As 1967 becomes 1968 - with two hit records and one flop movie representing Sonny & Cher's accomplishments for the year - Sonny decides that movie stardom is the obvious future for Cher, with himself as auteur. As he throws himself into writing CHASTITY, recording output dwindles to next-to-nothing. Reaction to same is even less. The New Year doesn't represent the trend of the last two: as smash single on the heels of Auld Lang Syne. In fact, Sonny & Cher will only cut two tracks in 1968. The first ("Circus") is Sonny's psychedelic dump upon psychedelic culture...with an atomic explosion for the record's finale. And that's the only noise the record makes. They'll head back to Gold Star at the end of the movie shoot for a much better effort on the brassy "You Gotta Have A Thing Of Your Own" - the lingo's hipped-up but the style is pure Caesar & Cleo. And why not...Sonny & Cher are becoming Top 40 poison.

 

SONNY & CHER: (Atco 6555) "Circus" (SB) / SONNY: "I Would Marry You Today" (SB) (Both Prod SB) Arr HB)

SONNY & CHER: (Atco 6605) "You Gotta Have A Thing Of Your Own" (SB) / "I Got You Babe (film version)" (Both Prod. SB, Arr HB

 

 

 

 

The music industry itself is the Great Rock and Roll Swindle, but by 1968 Sonny & Cher are looking like its embodiment. The business acumen Sonny utilized to not become financial losers at the hands of the business has paid off. They have a lifestyle that peers who'd enjoyed a similar run of hits could only dream about. The times that swept them into fame and fortune are however rapidly giving way to very real changes in music and image...of the anti-establishment kind that Sonny and Cher once represented.

As a business plan, there's some wisdom in diversifying into movies and general entertainment: after all Elvis has done it successfully without being beholden to an image determined by the needs of record salesmen. And Sonny's on the money when it comes to Cher's potential as a superstar. But Sonny is his own worst enemy when it comes to implementing reasonable plans: he's become chronically unable to remove reactionary politics from everything he touches. To that end, he bowdlerizes the script of "Chastity" to suit his opinions about modern girls, and what he thinks is wrong with them. And he's everywhere with a howler of an educational film about the dangers of weed. Sonny & Cher have simply become, at best, glamorous anachronisms who can't sell records.

 

 

 

Cher's 1968 Imperial singles are actually recorded at Gold Star in late 1967, with a few additional tracks submitted in February to comprise the album which finalizes her contract with the label. The days of Brill Building honchos churning out hit songs for recording artists to compete for, and with, are long gone but that doesn't stop the industry from giving the idea another shot. And with Trade Martin's "Take Me For A Little While" touted to anyone and everyone, Cher is just one artist who fails to do anything with a very ordinary song. In the wake of "Click Song"s failure, it's released in tandem with the album.

The mid-year LP BACKSTAGE is a concerted effort at originality and timeliness, with no Sonny compositions. As an album it's a darker piece of work overall. Harold Battiste Jr's jazzy/fusion/ World Music influence on the production is apparent; some arrangements are skeletal, all are somber. Half get a string quartet treatment, half get a Dr John-ish feel. (Little wonder: Harold is currently arranging and producing "Gris-Gris" for Dr John aka Mac Rebbenack - some say on Sonny & Cher studio time - and Cher scores an exclusive on "I Wasn't Ready".) The eclectic writer sources - from Doug Sahm to Bob West to Bonfa and Bacharach/David - don't however allow for lyrical triteness to undermine the experiment that is BACKSTAGE. The fluffy and familiar is challeged by arrangement and production. Cher's "Carnival" (with Hugo & Luigi's English lyric - not Carl Sigman's "A Day In The Life Of A Fool") expertly returns it to its Brazilian origins. Her reading of Dylan's "Masters Of War" starkly and stunningly leaves all other versions - the writer's included - for dead. The experiment's glaring failure is expecting the vocalist to sell the dramatic schlock of "The Impossible Dream" with an MOR cool jazz backing track more suited to Peggy Lee...and expecting listeners to not notice some serious mic overload around the minute mark.

Imperial 66282 "The Click Song Number One" / "But I Can't Love You More" (SB)

Imperial 66307 "Take Me For A Little While" / "Song Called Children"

 

The day of reckoning comes around the time of the Greatest Hits collection. That's usually the time a record company gets a windfall of sorts with no additional recording expenses (and sometimes reduced royalties). For most artists, no "Volume 2" is planned or hoped for. In the case of Cher's tenure at Imperial, Al Stoffel's backliner notes for CHER'S GOLDEN GREATS succinctly sums up four good years and a slew of great and unforgettable records:

"There are no smiles here. We haven't come all this way for levity. Her image is appparent: moody, emotional, nostalgic. The heavyhearted songs are integral parts of the intricate personality of Cher."

And then she was really outta there.

 

 

1969 begins tenuously for Sonny & Cher. Their absence from the charts is dwarfed by the fact that Sonny has borrowed heavily to complete "Chastity" but has been unable to find a distributor. The January failure of Cher's first Atco outing ("Yours Until Tomorrow" - a lame version of a lame Goffin / King song) prompts label honchos Wexler, Mardin and Dowd to sideline Sonny-as-producer altogether, and take charge in the form of getting Cher to a brand-new studio they're affiliated with in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It's been set up in competition with FAME Studios. Three tracks are cut (The Box Tops' "Cry Like A Baby", "Please Don't Tell Me" and a Sonny & Cher duet "Honey Lamb") resulting in a solo LP for Cher being green-lighted for two weeks hence in April. Named for the studio address, 3614 JACKSON HIGHWAY finds Cher easily hitting a soulful groove with the cream of the musical crop associated with FAME.

 

 

June brings an aggressive cross-promotion push from Atco: the market is hit with album and single product from Cher-as-soul-sister, Sonny & Cher, and the film CHASTITY. The passably commercial duet "You're A Friend of Mine" and a double A-side 45 from Cher: "Chastity's Song" (from the film) / "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" (from 3614 JACKSON HIGHWAY) will all fail. ("Chastity's Song" - like the duet - is a newer recording with new arranger Greg Poree, who'll arrange all new product during 1969. It's actually Elyse Weinberg's "Band Of Thieves", and it's tacked onto the film and its Don Peake-arranged CHASTITY ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK. Dr John's "Guilded Splinters" becomes the nominal A-side in trade ads.) In a last-ditch effort to get Cher's album off the ground - it's been pressed in vast numbers - Atco puts out her laid-back version of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" in August - again to no avail.

 

SONNY & CHER (ATCO 6683): "You're A Friend Of Mine" (SB) / SONNY: "I Would Marry You Today" (SB)

CHER (ATCO 6684): "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" / "Chastity's Song (Band Of Thieves"

CHER (ATCO 6704): "For What It's Worth" / "Hangin' On"

 

In the Fall, Sonny comes up with the first version of "The First Time" for Cher. The turgid tale of surrendered virginity and morning-after rejection is snubbed in '69, but the heroine (and her loss) will resurface a few years later to join the long line of tarts who "make mistakes" and almost define Cher's early- to mid-70s recordings. The familiar B-side lacks the soul of the original, and the grit of it's best-known hit version. Almost a year will go by until Stan Vincent is recruited to cut Cher on the much-covered "Groupie (Superstar)", but Cher herself will later equate a career down the toilet (hers) with Karen Carpenter's later successful version. To finalize their contract with Atco, Sonny & Cher will once again reunite at Gold Star in early 1970 for The Last Hurrah For Now: "Get It Together"...which fails to get anything together.

 

 

But the Rock 'n' Roll Fable of Sonny & Cher has come to an end - like that golden musical decade which encompassed so much more than ten years, or just one sound. Nobody has defined it, but Sonny & Cher have inhabited it on their own terms. There was good and there was bad in how the rock dreams of Sonny & Cher became manifest, but artistically it was creativity more than indifference which contributed to the final mix.

CHER (ATCO 6713): "The First Time" (SB) / "You've Made Me So Very Happy"

SONNY & CHER (ATCO 6758) "Get It Together" (SB) / "Hold You Tighter" (SB)

CHER (ATCO 6793): "Superstar" / "The First Time"

 

 

NOTES ON UNRELEASED TRACKS / MISSING MASTERS

(1) In 1969/1970 Atlantic / Atco transferred all unreleased masters / outtakes / session reels to a warehouse in Long Branch, New Jersey which was subsequently destroyed by fire - along with all its contents - in 1975. The only tapes which had been kept in the New York vault were single and album masters which corresponded with previously released catalog material. A few "discoveries" have been made in this vault, but essentially everything not previously released has been lost unless duplicate dubs exist in the hands of others. Conservatively, about a dozen Sonny & Cher tracks from late '65 to '69 appear to have met this fate - including out-takes from 3614 JACKSON HIGHWAY.

(2) The monaural LP compilation reel which comprises bonus tracks on the Rhino Handmade CD of 3614 JACKSON HIGHWAY wasn't assembled by Atco: it's a compilation of Gold Star 45 masters dated 1970, dubbed in Hollywood and provided to Atco. It duplicates some masters previously released, but in terms of being logged by matrix #s it appears that August 1974 is the date of acquisition. It's likely to represent a contractual obligation only, since the likelihood of a monaural LP being released in 1974 is remote. Missing sequential acquisition masters from Gold Star at the time also include:

SONNY: "I'm Not Small Enough" (Recorded in August 1967)

SONNY & CHER: "Born To Be With You" / "Just A Little" (Rejected 45 from March 1969)

SONNY & CHER: "Play Me Some Music" (Recorded November 1969)

 

(3) For close to five decades a myth has circulated that a final Sonny & Cher LP known as THIS GOOD EARTH was planned and indeed exists. The story has its origins in Lillian Roxon's seminal 1969 Rock Encyclopedia. It's unsubtantiated urban legend, with no documented source/s.

 

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