In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Sizzling 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my approach up into the current.
Lower than a minute into her inconceivable comeback smash, Cher shatters. The second occurs when she sings the road “I can’t break by.” On the phrase “can’t,” Cher’s voice atomizes, breaking right into a billion tiny little shards, earlier than coming again collectively. She appears like a glitching-out robotic, or like a child singing right into a fan. All all through “Imagine,” her first #1 hit in a quarter-century, it retains occurring. Cher’s voice falls to items, after which it resolves. When “Imagine” got here out in late 1998, nearly no one had ever heard a voice do this. A few a long time later, nearly each voice on pop radio would sound like that. The robots have taken over, and that course of begins with “Imagine.”
No one is fully sure whether or not “Imagine” was the primary #1 hit to make use of Auto-Tune, the pitch-correction software program that first hit the market in 1997. However “Imagine” is certainly the primary #1 hit to make its personal Auto-Tune use apparent, which suggests it was the primary to make use of this system mistaken. The entire thought behind Auto-Tune was that you simply weren’t supposed to note that it was there. Andy Hildebrand, the inventor of Auto-Tune, had performed flute as a younger man, after which he’d gone into science, incomes a PhD in electrical engineering. Hildebrand made a fortune in seismic knowledge processing, utilizing sound waves to search out underground oil deposits for corporations like Exxon. He retired at 40, after which he went again to music, tinkering round and inventing issues like a sampling synthesizer. At a cocktail party, a good friend’s spouse requested if Hildebrand may give you one thing that would assist her sing in tune, and Hildebrand had a lightbulb second.
The expertise that had as soon as helped Hildebrand map the subsurface, it turned out, may additionally shift vocal pitches, adjusting the sounds of voices in order that they may hit particular notes. That invention made issues quite a bit simpler for the music trade. It was a time-saver and a money-saver that saved producers from having to report vocal take after vocal take. Often, Auto-Tune modified these vocal sounds progressively, maintaining itself hidden in plain sight. For enjoyable, although, Hildebrand additionally included one thing referred to as the zero setting within the first model of Auto-Tune.
The zero setting modified the pitch of a vocal immediately, not progressively. It made voices sound unnatural — a chopped-up sequence of discrete vocal blips that may fracture aside when the voice naturally moved from one word to the following. Hidebrand didn’t suppose anybody would truly use the zero setting, however then “Imagine” got here out a yr after Hildebrand’s firm Antares first began promoting Auto-Tune, and it rapidly went on to overcome the world. In future editions of Auto-Tune, the customers’ guide referred to the zero setting because the “Cher impact.”
That form of Auto-Tune abuse is just one chapter in an extended story of pop-music vocal manipulation, and that story goes again past the delivery of rock ‘n’ roll to the early days of recorded pop music. Within the ’30s, bandleader Alvino Rey, the grandfather of Arcade Hearth’s Win and Will Butler, invented a form of talk-box. Rey’s spouse, the singer Luise King, may use her mouth to warp the sound of Rey’s metal electrical guitar. It sounded unusual and robotic, so Rey invented an onstage character, a freaky-looking guitar puppet referred to as Stringy, that would lip-sync King’s elements onstage.
All by pop historical past, completely different musicians have messed round with the human voice in comparable methods — echo, delay, multi-tracking. One of many very first Sizzling 100 chart-toppers was David Seville and the Chipmunks’ endlessly irritating “The Chipmunk Tune (Christmas Don’t Be Late).” Seville created the characters of the Chipmunks by rushing up the tape of his personal voice, turning it into three completely different high-pitched squeaks. Within the time of disco and electro, producers used talkboxes or vocoders to show voices into robotic hums. Within the late ’90s, home artists like Daft Punk and their offshoot Stardust introduced that sound again, and their vocoders labored as a form of retro-futurism.
When the British producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling put that zero-setting Auto-Tune impact on Cher’s voice, it was merely the most recent in an extended historical past of technology-enabled vocal mutation. I’ve to think about that Taylor and Rawling had been at the least partly impressed by the French filter-disco that was large in UK golf equipment on the time. Rob Dickens, the top of Warner Brothers’ UK workplace, had tasked Taylor and Rawlings with arising with some dance tracks for Cher. Cher hadn’t made a success in almost a decade, however she had an enormous homosexual fanbase, and Dickens thought that he may capitalize on that by bringing Cher to the membership. Cher was doubtful, however she went together with it. The plan labored higher than anybody may’ve anticipated, and it gave Cher the largest hit of her life.
When Cher received to #1 with “Imagine,” she was 52 years outdated, and she or he changed Starship’s Grace Slick because the oldest lady ever to sing lead on a Sizzling 100 chart-topper. (Cher nonetheless holds that report.) Cher had landed her first #1 hit greater than 33 years earlier, when she and her a lot older boyfriend Sonny Bono reached the highest with “I Acquired You Babe.” Cher was 19 when “I Acquired You Babe” reached #1, however her voice had existed on hit singles even earlier than then. Earlier than Sonny and Cher began their recording profession, Cher had labored as a backup session singer for Sonny’s good friend Phil Spector, singing on songs just like the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Love That Lovin’ Feeling.”
Sonny and Cher’s hits had dried up by the late ’60s, however the couple discovered a second profession wind within the early ’70s. After working as visitor hosts on The Merv Griffin Present, CBS gave the couple their very own actuality present, The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour. The present was a sensation, and it led to a bunch of solo hits for Cher. Between 1971 and 1974, Cher scored three completely different #1 hits, all of which misleadingly made her out to be some unique ethnicity. However after she topped the Sizzling 100 with “Darkish Girl” in 1974, Cher went 25 years with no #1 hit.
The identical yr that Cher launched “Darkish Girl,” she and Sonny Bono separated; they divorced a yr later. Each went on to host their very own unsuccessful selection reveals, after which they received again collectively to host one other one as a broken-up couple, which additionally didn’t do effectively. For years after the divorce, Sonny and Cher fought in courtroom over cash and little one custody. In 1975, Cher married Gregg Allman. They divorced 9 days later, however they remained a pair for some time, they usually had a child collectively. In addition they made music, however Cher’s mid-’70s rockers didn’t do effectively on the charts. She didn’t land one other top-10 hit till she signed with Casablanca and went full disco. Cher’s 1979 music “Take Me House” peaked at #8. (It’s a 4.)
Disco didn’t give Cher any form of sustained profession enhance. Within the late ’70s and early ’80s, Cher made a complete lot of cash because the in-house performer at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, however she didn’t just like the work. Going again to the ’60s, Cher had taken occasional film roles; she and Sonny made their display debut within the 1965 teensploitation flick Wild On The Seashore. In 1982, Cher determined that she wished to take appearing significantly, so she moved to New York to review with Lee Strasberg. Robert Altman forged Cher in his Broadway revival of Come Again To The 5 And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, after which he additionally forged her in his 1982 movie model of the identical film. Mike Nichols noticed her onstage, and he forged her reverse Meryl Streep in Silkwood. I’ve heard tales about folks laughing after they noticed Cher within the trailer for that film, however she did effectively sufficient to close folks up and to earn an Oscar nomination.
After Silkwood, Cher made extra massive films, typically with big-deal administrators — Masks with Peter Bogdanovich, The Witches Of Eastwick with George Miller. In 1987, Cher starred with a younger and already-nuts Nicolas Cage in Norman Jewison’s ridiculously charming romantic comedy Moonstruck, and she or he gained the Oscar for Greatest Actress, beating out Meryl Streep, Glenn Shut, Holly Hunter, and Sally Kirkland. I don’t know if anybody can ever deserve an Academy Award, however Moonstruck guidelines, and Cher guidelines in it.
After reaching the unlikely coup of full-on no-shit film stardom, Cher went again to music, making the huge and anthemic arena-rock that she’d lengthy wished to make. In 1987, eight years after “Take Me House,” Cher received again to the highest 10 when her model of “I Discovered Somebody,” a music that Michael Bolton had co-written for Laura Branigan, peaked at #10. (It’s a 7.)
In 1989, Cher launched Coronary heart Of Stone, the largest album of her profession to that time. Coronary heart Of Stone is top-shelf late-’80s company rock. It went triple platinum, and it launched three singles into the highest 10. The largest of these hits was the Diane Warren belter “If I Might Flip Again Time,” which was the primary time that Cher’s title ever actually impressed itself into my child mind. Within the music’s video, Cher famously straddled cannons and danced throughout a battleship deck in an ass-tattoo-baring thong whereas sailors cheered her on. (“If I Might Flip Again Time” peaked at #3; it’s a 9.)
Cher went into one other profession lull after Coronary heart Of Stone, and she or he didn’t land one other high 10 hit for almost a decade after “Simply Like Jesse James” peaked at #8. (That one is a 7.) Within the early ’90s, Cher got here down with persistent fatigue syndrome, which made appearing and recording troublesome. So she made a few health movies and have become an infomercial pitchwoman. That infomercial gig led to Christina Applegate clowning Cher on Saturday Night time Dwell.
In 1998, Cher’s ex-husband Sonny Bono, who’d gone on to turn out to be a Republican Congressman, died in a snowboarding accident on the age of 62, and Cher gave a tearful eulogy at his funeral. At that time, Cher was not a very related pop artist. Her earlier album, 1995’s It’s A Man’s World, bricked, and it solely despatched one single into the Sizzling 100. (“One By One” peaked at an anemic #52.) When Warner UK boss Rob Dickins received the concept that Cher ought to report a dance album, he signed her to the UK department of the label, and the concept was that her subsequent album would solely come out in Europe. Cher herself wasn’t into the concept of a dance album, since she didn’t suppose the style had any good songs. Dickins got down to discover one.
The British songwriter Brian Higgins, who ultimately based the manufacturing group Xenomania and made UK hits with teams just like the Sugababes and Women Aloud, had began writing “Imagine” years earlier, when he had a go-nowhere workplace job at a paper firm in Sussex. Ultimately, Higgins broke into the music enterprise. He co-wrote and co-produced 1997’s “All I Wanna Do,” a UK hit for Kylie Minogue’s sister Dannii. On a go to to the Warner workplace, Higgins bumped into Rob Dickins, who requested if he had any songs for Cher. Dickins despatched a tape over, and a model of “Imagine,” a music that Higgins had been tinkering with for years, caught Dickins’ consideration.
After “Imagine” hit, Rob Dickins informed The New York Instances what he’d heard within the music: “I believed: ‘Cher may do that refrain, particularly the lyrics, along with her non-public life the best way it’s. She’s gone by all these items.’” By that time, Brian Higgins had already enlisted a bunch of collaborators to work on “Imagine,” and it already had 4 songwriters. Dickins beloved the refrain however thought the verses had been trash. He informed Higgins that he was taking “Imagine” away from him: “You’ve carried out no justice to your personal music.” A bunch of different songwriters went to work on “Imagine” earlier than Dickins thought it was acceptable. By the point it reached #1, “Imagine” had six songwriters — not together with Cher, who’d modified at the least one line herself however who went uncredited.
One other staff that had submitted songs for the Cher album was the duo of Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling, two British producers who had additionally carried out some work with Dannii Minogue. For no matter cause, Dickins determined that the 2 of them ought to produce the majority of Cher’s Imagine album. She recorded just a few tracks with big-deal house-music names Todd Terry and Junior Vasquez, however a lot of the album got here from just a few weeks of periods in Taylor and Rawlings’ dumpy studio in Surrey. (Taylor and Rawlings’ work will seem on this column once more.)
When each Rob Dickins and Cher had been lastly happy with “Imagine,” it was a music about surviving a shitty breakup and imagining your life afterwards. Cher’s narrator sings your complete music to the one that’s left her. She’s crushed, unsure she’s robust sufficient to maintain going, however she involves a few massive epiphanies. By the point the music is over, she’s gotten it collectively sufficient to maneuver on: “I’ve had time to suppose it by/ And possibly I’m too good for you.” (Cher apparently wrote that line, and it’s one of the best line within the music.) She believes in life after love.
There’s a light-weight sprinkling of guitar in “Imagine,” however Taylor and Rawlings put collectively a lot of the observe within the digital program Cubase, and nearly every thing in there may be digital. The observe shamelessly dials up the sound of cheesed-out Euro-house, and Cher commits to that type. Cher had been making data for many years earlier than anybody may’ve even conceived of Auto-Tune, which weirdly makes her the right singer to carry that sound to the plenty. Cher belts the hell out of the refrain, and her voice is deep and wealthy and distinctive. However for no matter cause, it sounds higher when it’s been digitally diced into atoms.
Taylor and Rawlings tried out the zero impact Auto-Tune setting after they had been messing round with Cher’s vocals within the studio late one evening. They had been afraid that she would reject that filter immediately, however she beloved it, even demanding that the duo delete her unique vocal tracks. When Rob Dickins demanded that the impact be taken off of the vocals, Cher completely refused: “I mentioned, ‘You possibly can change that a part of it, over my useless physique!’ And that was the top of the dialogue. I mentioned to Mark earlier than I left, ‘Don’t let anybody contact this observe, or I’m going to tear your throat out.’” For some time, Taylor and Rawling lied concerning the Auto-Tune, claiming that they’d achieved that impact with a Digitech Talker vocoder pedal, however the reality ultimately got here out.
Lately, we principally bear in mind “Imagine” because the music that launched that freaky Auto-Tune impact into the world. For that alone, “Imagine” is vastly traditionally vital. I’d initially deliberate to incorporate a chapter on “Imagine” in my ebook, which comes out in November and highlights 20 pivotal #1 songs, however then I made a decision to commit that chapter to somebody who pushed the entire Auto-Tune factor even additional. The impact positively lends a bizarre novelty to “Imagine,” which is in any other case, I believe, a fairly common Euro-dance observe. It’s catchy, and I just like the interaction between Cher’s grand belting and the swooshing robotic sounds round her, however the music at all times sounded just a little skinny and brittle to me.
There have been higher dance tracks popping out within the late ’90s, however there weren’t any greater ones. “Imagine” went to #1 within the UK first, and when Warner determined to launch the observe in America, it took off simply the identical. When “Imagine” reached #1 right here, it adopted three chart-toppers from literal teenage women — Brandy, Britney Spears, Monica. Cher was nearly as outdated because the three of them put collectively. Britney Spears had ended her debut album Child One Extra Time with a canopy of “The Beat Goes On,” a music that Sonny and Cher had launched all the best way again in 1967. Cher was a relic, a boomer icon. With “Imagine,” she didn’t simply compete with the brand new wave of teenage pop stars; she beat them. Billboard ultimately named “Imagine” the largest hit of 1999. (Because it occurs, The Matrix opened in theaters whereas “Imagine” sat at #1 within the US. The pre-Y2K zeitgeist was very into the concept of “what if every thing actual is actually faux as a result of expertise?”)
The Imagine album went quadruple platinum, changing Coronary heart Of Stone as Cher’s greatest report. Imagine bought though it was just about a one-song report; the follow-up single “Sturdy Sufficient,” virtually a “Imagine” sequel, peaked at #57. Since then, Cher has solely made the Sizzling 100 as soon as, when her 2002 single “Tune For The Lonely” peaked at #85.
However Cher has been doing simply fantastic with out pop hits. She made some huge cash touring behind “Imagine,” after which she made extra when she returned to Las Vegas. She retired after which unretired a few years later. She acted alongside Christina Aguilera, a singer who will quickly seem on this column, within the 2010 bomb Burlesque. She sang on the Wu-Tang Clan album that solely exists as a single copy, the one which Martin Shkreli purchased for thousands and thousands. She reunited with Meryl Streep in 2018’s Mamma Mia! Right here We Go Once more, and she or he launched a fairly profitable tie-in album of ABBA covers. She’s a humorous left-leaning weirdo on Twitter.
Cher is now 76 years outdated, and she or he’s most likely not about to mount one other pop-chart comeback. However she’s been round for thus lengthy and made so many unlikely comebacks previously that it doesn’t make sense to rely her out utterly. If Cher by no means makes one other hit, she’s nonetheless the individual with the longest hole between #1 hits in Billboard historical past, and it’s onerous to think about anybody else breaking that report anytime quickly. She’s additionally the one that launched the world to robotized Auto-Tune vocals. That doesn’t essentially make her a hero or a villain, but it surely does make her a determine of huge significance.