Cher jettisons the coziness of a fireside for a wild night out. “I wanna be dancing all night long,” she sings, before delivering a subtle reminder of her status as one of the world’s most pioneering LGBTQ+ musicians: “It’s tough outside, but it’s love in here.” Such sentiments chime perfectly with the singer’s fans, many of whom share Christmas with self-chosen families, finding their own place in a world that discriminates against them.

The cover versions: “I knew what I wanted to hear”

Sitting alongside the original songs penned for Cher’s Christmas album are some carefully chosen covers. “I knew what I wanted to hear,” Cher simply said. This means that very well-known tracks (such as Cher’s wonderful take on Santa Baby, the much-recorded Eartha Kitt classic) are rare. Instead, Cher dives into her own past, respectfully covering songs by fellow artists whose career also began in the 60s. A standout is her duet with Stevie Wonder, the pair re-recording What Christmas Means To Me, originally released on Wonder’s 1967 album Someday At Christmas.

Particularly poignant is Cher’s version of This Will Be Our Year, a track originally recorded by The Zombies for their seminal 1968 album, Odessey And Oracle. The song closes Cher’s Christmas album and is both a paean to an optimistic future and a suggestion of emerging from a dark past. Ignored when it was released, Odessey And Oracle has since been recognised as a melancholic, psychedelic classic. “At the time we made it,” The Zombies’ Rod Argent has said, “we would have thought it was complete craziness that the songs would resonate 50 years later.”

Please Come Home For Christmas, a smooth soul number originally cut in 1960 by Charles Brown, is another highlight. While also recorded by Eagles in 1978, Cher’s version is very different to both; she creates a slower, almost power-ballad feel on her take.

The Christmas get-together: “I wasn’t going to sing her song without her”

Cher’s very earliest start in music came as part of the producer Phil Spector’s roster of artists. As a high-school dropout in the early 60s, Cher sang backing vocals to support herself, and to gain experience. Cher’s voice can be heard on many Spector-produced classics, including The Ronettes’ Be My Baby and The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.

Cher was also part of the cast that created A Christmas Gift For You, the quintessential 1963 record that set the bar for the best Christmas albums to follow. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is one of that album’s undoubted favourites, sung by the powerful vocalist Darlene Love (with Cher uncredited on backing vocals). The two remained friends over the years, and Cher and Darlene have recreated Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) for Cher’s Christmas album. “With Darlene, I wasn’t going to sing her song without her,” Cher has said.

The new breed: “It might be my favourite song”

Perhaps the biggest surprise on Christmas is Drop Top Sleigh Ride, a duet with rapper Tyga. The collaboration came about through Alexander “AE” Edwards, the album’s music executive and Cher’s partner. The song needed a third verse, and Edwards asked his friend Tyga to help out. “I thought Alexander was twisting his arm [to do it],” Cher said. “But Alexander said, no. [Tyga] wanted to do it.

“I love it. It might be my favourite song,” she continued. “It’s also, like, no one is gonna think of me with that song somehow, and then when T comes on, everybody is like, ‘What is this?’”

The tribute: “I think about my mom all the time”

Cher has tagged her Chrismas album “Not your mother’s Christmas album!” But, at the same time, she has said that her own mother, Georgina Holt, would have loved it – and Cher has dedicated the whole record to her. Georgina was a singer-songwriter and actor; she died in 2022 at the age of 96.

“I think about my mom all the time but, I have to tell you, I don’t have a bit of regret that my mom is gone,” Cher has said, referencing the pain that Georgina was experiencing towards the end of her life. “My mom was such a vibrant woman.”

After initially needing to be convinced to embark on the project, Cher has become rightly proud of her Christmas album, viewing it as a career highlight: “It’s a very strange Christmas album. All the tracks are their own little islands. Nothing seems to go together, but when you hear it, it works!”

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