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“Can You Hear Me” (1975) restored by Nacho

“Nacho” is a YouTuber who makes terrific unofficial videos. Here he claims to have “restored” this video of Bowie and Cher on the Cher Show performing “Can You Hear Me” as a duet. I am not seeing major differences from the version I used in 2016 when I posted during my song-a-day tribute, which is still on this blog. If you want, you can go back and watch that version, but from what I can tell they are very similar and in any case are documents of the same occurrence.

So why am I posting this now? Well, for one, Nacho seems to know what he (she?) is doing and his claim to have restored this holds about equal credibility in my mind as my own ability to discern a major difference. Also, if you are reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you either never saw or long since forgot my 2016 post.

Also, I have a few more thoughts on the song and performance: The thing that stands out the most after having been posting on this blog for so long is that Bowie’s appearance on the Cher Show might very well be the only time he appeared on television and performed some of his songs as duets. The significance is that, unlike a concert performance, here we are able to see both Bowie and Cher close up, and we have an intimate look at how they interact and play off each other. Bowie did other songs on this show, but to date I haven’t found another example, aside from the performances on this show (where he also did “Fame” and a “Young Americans” medley with Cher), where he did this.

Some caveats: he performs “I Got You Babe” with Marianne Faithful in The Nineteen Eighty Floor Show. But of course (coincidentally) that was originally a Sonny and Cher song, not a Bowie song, and it was always supposed to be a duet, unlike “Can You Hear Me.” Also, there are a few videos of Bowie singing duets, notably “Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger and “Pretty Pink Rose” with Adrian Belew. But in those two cases, what we hear is identical to what we would have heard if we bought the single. He also does a version of “Modern Love” in a Pepsi commercial with Tina Turner, and while that’s an adaptation of the original song, come on, it’s a commercial.

Bowie recorded a few more duets including, most famously “Under Pressure” with Queen, and “Tonight” with Tina Turner (though she’s more singing backup). I supposed Tin Machine’s “Stateside” can be considered a duet, though that’s really more two songs grafted together. There are many more instances of Bowie joining or being joined by another artist in concert, some such instances of which have been recorded in some way.

But the appearances with Cher are different than all of those. This is not a lip sync. Though Bowie was for sure, by his own admission, zonked out and had no subsequent recollection of doing the show, and Cher seems like she might have been in the same place, the performance is actually very strong. For me, it’s interesting to see the close-ups of both of their (youthful) faces during the performance as well as their choreography, which while not spectacular adds to the mood of the song. In the video notes, Nacho speculates on whether a solo performance by Bowie would have been better, but I have to answer in the negative (he agrees, but he raised the question, so…) This is close to unique and therefore special. I’d much rather this artifact exist than something close to a duplicate of what exists on the album (which is Young Americans).

So, I like the performance, which enhances the song for me. But I kinda don’t like the song itself. Young Americans is my least-favorite Bowie album from the 70s in large part because these slow moving, “plastic soul” ballads weighs it down, at least for me. But it sounds better on its own.

Also, my first reaction to the song is that it’s a straightforward love song, unlike the more complex songs in which Bowie leaves us much to think about. But, if you listen carefully or look at the lyrics, you’ll notice that they are far from straightforward. Without reproducing the lyrics (click here for that), compare them to a more normal love song like, say, “Something” by the Beatles or “At Last” by Etta James or anything else you can think of. Even with the occasional “yeah yeah” or “baby baby” the lyrics of most love songs are more coherent than this, which is actually very much what Bowie did on purpose.

And maybe there’s deeper meaning than Bowie just being impressionistic. Nicholas Pegg speculates that the line, “It’s harder to fall” is deliberately evocative of the boxing movie, The Harder They Fall, and thus constitutes yet another boxing reference: “From shadow-boxing on stage in 1974 to his appearance on the sleeve of Let’s Dance and the lyrics of “Shake It” none years later, Bowie has maintained an interest in the cinematic image of a sport which, like so much of his music, functions on the unsettling meeting-point between violence and glamour.” Is Pegg seeing something that isn’t really there? Maybe, but this is the kind of thing that makes Bowie’s music such an endlessly rich source of contemplation.

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