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Sonny & Cher: All I Ever Need Is You

The early '70s was the era when rock 'n' roll became old enough to have "comebacks." Elvis established the precedent in 1968 with his famous NBC television special, which set up the good news-bad news paradigm of pretty much all of the rock 'n' roll comebacks that have followed. The part of special where he sat in the round, reminisced with his old bandmates and played acoustic versions of his early hits was great and timeless. But that was more than offset by a ton of schmaltzy production numbers that presaged his "Fat Elvis" Vegas years.

By 1972, the inevitably tragic arc of the rock 'n' roll comeback wasn't yet fully understood, but after Sonny and Cher followed Elvis on that sad journey, no doubts remained.

sonny_and_cher.jpgAfter the world's hottest rock couple became passe, they resurged in the early '70s, reaching a peak with All I Ever Need Is You, an album put out on Kapp Records just as the couple's CBS variety show got picked up as a prime time staple. Thanks to the massive exposure they were getting on TV, the album became one of their biggest sellers ever - but, like Elvis' comeback special, it also showed exactly why everything that was dangerous and exciting about their rock 'n' roll past was completely over.

Cher's personal comeback had started the year before with the number-one smash "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves." It was an ultra-slick, heavily produced soft pop effort recorded by Tommy "Snuff" Garrett, and it marked the change in her image from hippie chick to grown-up torch singer. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour then made official the pair's transformation into a kind of "with it" lounge act, in which they used their classic rock hits as a backdrop for the kind of wisecracking, vaguely titillating him/her putdown banter that's been a hallmark of Vegas schtick ever since the Dunes first rose out of the Nevada desert.

Garrett was retained by Kapp (which later become one of the trio of labels that merged to become MCA Records) to apply his Midas touch to a Sonny & Cher record, and the result was two more big-time hits: the title cut and "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done." "All I Ever Need Is You" is firmly in the Garrett mode: all tinkly piano and lush strings with French horns coming in for the fills as Sonny warbles about how he badly he needs Cher; pure '70s crap.

But "Cowboy" is a something else. Sonny co-produced this with Garrett and managed to inject some interesting stuff: It uses a weird muted guitar playing in minor keys and mic'ed-up timpanies to back a rather sad tale about how childhood dreams of heroism go unfulfilled. It reached No. 8 on the pop charts.

The other highlight (or lowlight, depending on how you view it) is "Mama Was a Rock and Roll Singer, Papa Used to Write All Her Songs," a nine-minute "experimental" opus in which Garrett took a simple, Cowsills-style pop melody and expanded it into a weird, overblown rock opera in which S & C were lost in a sea of horns, guitar swirls and honky-tonk piano that sounded suspiciously like Elton John. Ouch. It reached No. 77 - and was Sonny & Cher's last charting single.

This could be all fine and good, but the lie was really put to Sonny & Cher's cultural relevance by the inclusion of four live tracks of them performing their '60s hits as comedy bits in front of lounge crowds. Yow! This is where the first wave of "classic rock" truly died. It's damn painful. Lester Bangs wrote of it in Rolling Stone:

"Don't get me wrong; I'm not one of these cranks who goes around maligning love, or even Love. In fact, part of the point of this is that I'm so fed up with the pretentious, unprofessional welters of self-consciousness typifying the contemporary rock concert that I will enthusiastically lap up absolute schmaltz and pap if the show is good and the sequins in technicolor. But I still remember 'I Got You Babe' and 'The Beat Goes On' and the original 'You Better Sit Down Kids.' And I remember Johnny Cash and even flatulent old Tom Jones. And I wonder just what I have a right to expect."

Isn't that quaint? No one expected rock 'n' roll to die so soon. Here's how S&C introduce "The Beat Goes On" for the lounge crowd, as the bass plays the signature riff:

S: Okay, now we're gonna slow it down. (snapping fingers) It's finger-snapping time. You fellas ready? You ready, Bathsheba (referring to Cher's revealing, Oriental-style get-up)? I'm not ready yet.
C: You're always ready.
S: I, uh, I wrote this song.
C: Whoopee.
S: That always impresses everybody. Okay, okay here we go.
C: I'm hot tonight.
S: You're hot tonight? Goodnight, everybody. She's hot tonight. Well the beat goes on, yeah the beat goes . . . boom.

And so did the 1960s.

Tommy Cash (Johnny's brother)? Def Leppard? LaBelle? The Clash? We've got 'em, and more, in the Bin Dive collection.



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Posted on February 1, 2007


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