Cher Wants The Young American.
American television and David Bowie.
The year is 1975. David Bowie has just wrapped filming on his first feature film, Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie has also put the finishing touches on his latest record Young Americans —his ninth studio release, “the definitive plastic soul record.” Bowie is breaking the charts with his latest single “Fame,” his first hit single in America, climbing effortlessly to number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100; it became one of the most succesful singles of the year, remaining at number 7. David Bowie seems to be doing extremely well but…
David Bowie is losing himself.
The avant-Garde performer is trapped inside the rat’s nest of Los Angeles, hiding himself away in his rented home, suffering from crippling substance abuse and depression, unsure of who he is anymore. When he looks in the mirror, does he see the lonely and stranded extraterrestrial alien Thomas Newton, losing hope to continue his indefatigable search; does he see his latest stage persona the Thin White Duke, a strikingly pale and slim vision of European excellence whose curiosity is piqued at the mystique and wonder of the Occult; or lastly, does he see David Jones, the Brixton-bred musician oozing with the lasting idea of doing something artistically important, leaving a legacy.
The only person who will ever truly know what his life was like at that moment in time would be the Starman himself. But, if there is one thing that holds true and forever stands the test of time, it’s the power of film. Through footage the beauty of youth is immortalized, and although youth is temporary in humanity, it is also something that will last forever once captured onto film. It is a privilege to see such performances during a time when the man could’ve very well taken his last breath — for many times the late artist spoke of how he remembered little to nothing at all from ‘74 - ‘76 due to his heavy drug use. One of my favorite Bowie performances showcased on American television that year was a long, bouncy and flavorful medley with fellow artist Cher.
Bowie’s singles were received so well among the public, he went on to promo his latest work on shows like Soul Train and The Cher Show. A personal favorite was a “Young Americans” medley with Cher, which was aired on November 23, 1975.
In a video clip featuring Bowie talking about various televised interviews and performances during the seventies, he recalls his time working with Cher. Bowie’s gaze is averted in the middle distance somewhere, actively reminiscing no doubt about the ‘70s vision that was Cher. “I remember she was this long tall bird with black hair…she’s got very piercing eyes, a rather doleful expression,” the singer states with a smile. “I remember she warmed up when we sang together and she seemed kind of remote and I’m not surprised that she was remote…”
During 1975, Bowie was immersed in his role as the Thin White Duke — at least, the pre-stage of it (Station To Station wasn’t released until 1976). He donned tequila sunrise colored hair, his skin was a porcelain white, and his figure all too thin.
“…I was probably this crazed anorexic figure walking in; she wouldn’t even know what to make of me.”
The glitzy duo starts off the medley with Bowie’s “Young Americans,” the band setting the rhythm with the beat of the reverberating drums and soulful horns. The pair gently sway to the rhythm, working up their gusto, tapping their high heeled shoes simultaneously on the stage, getting comfortably close, their harmonic voices then soaring through each note. Bowie’s voice has a slight raspy edge to it, the perfect lemon twist of rock star meets soul man. Cher seems like she can make any tune a hit, looking stunning in her all white outfit (probably made by longtime collaborator Bob Mackey) and off red wig. She glimmers under the lights, creating a dreamy aura around her silhouette, sparkling in the lens. Bowie is equally as fashionable, wearing something that looks like it came out of a Sears & Roebuck catalog; white boots with a black heel, cream trousers accompanied by a button up, and a fitting grey tweed coat. The two look like an ideal match, something that should have happened years prior, almost like Cher is the glitz to his glam or vice versa; it’s something refreshing among the 1970s music scene, even if it does seem a little cheesy.
The medley accentuates their two distinct and unique voices through every song included. What I like about this duet is that despite their respective amounts of star power, the duo’s performance does not seem like a battle — it is a melodic and graceful dance. One voice does not overshadow the other at any point; they both showcase their talent together, and they have fun while doing so. Watching such a fantastic performance makes me wish that a studio version had been recorded. In total, they sing snippets of 13 songs including “Young Americans.” One of my favorite parts in the video is their rendition of “Maybe” by the Chantells as they cleverly enter into “Maybe Baby” by Buddy Holly. It starts with Bowie cheekily grinning at Cher, amping up the drama by dropping down to his knees just after he says the line about praying every night [for his lover to come back]. Cher stares down at Bowie, her body language telling. He smiles up at her as they both sing back and forth the hook of “Maybe Baby.” I feel like this particular part increases the rawness of the performance; I can see the two of them performing this at a concert venue rather than a television set. This also goes for the part where the two enter into an energetic rendition of “Young Blood” by the Coasters. The ferocity of their voices is intensified and the pair starts doing the bump — a popular dance style during that time. It’s quite something to watch, and one can’t help but smile at the spontaneity of their performance. Throughout its entirety, Bowie and Cher gradually get closer and closer, and they seem to be meshing extremely well. On stage, Bowie even evokes several giggles out of Cher with his glowing charisma. The flirting is palpable and carries on from this medley to their tender duet of Bowie’s “Can You Hear Me.” Their chemistry is quite clear and it is something that is easily noted upon first viewing. When asked about working with Bowie via Twitter, Cher responded in her usual all caps verbiage.
David Bowie and Cher were two of the biggest stars in 1975, and to see them both share the stage is a once in a lifetime event. Each song that they sing together makes the viewer want more; one wants them to continue on and finish every song down to its final note. At the end of the medley, the pair hold each other close as they sway along to the fading band. Bowie recalls this moment in the previously mentioned interview.
“At the end of the medley she sort of had me and I thought ‘Oh, she’s quite human after all.’ Hopefully she was thinking the same about me!”
And for The Cher Show, that was a wrap.