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For the first time in her 7-decade career, Cher has released a Christmas album

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Boy, we had a special gift this year - an interview that's one of our favorite things from 2023. There are few singers who enjoy one-name status. Fewer still, just a single syllable. But Cher has been synonymous with glamour, invention and then reinvention over seven decades. Once again, she's trying something new.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LIKE CHRISTMAS")

CHER: (Singing) I like Christmas. I like a real Christmas tree. I like a mall Santa Claus that lets me sit on his knee.

SIMON: Cher has her first Christmas album. Came out in October before Halloween. So we had to ask, why?

CHER: It doesn't have anything to do with anything, really. It's like you've got a song, you love it, you do it. And that's how you do it. That's how I do it.

SIMON: She also told us that when you listen to "Christmas," there should be no confusion. It's a Christmas album, according to Cher.

CHER: I picked very different songs, you know, that - none of them really go together. I just did songs that I wanted to do and didn't think about if they went together. I just - they were like, they just felt like the holidays.

SIMON: Yeah. You've dedicated this album to your mother, Georgia Holt, who, I gather, left us just before Christmas last year.

CHER: Right.

SIMON: I wonder...

CHER: But I have to tell you something.

SIMON: Yeah.

CHER: I was happy for my mom because my mom and I are kind of similar in many aspects, but I know my mom wasn't having a good time, and my mom was, like, really kick-a**, you know? And I was happy when she could leave it, you know, to go on to something else.

SIMON: May I ask if doing these songs brought back memories of her and your Christmases together with family?

CHER: Well, you know, it's strange. I wasn't thinking about those kinds of things. But my mom, even though my mom and I had such a rocky - we had the weirdest relationship ever. But my mom was kind of always in me, and I took my mom's voice. If you - there's a song that we sing together called "You're Just My Yesterday" - or "I'm Just Your Yesterday," that's it. And if you listen to it, you can't really tell, sometimes, which one of us is which.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M JUST YOUR YESTERDAY")

CHER: (Singing) And I couldn't grow. So I couldn't stay.

GEORGIA HOLT: (Singing) And I almost died when you went away.

CHER: My mom was a big influence on me, and we fought like cats and dogs sometimes. But when I'm singing, somehow she's inside of me, even though it's different. But you can hear - when you hear my mom sing, you hear me. So yeah, my mom's kind of always hanging out with me.

SIMON: Can I ask you about "DJ"?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DJ PLAY A CHRISTMAS SONG")

CHER: (Singing) DJ play a Christmas song. I want to be dancing all night long. It's cold outside, but it's warm in here. And that's the only thing I want this year.

SIMON: "DJ Play A Christmas Song." I found that very touching.

CHER: No, I know. You're very sensitive, aren't you, Scooter?

SIMON: (Laughter) I'm pretty sentimental guy.

CHER: But...

SIMON: Yeah.

CHER: ...Yeah. You think of someone going to a disco on Christmas and you think, oh, that's sad or whatever, but then you think, you know, people are getting together and having a good time, and it might not be the - you know, what you think of as a Christmas scene, but I can feel it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DJ PLAY A CHRISTMAS SONG")

CHER: (Singing) Nothing more, nothing less. I got one request. DJ play a Christmas song. I want to be dancing all night long. It's cold...

SIMON: You have, I mean, a distinguished roster of some people, obviously, who join you on this, including Stevie Wonder.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS TO ME")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Whoa, yeah.

CHER: (Singing) Candles burning low, lots of mistletoe, lots of snow and ice everywhere we go, choirs singing carols right outside my door. All these things and more.

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) That's what Christmas means to me, my love. Whoa, yeah. Oh, yeah. And you know what I need.

SIMON: And you must be, like, one of the only people in the world who can just say - just - what? - do you have Stevie Wonder on speed dial and say, want to sing with me?

CHER: No. But that's what I did. I was really nervous. I was so nervous, I didn't realize my assistant was videoing the whole conversation.

SIMON: Oh.

CHER: But I called and I was like, Stevie, it's me. And it was like, I've done "What Christmas Means To Me," but there's parts of it that I just can't do. And I've tried it, and I'm not good, and I need you to come and do it.

SIMON: Oh...

CHER: And he said...

SIMON: ...My gosh.

CHER: ...OK. But I sent him - I said, I'm sending it to you. So if you think it's OK, will you do these parts? And so he said yeah. And in the middle of the conversation he said, Cher, is this my song? And I went, well, I wouldn't be asking you to sing somebody else's song. And so then at the very minute he went, Cher, Cher, Cher. And I went, what? And he said, do you want me to play harmonica? And it was like...

SIMON: Oh.

CHER: ...The sky opened.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT CHRISTMAS MEANS TO ME")

STEVIE WONDER: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS #1: (Singing) Candles burning low. Lots and lots of snow.

STEVIE WONDER: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS #1: (Singing) Christmas bells are ringing, Christmas choirs singing.

STEVIE WONDER: Woo.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS #1: (Singing) Christmas mistletoe.

STEVIE WONDER: Oh, yeah (laughter).

SIMON: Got to ask you about "Baby Please Come Home." You're joined by the great Darlene Love, and you have a history with this song, don't you?

CHER: I did background on that song when I was 17 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME)")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS #2: (Singing) Christmas.

DARLENE LOVE: (Singing) The snow's coming down.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS #2: (Singing) Christmas.

LOVE: (Singing) I'm watching it fall.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTISTS #2: (Singing) Christmas.

LOVE: (Singing) Lots of people around.

CHER: And I remember every second of it. It's indelible because we were in the studio, you know, we were just hanging, and we were inside the studio with Darlene, and she started to sing the song. I think every one of us stopped breathing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS (BABY PLEASE COME HOME)")

CHER AND DARLENE LOVE: (Singing) Baby, please come home. They're singing deck the halls.

CHER: (Singing) But it's not like Christmas at all.

CHER AND LOVE: (Singing) 'Cause I remember when you were here. And all the fun we had last year.

LOVE: (Singing) Pretty lights on the tree.

SIMON: I have read...

CHER: Oh, God. That's - let's just take that with the grain of salt, but tell me.

SIMON: Well, that you used to have stage fright.

CHER: Still do. We say a prayer right before we go on, and I'm always thinking, oh, God, please let me get out there quickly. So - because once I start, I'm good. But right before I start, I'm just like, whoa, I can't do this. I'm a very I can't do this person.

SIMON: I'm wondering if that kind of helps you key up to a certain performance level.

CHER: I don't know. And there have been some times where it just left, but then it always comes back. It's so strange. I'm not a Cher fan. I'm pretty good on stage though. I'm quite interesting on stage, and I'm really funny but not a big fan.

SIMON: I'm such a big Cher fan. Why aren't you?

CHER: Because my voice is kind of strange to me. It's like, have you ever heard yourself talking?

SIMON: All the time, and I cringe.

CHER: OK. Well, how do you like it?

SIMON: I don't like it. Not at all.

CHER: OK. So case closed.

SIMON: (Laughter) Do you think of that teenage Cher every now and then? The 17-year-old just making her way in the world?

CHER: You know, I actually was talking about it with my friend 'cause when I was young, I was getting into so much trouble. I didn't do anything really bad. Like, when I was 9, I jumped a freighter. But - so that was kind of really weird.

SIMON: I'm sorry, you jumped a freighter when you were 9?

CHER: Yes. A train.

SIMON: A freight train. You jumped onto it and rode...

CHER: Yeah. And went until we were in San Bernardino and...

SIMON: Wow.

CHER: ...Rode a horse. I mean, it was crazy that my mother didn't lose her mind with me is really bizarre. I just was interested - I was with my friend Anita, and we were coming home from school, and I just thought, you know what? I've just done enough. I don't want to go to school anymore. I want to get out there. And so we saw this white horse in a pasture, and we rode it to the end, which was quite a little way. And then I saw trains sitting there, and there was a crack in the door, and I said, let's jump on that. And then it started to go, and we went to San Bernardino. So I called mom and I told her what I did, and she went Cher. So she came and got me and - but I don't think my mom was ever really surprised.

SIMON: That's an amazing story.

CHER: Well, I haven't told it all that often.

SIMON: Were you trying to get away somewhere or find yourself?

CHER: I tried to run away on my tricycle.

SIMON: (Laughter).

CHER: And I remember thinking, I've learned enough from these people. I have to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUN RUDOLPH RUN")

CHER: (Singing) Run, run, Rudolph. Randolf ain't too far behind. Run, run, Rudolph, Santa got to make it to town.

SIMON: What do you like about singing?

CHER: It's free. It's like it's freedom. My favorite thing in the world is to stand on a stage in rehearsal and just feel the music coming out of me, because I'm not a big person, but I have a big voice, and it feels really good.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS WILL BE OUR YEAR")

CHER: (Singing) The warmth of your love is like the warmth of the sun. This will be our year. Took a long time to come.

SIMON: That sounds beautiful. You are a big person, though. You have a big personality.

CHER: No, I have a giant personality, but I'm not a big person. I mean, I'm little, but when I'm on stage, I feel like I need to be 15 feet tall. It's always 15 feet, because you can't be small and be on stage and have everybody feel it. Art is always about feeling. It's like art is - I think it can be the only thing that's completely about feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS WILL BE OUR YEAR")

CHER: (Singing) Took a long time to come.

SIMON: The one and only Cher has her first-ever holiday album. It's called "Christmas," out now.

Thank you so much for making the time to speak with us, I enjoyed it, thank you.

CHER: It was fun, wasn't it?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS WILL BE OUR YEAR")

CHER: (Singing) This will be our year. Took a long time to come. Don't have to worry...

SIMON: Yeah. That was fun, wasn't it? I had a lot of fun. Thanks very much for being with us. Good holiday to all of you. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm with my friend Cher, and my name is Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.