This is the second studio album by Sonny & Cher.
My favourite subversive easy-listening hipster singing duo.
I have commented on both “Sonny & Cher” and “Cher” albums before on this blog.
Please refer to them for biographical detail.
However, I feel compelled, again, to mention my love of Cher. As I listen to this album I rise to the occasion and say she has a great voice. She used her voice, even on these early recordings to create a musical persona, which though not fully developed is being created. The cool, sassy, if you leave me I couldn’t care, free spirit which seemed to epitomise where the 60s were going is palatable if her vocals.
Musically, Janis Joplin may have come to embody that spirit but I’ll take Cher over her any time ….well at least in this period.
Because Cher’s voice is aural catnip to me.
Madonna with all her panting, moaning and explicitness doesn’t get the same rise out of me as one note of Cher.
Clearly I’m not the only one …. check out someone’s lament on the defaced picture below taken from the back of my copy of this album. (Tom did you have any luck?)
Later she got raunchier and developed a gay cult following (that I don’t get, but I will say in a Seinfeld-ian voice, "Not that there is anything wrong with that”).
Hold on maybe I’m supressing something.
No, I’m not.
I would like to reclaim Cher for the heterosexual male community!
Central to the “creation” of Cher was Sonny Bono, her husband, who arranged and produced this album.
Sonny was a quirky genius and more than a little twisted and it was not as a result of drugs. It was based on a restless and inquisitive talent. He had a good ear for music and he could play a variety of instruments, could arrange, produce and sing. OK his voice was non-conventional but after Dylan that hardly mattered.
Bono knows what sounds he wants and has arranged the music to give the songs the most musicality whilst still framing his and Cher’s sometimes intentionally jagged and gently antagonistic vocals. This wasn’t duo singing like The Everly Brothers, The Louvin Brothers or even Simon & Garfunkel but something a little quirky which was perfect for the hip, mod, new mid-60s.
The musicians were, no doubt, the legendary Wrecking Crew which explains how they can sound so tight while trying to be loose and “groovy”
This is a pop album as it should be – a smattering of originals surrounded by covers which are arranged imaginatively (read differently to the originals), played well, and capturing the essence of the performer/s.
It’s harder to do than it looks.
The arrangements have to be different but not so different that it misses the point of the song. Of course, sometimes, an interpretation of a song can change the meaning (or find new ancillary meaning) in a song that the writer perhaps had not intended (any number of Elvis songs attest to that, or if you want something specific, Johnny Cash’s version of NINs "Hurt") but it’s no easier to add your own identifying stamp on a song. Bono achieves this by being distinctly quirky in his instruments.
As allmusic say in their Sonny Bono entry: “The sound on Sonny & Cher’s records was distinct, with unusual (and memorable) instrumentation and timbres that made them stand out on the radio, and when the material itself clicked, it stuck. When it didn’t, however, the public tended to be oblivious…”
That does not mean that every song works. The rush for new material and the very nature of “pop” means that there will be some filler. But, as long as the good outweighs the bad all is well.
I suppose this album was played in discothèques or by suburban teens. Nowadays you aren’t likely to find it played anywhere, not even a coffee shop. But if there were a coffee shop that played this 60s pop I’d gladly give up my early morning tea and come and hang out.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Summer Time – (Ira Gershwin, George Gershwin, Dubose Heyward) – Sonny & Cher completely reinvent the old Gershwin standard and make it mid 60s hip and mod. (Apparently there are over 25,000 recordings of the song including Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Gene Vincent, Miles Davis, Andy Williams and Janis Joplin).
- Tell Him – (Bert Russell) – Originally by The Exciters (1963) this is “smaller” song but still incredibly catchy.
- I’m Leaving It All Up to You – (Don Harris, Dewey Terry) – This one slides more to cabaret. Don & Dewey (the writers) recorded this in 1957 and then Dale and Grace had a #1 with it in late 1963. It was covered in the 70s by Linda Ronstadt (1970) and Donny and Marie Osmond (#4, 1974).
- But You’re Mine – (Sonny Bono) – A Sonny original. Quirky, but it works. There is a slight Lovin Spoonful sound and the lyric about a hippie couple who do not fit into mainstream society but who are still happy because they have each other seems autobiographical.
- Bring It On Home to Me – (Sam Cooke) – A Sam Cooke cover (#2 R&B Singles, #13 Hot100, 1962). This doesn’t work. OK, there is no rule that you have to able to sing like Sam Cooke to cover one of his songs, but it helps.
- Set Me Free – (Ray Davies) – The great Kinks song (#23, 1965) is given an admirable treatment here. They capture the pleading desperation of the original whilst dressing it up in groovy colours.
- What Now My Love – (Carl Sigman, Gilbert Bécaud, Pierre Delanoë) – quite a conventional reading of the song. Sure they have “popped” it up but there is only so much goosing you can do. It was the single and it was a Top 20. Shows you how much I know. Done by everyone including Ben E King (1964). The Brothers Four (1965), Mitch Ryder (1967) and Elvis Presley (1973).
- Leave Me Be – (Chris White) – a good pop song written by bassist and recorded by the Zombies in 1964.
- I Look For You – (Sonny Bono) – a song Sonny wrote, no doubt, about him and Cher. Pleasant.
- Laugh At Me – (Sonny Bono) – Sonny statement of faith in himself and not a bad one at that. It was later covered by Mott the Hoople (1969)! and then by lead vocalist of Mott, Ian Hunter (1979) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laugh_at_Me
Why can I be like any guy
Why do they try and make me run
Son of a gun
Now what do they care
About the clothes I wear
Why get their kicks from making fun
Yeah this world’s got a lot of space
And if they don’t like my face
It ain’t me that’s going anywhere, no
So I don’t care
Then laugh at me
If that’s fair
I have to beg to be free
Then baby laugh at me
And I’ll cry for you
And I’ll pray for you
And I’ll do all the things
That the man upstairs says to do
I’ll do them for you
I’ll do them
I’ll do them all for you
- Turn Around – (Harry Belafonte, Alan Greene, Malvina Reynolds) – Originally by Harry Belafonte (1959). This is a excellent song about the passing of time and growing up / growing old?
- So Fine – (Johnny Otis) – Originally recorded by The Sheiks (1955), this was a hit for The Fiestas in 1959. This is a good R&B strut updated
Interestingly there are a number of songs the Zombies did. "Summertime" and "Bring it on Home to Me" (in a medley with "You’ve got a Hold on Me) were on their first album, "The Zombies" from late 1964 whilst "Leave me Be" was their single from 1964
Also, interestingly, Sonny had worked with Don & Dewey and Sam Cooke, and for Johnny Otis – all who are covered above.
Ahhhh, groovy…. I’m keeping it.
1965 Laugh At Me The Billboard Hot 100 #10 (Sonny solo)
1965 But You’re Mine The Billboard Hot 100 #15
1966 What Now My Love The Billboard Hot 100 #14
1966 The Wondrous World Of Sonny & Cher The Billboard 200 #34
1965 Laugh At Me The Billboard Hot 100 #9 (Sonny solo)
1965 But You’re Mine The Billboard Hot 100 #17
1966 What Now My Love The Billboard Hot 100 #13
1966 The Wondrous World Of Sonny & Cher #15
Set Me Free
Laugh at Me