LISTEN: Cher’s short-lived 1980 rock band was a notorious flop but it paved the way for her next comeback

LISTEN: Cher’s short-lived 1980 rock band was a notorious flop but it paved the way for her next comeback

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Cher wears leather in a press photo from 1980.
Image Credit: Getty Images

Our Retro Record column is all about the lesser-known, under-appreciated, and largely forgotten corner’s of music’s gay history… so what’s Cher doing here?

The singer and actress is one of the most celebrated and beloved of all time, especially among her LGBTQ+ fan base. She’s charted countless hits and cemented her status as a legend. At this point, much has been written about Cher—but even some of her most ardent followers might not remember her short-lived rock band, Black Rose.

By 1980, Cher’s music career was in trouble. She’d been on a backward slide for some time, and several of her most recent albums had failed to chart or produce a hit. Just when it looked like the end for her time in the spotlight, Cher decided to try something new.

She and her then-boyfriend, artist Les Dudek, formed Black Rose with the intention of starting a rock band from the ground up and doing things the old fashioned way. They filled out the group with other talented musicians and recorded their only album, a short self-titled affair that blended rock with new wave, which artists like Blondie had recently brought to the mainstream.

Cher poses nude with her band members from Black Rose in front of a purple background
Presenting…. Black Rose, in the flesh. Image Credit: Getty Images

The record was produced by James Newton Howard—and, if that name sounds familiar, it’s certainly not because of Black Rose. After working in the music industry for several years, Howard went on to become one of the most successful and sought-after composers for film and TV. To date, he’s racked up nine Academy Award nominations (without a single win, by the way), and he’s already won both Emmys and Grammys. He’s about as far from new wave/rock as one can get, and anyone who listens to his scores for movies like The Village or The Fugitive may find this association hard to believe.

The members of Black Rose were adamant that they were going to make it on their own, based on their work, and not on Cher’s fame. Because of this decision, her name wasn’t used to promote Black Rose, and that hurt the group considerably. They weren’t marketed as Cher’s new side project, but rather some new band, and those odds weren’t in their favor.

Black Rose failed to chart, and none of the songs from the album performed well either. The group joined Hall & Oates on a small, six-date east coast tour of the U.S. in the hopes they might find an audience, but to no avail. As was common for Cher, her costumes were designed by the legendary Bob Mackie, but no one attends concerts for the lead singer’s outfits. It was a lot of effort for little to no return.

After failing to find any commercial success, Black Rose broke up after just one album, though there were rumors a follow-up was already in the works. Years later, their lone record was re-released in certain markets—only, the second time around, it was pushed as a Cher offering, with her face all over a new cover. Even that didn’t make Black Rose a hit; by then, any momentum was really gone.

So, does Black Rose have any legacy worth speaking of? Sure! The music they made is fun enough, though it doesn’t stand out as among the best for either Cher or Howard. The sound the band explored did influence Cher moving forward, and quickly after the band split, she returned to her solo career with a new label. She kept the rock style, and her next several projects brought her back to the charts with a harder feel. 

Cher found success once again as a pop star-turned-rocker, with hits like “I Found Someone,” “After All” with Peter Cetera and her classic “If I Could Turn Back Time” proving that she did have the chops to pull of pop-rock, which some critics questioned during her Black Rose era. If she hadn’t gone off and attempted this big swing comeback, it’s possible those tunes might never have found their way to her.


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