SONNY & CHER – Mama Was a Rock and Roll Singer, Papa Used to Write all Her Songs – (MCA) – 1973

I have a dirty little secret … I love Sonny & Cher.

Well that's not that much of a dirty secret but I also like Cher's solo stuff up to a point and that is more of a secret. That's where the secrets end and don't read too much into this, even if I have many albums by Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland.

Sonny & Cher were stamped on my young boy mind in the 1970s as my mother would religiously watch the "Sonny & Cher Show" (as well as The Benny Hill Show and Number 96) and so did I. These things, maybe unsurprisingly, had a bearing on me as an adult so the rose coloured glasses are firmly on my head when listening to this.

So with Sonny & Cher on TV and in the charts was there anything wrong with a young pre-pubescent boy at a private Catholic boys school getting into Cher. Notice there is no "?" at the end of ther last sentence … that's because that is a rhetorical question and I don't require responses. Suffice it to say that despite the fact that Cher has become a gay icon diva, to me her voice recalls the hard-ons she gave me when I was a kid … and since.

When I put on a "Sonny & Cher" album it's like listening to an old friend and I never had a problem playing their discs. Though, by the time the 80s rolled around their 70s shtick and Cher's solo stuff was distinctly unhip even if their 60s beat/rock/pop material was still kitschy popular in the indie clubs.

But, as often is the case, the more you dig the more cultural archaeological artefacts of worth you find even in a couple of semi comedic pop singers like Sonny & Cher.

At the outset I will say that Sonny was a bit of genius. He worked for Phil Spector in the early 60s and with Jack Nitzsche. He played instruments, sang, arranged and wrote some great tracks : like "I Got You Babe","The Beat Goes On", "Bang Bang"and  "Needles and Pins". He was certainly no slouch and, more importantly, he certainly was slightly twisted. The songs are not Captain Beefheart but they also aren't mainstream … he certainly is quirky, like a less country Lee Hazlewood perhaps. If you don't believe me try listening to his only solo album from 1967, "Innerviews" It's "out there". And if you still need some convincing as to Sonny's worth then covers are a sincere form of flattery :

And, to all those who complain that I lean to people who "sing well" … I give you Exhibit 1: "Sonny Bono".

But, what really sold the music was Cher who had a distinctive voice and forceful personality which by the 70s had become quite sexually aggressive. She's smart.

By way of short bio:

allmusic: "Sonny & Cher proved one of the magical musical combinations of the mid '60s and one of the better rock-influenced MOR acts of the early '70s, their wisecracking repartee providing counterpoint to a series of adoring hit duets. Salvatore "Sonny" Bono (b. Feb. 16, 1935) started out at Los Angeles-based Specialty Records as a songwriter in the late '50s, responsible for "Koko Joe" by Don and Dewey and "She Said Yeah" for Larry Williams, which was later covered by the Rolling Stones and the Righteous Brothers. Bono became a protégé of Phil Spector, managing to write a handful of successful songs, most notably "Needles and Pins" in collaboration with his protégé Jack Nitzsche, which became a success for Jackie DeShannon and a huge international hit for the Searchers. In 1964, while working sessions with Phil Spector, he met an 18-year-old would-be singer named Cherilyn Lapierre (b. May 20, 1946), and the two were later married. They formed a professional duet, initially as Caesar and Cleo for Vault Records and later Reprise, but it was only after they were signed to Atlantic Records as Sonny & Cher that success came their way. The couple embarked on parallel careers, with Cher later signed to Liberty/Imperial Records as a solo act.

They were a strange duet in the sense that neither had a great voice and, indeed, their voices were so similar that Atlantic's president Ahmet Ertegun was convinced that Sonny had come close to breaking a contract by turning up singing with her on her solo hit "All I Really Want to Do" and her other Imperial hits. The latter song, however, also demonstrated their ability to spot a hit, as well as good material for themselves — they'd heard the Byrds performing the Dylan song at a club in Los Angeles and got Cher's recording out before the Byrds' own was in stores, beating the folk-rock group at its own game of popularizing Dylan songs. She subsequently hit with "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" while Sonny charted with "Laugh at Me" on Atco, but their biggest success was as a duet on Atco, with "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On."

For a time, from 1965 until 1967, they were rock & roll's hottest couple, so much so that in some conservative communities they were considered almost morally subversive; parents locked up their kids when Sonny and Cher were passing through for a concert appearance. They were popular enough, and sufficiently well-known in their images that the Rolling Stones impersonated them on the British television music showcase Ready Steady Go, miming to "I Got You Babe" with Brian Jones subbing for Sonny".

This album is well suited to the 1970s – loud, brash, overproduced arguably, and in your face. Like a MOR version of a glam rock band. But for all that they aren't happy with straight covers and they actually deconstruct a couple of the songs. This may be kooky, kitsch, funky, cabaret shtick but it's more listenable than most of the prog rock coming out at the same time.

This was their last studio album – they broke up and Cher went on to immortality whilst Sonny went on to become a Republican congressman, and a spokesman for the Salton Sea

and, indirectly responsible for the extremely controversial Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

Tracks (best in italics)

  • It Never Rains in Southern California (Albert Hammond, Mike Hazelwood) – Albert Hammond's great song (and a big hit – #5 US for him though oddly, given he is British, it did not chart in the UK). This is a great MOR version.

  • I Believe in You (D. Pregnolato, M. Rubini, D. Dunne) – pure cabaret.

  • I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash) – One of the greatest of all songs … many times covered and many great versions. The definitive version is still probably Johnny Nash but my favourite version is locked in my memory as it has never been released (on record that is). I saw Harry Dean Stanton (yes – he sings) do it at Jack's Sugar Shack on Sunset Strip in L.A. in 1994. Due to the enthusiastic cheering of  three well oiled Australians, well two well oiled ones – myself and a certain ItalianAustralian – Harry Dean reprised the song for us … four times! This version is cabaret but I still love the song.

  • Rhythm of Your Heart Beat (T. Macaulay, G. Stevens) –  Pretty much anything Englishman Tony MacAulay wrote was MOR – but anyone who wrote David Soul's "Don't Give up on Us" and Elvis' "Love Me Love the Life I Lead" can't be all bad.

  • Mama Was a Rock and Roll Singer Papa Used to Write all her Songs (Part 1 & 2) – (S. Bono) –  Sonny's only original song on the album and also produced by him also. 9 minutes 39 seconds of something … but fun.

            You think you're just a fox
            And that's all that you got to be
            Oh well you might be a fox
            But Lady that ain't enough for me
            You're jacking everybody in town
            But you ain't jacking me around

  • By Love I Mean (Hal David, W. Jacobs, M. A. Trujillo) –  MMOR* (* more MOR)

  • Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show (Neil Diamond) –  Neil Diamond's eccentric opus from his concept album just got more eccentric.

  • You Know Darn Well (T. Macaulay) –  MMOR.

  • The Greatest Show on Earth (B. Stone) –  MMOR.

  • Listen to the Music (T. Johnston) – The Doobie Brothers track goes cabaret with some Blood Sweat and Tears horns.

And …

This is not the glorious pop rock of the 60s but straight 70s mainstream pop bordering, and often crossing over, into cabaret. But then shouldn't everyone own one cabaret record? Or maybe two or three? 

I'm keeping this.


It Never Rains in Southern California



Listen to the Music



Other clips:

Sonny & Cher (70s)–o&feature=related


and one for the Beatles fans


and the last statement on subtlety (straight or gay):

for those have some time:

and a curio:




and the back cover is great also (wouldn't you love a bedroom like that?)


(originally posted: 03/01/2010)

About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at Cheers
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