40 Years Ago: Why Did Cher’s ‘I Paralyze’ Flop?
Cher is one celebrity who seems too big to fail. But in the late '70s and early '80s, she faced a string of musical flops.
The singer struggled to find her sound as the market for disco took over pop. During that time, Cher was with three different record labels -- MCA, Warner Bros. and Casablanca -- all of whom pushed her towards disco material, which she struggled to connect with.
She'd make another jump -- this time to Columbia Records -- for the album I Paralyze. Released on May 28, 1982, the LP saw Cher dabble in new wave. Several notable names were involved in the project, including Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo of the Village People, Howie Epstein of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and songwriter Desmond Child. The album's title track was co-produced by David Wolfert (Marilyn McCoo, the Four Tops) and John Farrar, best-known at the time for producing the Olivia Newton John hit "Physical."
Still, conventional wisdom has it that "I Paralyze," the LP's second single, was a flop — as was the album — because it languished due to a lack of support by Columbia Records. Cher did exactly two promotional appearances, lip-syncing the song on American Bandstand and Solid Gold, and then…nothing. Columbia didn't work it to radio or to the press. There were no music videos. The album was released on vinyl and 8-track, but Columbia didn't bother pressing CDs of it until near the end of the decade, making it a bit of a rarity.
Watch Cher Perform 'I Paralyze' on 'American Bandstand'
But in reality, the song, and subsequently the album, may have suffered because its primary producer, Wolfert, didn't support it. "I never did believe in 'I Paralyze' and I told everyone so," Wolfert told the author of Cher: Strong Enough. "I thought the better choice for a first single would have been the flip, 'Walk With Me.' It had a bigger chance of becoming a success." Wolfert also disagreed with selecting "Rudy" as the British single.
Cher saw things differently, however. In a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, she named "I Paralyze" -- along with 1988's "Save Up All Your Tears" -- as her favorite singles. When pressed on why, she said, "I don't know. I just like them. When I listen to music, it's mostly the sound that gets me first, and if the lyrics are fabulous, well then, that's a bonus."
After the commercial failure of I Paralyze, Cher wouldn't release another album for five years. In the 1987 bio for her Geffen Records self-titled album, she spoke about her experience on I Paralyze, saying she hated the album because she didn't have anything to contribute, had no control, and hated the whole experience.
Meanwhile, Cher was dipping into acting. Just before I Paralyze was released, she filmed 1983's Silkwood, putting her in a supporting role alongside Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell. The part landed Cher her first Oscar nomination, and two years later she'd breakout as an actress even further with the 1985 film Mask. By the time she won an Oscar for 1987's Moonstruck, it was clear Cher had found another creative field in which to excel.