In which we meet a guy called Sonny and a gal called Cher. One of whom would go on to become a Republican politician; one of whom wouldn’t. I wonder which one it’ll be…?
I Got You Babe, by Sonny & Cher (her 1st of four #1s)
2 weeks, from 26th August – 9th September 1965
Before all of that, their debut single. And what a way to get your careers started – with an international chart-topper. A song that’s still well known to this day. Ubiquitous, even. They say we’re young, And we don’t know, Won’t find out until we grow… Y’all know the rest. But, having listened to it several times now, I’m realising that it’s a very difficult record to define. Is it pop? Is it folk? Is it country? Is there a whiff of Phil Spector-esque Wall of Sound in there?
It’s a dense, textured record – lots of bells and tambourines and other slightly unusual sounding instruments that you don’t normally get in a pop song, chiming in along with a slightly droney rhythm. It’s Baroque pop – pop that incorporates classical elements. The Beach Boys, The Walker Brothers and The Beatles were all beginning to experiment with harpsichords and strings. Neither of which feature on ‘I Got You Babe’, though I think you can hear a French horn or two.
It’s a grown-up sounding pop record. A feature of 1965 so far through chart-toppers from The Righteous Brothers, Georgie Fame and so on, a further step away from simple Beat-pop. Except… lyrically, ‘I’ve Got You Babe’ is ultra-simple. They say our love won’t pay the rent, Before it’s earned our money’s all been spent… etc. etc. Culminating in Sonny’s lines in the bridge: I’ve got flowers, In the spring, I’ve got you, To wear my ring… It’s cutesy cutesy and a little hippy dippy. And the ending, where they list all the things that they have one another for – I’ve got you, To hold me tight… and so on, is a bit much.
I have to admit, this has never been a song that I’ve loved. And writing this post hasn’t changed my mind. It’s too cute, too twee. Two teenagers in love, regardless of what the world thinks. Musically, yes, it’s another step forward but the lyrics are eighth-grade Valentine’s card level. And to call them teenagers isn’t strictly correct – Cher was nineteen when this hit the top, whereas Sonny was thirty…
What of Cher? There’s little going on here to suggest that she’s going to become one of the biggest female stars of the late twentieth century. She doesn’t even really sound like Cher yet. No autotune, maybe… The voice does come through in certain lines, though – rey-unt and spey-unt for example. She sounds a bit hesitant, a little shy, though she does deliver her lines in the bridge magnificently – You’re always aro-o-o-ound… and by the end she’s belting it out.
By the time we hear from her next, Cher will be stratospherically famous. But that won’t be for a while. A cover version of ‘I Got You Babe’, by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, will top the charts before Cher appears there again. Meanwhile, Sonny Bono is the one who will go on to become the Republican politician (give yourself a round of applause if you guessed that right) before dying tragically in a skiing accident in 1998. They divorced as early as 1975, which kind of undermines the message of their only chart-topper together. ‘I Got You (Until We Split Up In a Decade) Babe’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.