1965 will be the do-or-die year for American pop.

Merseybeat has wiped a generation - and a genre or two - from the world's pop music charts. Superbly crafted American Tin Pan Alley teen epics are being sniffed at by DJs chasing the young hipness muse. Records by beehive virgins and pompadored glamor boys are dismissed without a hearing. Pop is eating itself, and the meal is all things American apple pie. The Gods haven't yet decided that folk rock is The Great White Hope, but they may have decide on Sonny & Cher as contenders.

For starters, the duo's image could only be described by the politest of squares as "artistic", with the pair initially mistaken for imports. By Summer's end, savvy New Yorkers who eschew TV will stop in their tracks and gawk open-mouthed at Sam Goody's Sixth Avenue window display for the first Sonny & Cher LP.

Secondly, Sonny & Cher are quite able to back up all-important image with the ability to make commercial records on their own terms. Neither hacks nor naive kids, they're blessed with not only being in touch with the market but capable of delivering finished product to market as a package. Based on "Baby Don't Go"'s promise (and some completed cuts) Ahmet Ertegun is therefore no fool in signing them to Atlantic's pop subsidiary Atco for $5,000 upfront, generous studio time and 7.5% of sales. For his nickel a disc and Sonny's creative freedom, Ahmet gets five years worth of finished masters and chunk of publishing, along with Greene & Stone (right, with Sonny & Cher) middlemen-ing with York-Pala Productions.

 

 

Whereas "Baby Don't Go" is moody, the first submission to Atco is a near-overdose of cheer. Constitutionally similar to the previous disc, "Sing C'est La Vie" substitutes accordion for melodica with Cher taking the verses while Sonny eggs the choruses on with a French accent. More Eurovision than Folk Rock, Ahmet balks and asks for better. "Sing C'est La Vie"'s U.S. destiny will be the flip side of the next effort - Atco firmly rejects Quetzal-ish B-sides - but it'll be big in France and a Top 5 smash in Australia.

SONNY & CHER (Atco 6345): "Just You" (SB) / "Sing C'est La Vie" (BGS)

"Just You" doesn't move quickly in either context. It sells regionally - again on the West Coast. Taken at a much slower clip than anything before, it's a sumptuous slice of Folk Rock history. Heavily indebted to Spector and Gold Star Studios, "Just You" can only be experienced as three and a half minutes of heaven. The lyric is strictly teen lament but the whole thing is a technical masterpiece in aural dimension: the majority of the background is far, far back but deafeningly so. Upfront are vulnerable vocals with minimal but effective percussion from castanets. Strings whistle and weave throughout, and the whole production is tied together with a perfect mix. Some folks however hear more than the Wall Of Sound: melodically "Just You'''s resemblance to the Ronettes' "Baby, I Love You" gets the lawyers fired up and Sonny & Cher will consequently add two Spector / Greenwich / Barry compositions to their album later in the year. But what the hell - "Just You" finally makes it into the Top 20 around that time.

 

 

CHER (Imperial 66114): "All I Really Want To Do" / "I'm Gonna Love You" (SB) Both Arr HB, Prod SB

When Imperial Records realize Sonny & Cher are signed to Atco, they offer a solo deal for Cher. Matching Atco's $5,000 they get Sonny as producer and York-PalaProductions with the encumbrance of Greene and Stone.

Hanging out a Byrds show in Hollywood - and hearing their riff-ridden take on Dylan's "All I Really Want To Do" - Sonny also hears Cher's next solo single. Imperial however sit on it for months, and only release it when the Byrds own version is scheduled for release. Cher's version is on air and in stores a week before The Byrds'. Both versions chart but Cher's version prevails. Despite press claims of a "friendly battle", acrimony prevails on the part of Byrds producer Terry Melcher.

The B-side ("I'm Gonna Love You") will be repurposed for the movie "Good Times" in 1967.

 

 

SONNY & CHER (Atco 6359): "It's Gonna Rain" (SB, movie version) / "I Got You Babe" (SB) (cancelled)

SONNY & CHER (Atco 6359): "I Got You Babe" / "It's Gonna Rain" (new version)

Ahmet Ertegun has faith in Sonny & Cher but prefers the B-side of the next single. "It's Gonna Rain" (a bluesy little weather report in the Caesar and Cleo vein) was recorded pre-Atco, and is Sonny & Cher's cameo in the B-grade teen exploitation movie "Wild On The Beach".

(The provenance of Sonny & Cher's recording(s) of "It's Gonna Rain" are dubious: contractually RCA acquired it for the movie soundtrack, with production and arrangement credits owed to By Dunham and Jimmie Haskell respectively. Some pressings of Atco 6359 reflect this but don't denote which version.)

Sonny's however certain that "I Got You Babe" is the winner, and duly one-ups Ahmet by breaking it on KHJ Boss Radio in L.A. and the swichboard duly gets lit up and Atco gets shipping orders for "I Got You Babe". Within three weeks those orders are within the neighborhood of three million and Sonny & Cher are sitting at Number One.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Summer of '65 "I Got You Babe" just appears out of nowhere other than Sonny noticing a number of "Babe" songs kicking around. Cher's not impressed ("Not one of your better songs, Son...) and requests a modulation at the bridge. In 12/8 time it's almost a waltz and her instinct is on the money: the C-F-G kick makes the song fly. With a superb (though uncredited) arrangement by Harold Battiste utiliizing oboe as both fill and counterpoint to sentimental guitars and bells, "I Got You Babe" paces itself agains a rising and crashing orchestral wall of sound. A false ending with some showy drumming from Hal Blaine for a finale makes for a unique and polished production. An onlooker reports "about fifty" musicians leaving the session at Gold Star - they earned every penny they made. Sonny has produced more than a good record: it's an exuberant proclamation of unconditional and guileless love.

 

These are the days when a record can be on-air as soon as a lacquer is struck and a test pressing is delivered to a station and Sonny's hastily-recorded "Laugh At Me" becomes an instant radio smash in L.A. Atco's delight at the thought of pressing a million of the next Sonny & Cher hit is short-lived: Sonny informs them it's not a duo record but another sensation...think Dylan, think solo Sonny. The ensuing contract puts the previous deals to shame, but a highly successful promotional visit to the United Kingdom is underscored by a remarkable achievement: by the end of August Sonny & Cher have five singles in the Top 100 with "I Got You Babe" at the top.

 

 

But success is a hungry beast, and Sonny soon finds that he has to back up three separate recording contracts with follow-up singles and more. (The re-released "Baby Don't Go" (on Reprise) and "Just You" have become solid national hits in the U.S. Read more here.)

The view from the top is daunting: aside from already-booked personal appearances and television those contracts are demanding three hit singles as well as two albums. And it falls upon Sonny to come up with them all in terms of writing, performing and production of finished tracks for release.

Cher's ear-worm in London is The Fortunes' "You've Got Your Troubles", so Sonny "adapts" it as "But You're Mine" and cuts it in New York (with The Lovin' Spoonful" as musicians) and presents it to Atco as Sonny & Cher's next single. Ahmet Ertegun's response is a dry "So where's the hit?" .

 

SONNY: (Atco 6369) "Laugh At Me" (SB) / SONNY'S GROUP: "Tony" (Instrumental) (SB, G&S) A-side Arr. Harold Battite Jr.

SONNY & CHER: (Atco 6381) "But You're Mine" (SB) / "Hello" (SB, G&S) A-side Arr. HB

CHER: (Imperial 66136) "Where Do You Go" (SB) / "See See Blues" (SB, G&S) Both Arr HB, Prod, SB

SONNY: (Atco 6388) "The Revolution Kind" (SB) / SONNY'S GROUP: "Georgia & John Quetzal" (Instrumental) (SB, G&S) A-side Arr HB

SONNY: (Atco France 7) "The Revolution Kind" (SB) / SONNY & CHER: "Je M'en Balance" (Hybrid edit of "But You're Mine" and "Mais Tu Es A Moi" (SB, A. Etegun)

 

"But You're Mine" and "Where Do You Go" follow in the back-draft of the duo and Cher's smash hits. The former fares well for what it is, but what it's not is in "Babe's" league. Melodically strong in the verse it builds to nothing. As a production it meanders along with no help from an uncomfortable and uninspired lyric. Ahmet Ertegun pens a French lyric for it in an effort to get it off the ground in French-speaking territories, but Sonny's French vocals are edited out of "Mais Tu Es A Moi" to create "Je M'en Balance" for release in France. (The unedited version will turn up in Canada a year later). Cher's "Where Do You Go" should do better than it does...a beautiful record from start to finish, but her wistful reading of alienation is quickly forgotten. Ahmet has one eye on an international market, and launches Atco in France with much fanfare for its current stars...and the availability of their original song publishing catalog for translation and cover recordings. It's a worthwhile effort too: songs which haven't performed especially well Stateside are all picked by French and Italian stars and become substantial hits in those regions.

From Sonny the solo entity, Atco will harvest no riches since they haven't indeed bought a piece of The Next Poet of The Generation - solo Sonny will be a one-hit wonder. "The Revolution Kind" is a great piece of janglepop, but as a follow-up to "Laugh At Me" it sees Sonny distancing himself from the protestation of the first instance. It fails to sell, as it fails to inspire a youthful march to the political center. And to add insult to injury, Sonny's B-sides get the instrumental Quetzal treatment. Or, in the case of "Hello", no music at all. Just Sonny with a hello and thank you message for the fans, a few piano clunks and nothing much from Cher. Realistically, nothing else is available for release since nothing has been written or recorded. Anyhow there's always a royalties windfall for the writers of a junk B-side since it pays exactly the same rates from sales as the A-side.

A COMPREHENSIVE INTERNATIONAL LISTING OF SONNY & CHER'S 60S COVER VERSIONS IS HERE.

 

The Fall of 1965 sees an historic achievement for Sonny & Cher in terms of charting singles.

But in the business of selling records historical achievements are relatively meaningless. Apart from hit singles, both Atco and Imperial want albums, and they want them quickly. Atco has four tracks in release and as "I Got You Babe" takes off Sonny hurriedly records eight cover versions to make up an album. The old Caesar & Cleo cut "The Letter" is acquired. (It's been recently re-released as a Sonny & Cher record on Vault in the U.S. and many foreign labels, with some sales.) "Something You Got" is cut, and the track goes to DJ Reb Foster for release on Loma. Stylistically diverse to say the least, the LP LOOK AT US can't be milked for another single but it flies off the racks at the rate of 200,000 per week. (Click on LP cover for more details)

 

Imperial have been also snipping at Sonny's heels for a solo Cher long-player. With little "in the can", Sonny amazingly creates a cohesive folk-rock album over extended early-July sessions at Gold Star. A rush-release, the LP ALL I REALLY WANT TO DO is in stores weeks after the 45 starts charting. Folk rock is getting the American pop industry back on its feet for who knows how long, and Cher's first album is a standout of the genre. And more so because she's a girl.

The inclusion of Cherilyn's "Dream Baby" girl-group epic is somewhat jarring, but some very good songs from very good writers like Dylan, Chris Andews, Ray Davies and the Queen of Imperial herself - Jackie Deshannon - give Cher an opportunity to define herself. (Click on LP cover for more details)

 

Reprise however aren't demanding more of Sonny & Cher. Company chief Mo Ostin has never been happy with the way things panned out regarding Greene and Stone flogging them "Baby, Don't Go" as a Sonny & Cher record when Reprise is set to release Caesar & Cleo's "Love Is Strange" the following week. The solution of releasing them both on the same day saw some sales for for the former, but it cost the company much more than "Love Is Strange".

While it wasn't a smash in 1964, upon re-release in 1965 "Baby Don't Go" does very well. Sonny has to suffer the indignity of an LP by Sonny & Cher & "Friends"...the majority of whom are Caesar and Cleo. Other friends at the party are represented by their demos and non-hits...some up to five years old. (Click on LP cover for more details)

MORE DETAILS OF SONNY'S 1965 OFF-LABEL PROJECTS & CASH-INS ARE HERE.

 

The many faces of success are staring Sonny & Cher down as Fall turns to Winter. Everybody wants a piece of Sonny & Cher: Sonny's astringency towards Reprise should be offset by budget label Metro's release of "Those Fantabulous Strings Play The Sonny & Cher Hits" - all ten songs see royalties directed to the business of Sonny & Cher in ways that the Reprise LP didn't. It's virtually impossible to make an honest living as recording stars since legal and illegal forces are at work to deprive an artist of income - regardless of contracts. The duo is fine with Atco since Ahmet Ertegun is legit when it comes to dealing with a mafia which preys on virtually every aspect of the industry.

But while Greene and Stone have undoubtedly hustled Sonny & Cher to the top while locking in their take, it's not long before armed mobsters are replacing creditors in the York-Pala offices. What the managers hold is what organized crime wants - acquisition of management contracts and more. It's the common fate of many performers, and the many streams of income Sonny & Cher are generating has become especially attractive to a forced takeover. Greene and Stone hold firm, but Sonny knows the business only too well. He knows why Phil Spector carries a gun.

And the show goes on. Culturally and musically Sonny & Cher have caught a wordwide wave. Musically they've attracted attention - good and bad - from their peers. Outakes from "The Beach Boys Party" evidence the group mean-heartedly ridiculing them while records which emulate their style start appearing. Reactionary anti-protesters The Spokesmen and Mac Davis do "Like A Babe" and "I Protest (Babe)" amongst the slew of soundalikes: those of ordinary vocal chops can always do a snarling Sonny impersonation and have it read as "Dylanesque".

The Sonny & Cher Look is adored and copied worldwide as much as it's vilified. Growing up in Los Angeles, Cher felt the sting of looking like an ethnic outsider but by 1965 she's a beauty role-model for teenage girls.

Another ball to be juggled is touring. Or more to the point: renegotiating the tripling of fees for shows already booked. Striking while iron's hot attracts a lawsuit over non-appearances on a package tour Gene Pitney's running.

At the end of October Sonny makes another attempt at a smash duo single, but Atco rejects "I Look For You". It's "I Got You Babe" done sideways. Of the (apparently lost) six tracks cut at Gold Star during the second week of December only one will see the light of day, or a disc-cutting lathe.

SONNY & CHER: (Atco 6395) "What Now My Love" / "I Look For You" (SB) Both Arr HB, Prod SB

This time round, magic doesn't come from Sonny's pen. Sonny & Cher will kick off the New Year in fine form. Their powerhouse rock 'n' roll version of Gilbert Becaud's standard "What Now My Love" will be a wordwide hit. On-the-beat guitars and a throbbing bass figure open the production. Shuffling percussion hurries along a relentlessly building orchestra...all of it lifted with Cher's beloved modulations. Both sides will be the last York-Pala productions for Sonny and Cher on Atco - Sonny is hard at work extricating himself from Greene & Stone.

But it was a very, very good year.

 

 

 

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