The song was such a hit that the album it came from, Chér, was quickly re-released as Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves. That eponymous track — populated with prostitutes and teen mothers — was edgy fare for the burgeoning pop icon. And the unique tone set Cher apart as she reinvigorated her musical career.
"I was born in the wagon of a traveling show / My mama used to dance for the money they’d throw," the song begins intriguingly. Set to a fast, carnivalesque beat, the narrator describes a colorful childhood on the road. As the daughter of a con man and a dancer — or stripper or sex worker, the exact context is unclear — she keenly observes the patterns repeating themselves. After having a child of her own, the narrator becomes the dancer and the verses continue. The illustrative lyrics were penned by songwriter Bob Stone in 1971, specifically for Cher. (The composition intended to capitalize off Cher’s vamp look, although it’s worth noting that the singer is not actually of Romani descent.)
To produce the track, Snuff Garrett was chosen over Sonny Bono. At that point, Bono was struggling to market his wife’s solo talent. It had been six years since the pair gained international fame with hits like “I Got You Babe,” and four years since a song of Cher’s own — “You Better Sit Down Kids” — cracked Billboard’s Top 10.
Garrett was Sonny and Cher’s neighbor at the time in Los Angeles’ famed Bel Air suburb. In a 2009 interview with Tape Op, the producer recalled the couple coming to him, fatefully, saying, “We’re having trouble. We’ve already spent all the money from our success." Naturally, he offered his services. "I said, ‘Well, I could cut a hit with you.’ I hadn’t worked in a year. So, I went and cut Cher’s ‘Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves’.”
Garrett took the lead on the rest of the album, too. Results were positive, as Chér sold well, eventually becoming certified gold. But one single, in particular, stood out.
“Gyspys, Tramps & Thieves” spent two weeks at #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1971. Audiences were drawn to the song’s overtly sexual storyline; Garrett — and Cher’s — bold intuition had paid off. Only one major aspect of Stone’s lyric was softened for commercial purposes — his original name for the piece had been "Gypsys, Tramps and White Trash." The fast success of “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” marked a new era fo Cher: one that was moody and rebellious. Later hits like “Half-Breed” and “Dark Lady” stick out as direct thematic successors.
“Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” remains one of Cher’s most enduring works and has been more than 25 million times on Spotify. Despite its lasting popularity, though, the singer has expressed disinterest in the piece. “It was a song I recorded in, like, an hour," Cher remarked to Billboard in 2017. "With Snuffy, you had to crank out an album in a weekend."
Watch Cher Perform ‘Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves’