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Sonny & Cher

+ {Don Christy} + {Caesar And Cleo} + {Sonny}

For a fleeting time in the mid-60s, and sparring for DYLAN material with the likes of folk-pop acts such as The BYRDS, et al, SONNY & CHER had their moments in the music scene. With more than a nod to the production work of PHIL SPECTOR and the aforementioned BYRDS, the singing husband-and-wife duo had at least one foot in the genre via their transatlantic chart-topper, `I Got You Babe’, undoubtedly the couple’s greatest three minutes. As one half of the neo-hippy odd couple who dominated the mid-60s charts and the early 70s TV ratings, CHER used her showbiz schooling to carve out a distinctive and highly successful acting career, while her partner and mentor SONNY BONO (born Salvatore Phillip Bono, February 16, 1935) substituted pop for politics.
SONNY had been a songwriter for “Specialty” roster RnR acts such as DON & DEWEY (writing `Koko Joe’) and LARRY WILLIAMS (`She Said Yeah’). Whilst under the pseudonymous DON CHRISTY, he rolled out a handful of 45s, kicking off with 1959’s `One Little Answer’ (b/w `Wearing Black’). Bono really came to the fore, when as an opportunistic SPECTOR protégé, he scribed `Needles And Pins’ (with JACK NITZSCHE), a massive hit for both JACKIE DeSHANNON and The SEARCHERS. Bono had been married to Donna Rankin, and they had one child (“Christy”) before they divorced in 1962.
The S&C alliance initially hooked up when CHER was still a teenager (18 to be exact) and SONNY – 11 years her senior – went from his housekeeper to a-star-is-born type. They subsequently married in October ’64; the pair having already cut a handful of unsuccessful duets as CAESAR AND CLEO, one for the small Vault imprint: `The Letter’ (the DON & DEWEY cue) and one for Reprise: `Do You Want To Dance’. Performing alongside British Invasion acts such as The DAVE CLARK FIVE and HERMAN’S HERMITS, the duo switched monikers to SONNY AND CHER for a further two flops: `Baby Don’t Go’ and `Just You’; the latter for Atco Records and both belated hits on the back of their aforementioned million-selling No.1. Pitting the former’s diminutive Sicilian flamboyance against the latter’s dusky, statuesque physique, their visual appeal was as central to their early success as the campy summer ’65 chestnut of `I Got You Babe’. Opening their aptly-titled No.2 debut album, LOOK AT US (1965) {*6}, the song was of four pieces penned by producer Bono: `Sing C’est La Vie’, `It’s Gonna Rain’ and `Just You’, competing with a hotchpotch of pop standards like `Unchained Melody’, `Then He Kissed Me’, `Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love’ (the latter two by Spector, Greenwich & Barry), plus SMOKEY ROBINSON’s `You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’, BO DIDDLEY’s `You Don’t Love Me’, HEDY WEST’s `500 Miles’, and so on.
Interestingly enough, with S&C and his solo-artist wife littering the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, SONNY added to the list with his own exclusive Top 10 hit, `Laugh At Me’; in among a raft of exploitation 45s and other stuff from the vaults, the man popped up once again with `The Revolution Kind’ (#70).
However, the lens and focus was always on the image-conscious SONNY & CHER, as they plucked out Top 20 additions from Bono’s `But You’re Mine’ and GILBERT BECAUD’s `What Now My Love’. By April 1966, the pair could afford to omit `Have I Stayed Too Long’ (out for `Laugh At Me’) from their parent set, THE WONDROUS WORLD OF SONNY & CHER {*7}, a record that performed better in the UK where it reached the Top 20. Produced once again by Bono, the karaoke hit-machine knew no bounds as the pair waded through Gershwin’s `Summertime’, Bert Russell’s `Tell Him’ (an ex hit for The EXCITERS), DON & DEWEY’s `I’m Leaving It All Up To You’ (later made famous by DONNY & MARIE OSMOND), SAM COOKE’s `Bring It On Home To Me’, The KINKS’ `Set Me Free’, JOHNNY OTIS’ `So Fine’ and HARRY BELAFONTE & MALVINA REYNOLDS’ `Turn Around’.
Rounding up recent hits `Little Man’ (#21), `Living For You’ (#87) and the kaleidoscopically cool `The Beat Goes On’ (#6) – all from the quill of Sonny – IN CASE YOU’RE IN LOVE (1967) {*6} probably deserved better than its peak Top 50 place. The set was equally shared with cover versions, this time from `Groovy Kind Of Love’ (a hit for The MINDBENDERS), the Spector/Mann/Weil ballad `You Baby’, Gale Garnett’s `We’ll Sing In The Sunshine’, TIM HARDIN’s `Misty Roses’, BEN E. KING’s `Stand By Me’ and BOB LIND’s `Cheryl’s Goin’ Home’.
Hot on its heels, the soundtrack to GOOD TIMES (1967) {*7}, an all-singing fantasy vehicle for the duo’s rapidly fading pop career was delivered that May. Sonny had learned a lot since the duo first stormed to the top of the charts with the pop-tastic `I Got You Babe’. Here, the track made an appearance twice (both very different to the original): first as a kooky, BACHARACH-esque instrumental opener with strings, child-like verses and harmonies substituting S&C’s vocalising, second as a melancholy bookend love ballad complete with Flamenco. Influenced by producer-kingpins BRIAN WILSON and, more so, PHIL SPECTOR, Bono brought in his own “wall of sound” on `It’s The Little Things’, a Top 50 hit (preferred over recent moderate chart entries `A Beautiful Story’ and `Plastic Man’). The title track started with some sexy CHER and SONNY on dialogue, both intentionally hamming up the song to great effect. Ditto pop ballad, `Trust Me’, albeit with an added jazz waltz to complement William Friedkin’s fab-fun movie. If there was one mediocre song on the LP it was more or less `Don’t Talk To Strangers’, a song relegated to the B-side of the aforesaid single. Traditional blues took over for `I’m Gonna Love You’, its 6/8 time procession march uncharacteristic of anything Sonny had experimented with in the past. The longest song by far (at over 6 minutes), `Just A Name’, once again began with some turkey-acting dialogue, although when it opened into a carousel-like bitter-sweet love song, it had all the hallmarks of a great S&C song; remarkably the wholly-authored Sonny score predated the similar “Butch Cassidy” themes by a couple of years; maybe BACHARACH was returning the complement.
Despite the latter soundtrack’s failure at the box office, a solo SONNY released a couple of flop singles (`I Told My Girl To Go Away’ and `My Best Friend’s Girl Is Out Of Sight’), soon-to-be included on his psychedelic album INNER VIEWS (1967) {*6} that opened with a 12-minute work `I Just Sit There’. SONNY subsequently wrote the screenplay and composed the music for CHER’s first solo feature, Chastity (1969), another costly dud which compounded the misery of huge tax bills and contractual problems. Although a wisecracking, early 70s TV variety show (The Nitty Gritty Hour and, in turn, The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour) gave the couple a second wind, it was CHER who successfully forged ahead in the entertainment world following their personal and professional split.
Up until then, their drum was beating to a different tune on the Las Vegas-circuit comeback croon of SONNY & CHER LIVE (1971) {*4}. With only big hitters `The Beat Goes On’ (at 9 minutes!), `Laugh At Me’, `What Now My Love’ and, of course, `I Got You Babe’, entertaining the penguin-suited troops, their glitzy champagne-swigging wives and gamblers anonymous, there were BEATLES songs a-plenty by way of `Got To Get You Into My Life’, `Something’ and `Hey Jude’. A cover of SPIRAL STARECASE’s `More Today Than Yesterday’, ANTHONY NEWLEY’s `Once In A Lifetime’ and a solo CHER on `Danny Boy’, left one in tears – but for all the wrong reasons.
Maintaining their link at Kapp/M.C.A. Records, the title piece from their long-awaited comeback ALL I EVER NEED IS YOU (1972) {*5} hit pay-dirt; as did the LP itself (produced this time around by Snuff Garrett and Denis Pregnolato), and bolstered by the simultaneously dispatched Bono-scribed Top 10 entry, `A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done’. The repeated formula was again in tact: three Bono tracks and the remainder cherry-picked cover versions: this time recognisable though `United We Stand’, `Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling’ and the studio take of the SPIRAL song; Linda Laurie’s `Crystal Clear / Muddy Waters’ duly appeared on the B-side of the celebrity couple’s arrivederci to the Top 40, `When You Say Love’ (adapted from a Budweiser jingle).
With only its novelty-type, title track minor hit to generate sales and some harsh reviews, MAMA WAS A ROCK AND ROLL SINGER, PAPA USED TO WRITE ALL HER SONGS (1973) {*4} was indeed a mouthful for any remaining fans to sink their teeth into. With CHER herself about to chalk up her second solo chart-topper, `Half-Breed’ (`Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves’ was still ringing in one’s ears), people were growing tired, or indeed overwhelmed, by their renewed saturation of the charts; and there was no awards this time around for covers of ALBERT HAMMOND’s `It Never Rains In Southern California’, JOHNNY NASH’s `I Can See Clearly Now’, NEIL DIAMOND’s `Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show’, `The DOOBIE BROTHERS’ `Listen To The Music’ and others.
Before their big split, SONNY & CHER tried in vain to woo back fans from all persuasions by way of LIVE IN LAS VEGAS VOL.2 (1973) {*6}, a double-set showcasing the final days of the couple; it included hits from the past several years or so (including CHER’s solo material), comedy monologues and a peppering of surprises through re-treads of CAROLE KING’s `You’ve Got A Friend’, STEVIE WONDER’s `You And I’ and LEON RUSSELL’s `Superstar’ – all topped-off by a fitting finale of `I Got You Babe’.
Separated that same year, both had their own separate TV shows, but duly divorced on June 27, 1975; CHER celebrating by marrying GREGG ALLMAN after only a matter of days single. And while BONO secured some TV work and occasional parts in pedestrian action movies like The Golden Raiders (1979) and Escape To Athena (1979), his ex-missus – whom he’d reconciled with – had the er… best parts. Her former squeeze SONNY B combined the occasional acting appearance in the likes of Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and The Golden Girls – not forgetting Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), Troll (1986) and Under The Boardwalk (1989) – with a move into business and politics.
In the meantime, he’d married for a third time, but divorced Susie Coelho in 1984, only to wed again a few years later, this time to Mary Whitaker (they had two children together: son Chesare Elan and daughter Chianna Maria); further trivia was in the fact that SONNY was the godparent of Anthony Kiedis (son of close friend actor/author Blackie Dammett), and known better as the frontman for RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS.
If SONNY’s beliefs weren’t quite as conservative as the character he played in John Waters’ acclaimed musical comedy, Hairspray (1988), he nevertheless made a name for himself as an uncompromising Republican, following his rather unlikely nomination as Mayor of Palm Springs, and even more unlikely, his 1994 election to the US Congress. Yet in one of rock’n’roll’s more bizarre deaths, SONNY’s burgeoning political career was tragically cut short when he was killed in a skiing accident on January 5, 1998.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS/BG // rev-up MCS Mar2016

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