Today I've been wallowing in the past, 1965 to be exact, seeing as how present day America is so fraught with peril it's difficult to focus on it without succumbing to a sense of utter impending doom.
So I've been watching that classic screwball duo Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 in old episodes of the groundbreaking spy spoof Get Smart, which debuted in 1965, and thinking about another duo that hit the scene the same year, Sonny & Cher.
To a sheltered 12-year-old, I Got You Babe was a treat (and as it turned out, also a trick). Just as Agent 99 was a role model of sorts in portraying the exciting career working alongside a man she adored, so 19-year-old Cher provided a glimpse into a different, but just as enthralling, world - where she could live a "you and me against the world" sort of life singing and laughing with the man she adored. What was not to like about either one of those fantasies?
The older Sonny Bono had been working as a promoter for Phil Spector when he met Cher and helped her land a job as a session singer. (That was her in You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' by the Righteous Brothers, and Be My Baby by the Ronettes, among others.) He also was a songwriter, and it was his Needles and Pins (written with Jack Nitzsche), that cemented stardom during the British Invasion for the Searchers.
Having initially recorded Baby Don't Go as a duet, Sonny then wrote I Got You Babe for the two of them and gave it to KHJ Radio in L.A. exclusively, to be played once an hour. Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun was certain the B-side, It's Gonna Rain, was the greater hit, a view Sonny did not share (thank God, it's awful!) and he decided to head Ertegun off at the pass by promising DJs exclusives. Given that kind of saturation exposure, I Got You Babe was a smash hit in one week, the Stones' Satisfaction hanging just behind it at #2.
I have always been a sucker for songs with dramatic shifts in the vocal key, and Cher's modulation at the "and if I get scared, you're always around" verse still gives me the shivers. And few songs of that time provided such a platform for an intimate look at the lives of its performers.
Though we would later learn that their wholesome-yet-rebellious image was just as carefully crafted in some ways as images are today, nonetheless it had an element of authenticity to it that was very appealing. Sonny & Cher made you think they were singing just for us, wanted us (not our parents) to get to know them and accept them in all their hippie glory, and we did. Their particular chemistry, while it was good, was nothing short of delightful.