Phoenix New Times
January 22, 1998, Thursday
HEADLINE: Eclipse of the Sonny;
Sonny Bono's 1967 solo debacle captured the moment
when pop music passed him by
BYLINE: By Serene Dominic
I never thought I'd cut a record by myself. But I've got something to say, I
wanna say it for Cher and I hope I say it for a lot of people.
--"Laugh at Me" by Sonny Bono, 1965
Because Sonny Bono played such a convincing stooge, folks always credit his onetime partner Cher with possessing all the talent. Sadly, it's a common assessment that only Bono's George of the Jungle-ish death at the trunk of a misplaced tree seems to have shattered.
By now, even Newt Gingrich knows Bono was an underrated songwriter, penning great tunes like "Needles and Pins" (recorded by the Searchers, Jackie DeShannon, and the Ramones), "She Said Yeah" (recorded by the Rolling Stones, and Larry Williams) and "Ko Ko Joe" (recorded by the Righteous Brothers). Plus he was an underrated producer/arranger who apprenticed as Phil Spector's flunky until he fashioned his own European version of "the Wall of Sound," a kinda Leaning Tower of Pisa of Sound, if you will. There are enough accordions, oboes, zithers, clarinets and balalaikas on hits like "I Got You Babe," "Bang Bang" (a solo hit for Cher) and "Little Man" to make you think the records could've been issued in a checkered tablecloth with a Menu Touristica slipped inside.
But rather than give Bono his rightful due as the team's Desi Arnaz, he was ridiculed as the team's Andrew Ridgeley, just some schlub along for the ride. Bah! And Cher's ingratitude toward Sonny's Svengali work didn't help any.
In those lean years following the couple's acrimonious split, Cher never missed an opportunity to disparage Bono in interviews. How ironic that she could still make headlines dating big rock stars like Gene Simmons while Sonny was reduced to merely playing rock stars on Fantasy Island and The Love Boat.
So let her shed her crocodile tears in The Globe now, "Shattered star weeps for Sonny" --ha! In the divorce papers, she charged her former babe with "involuntary servitude." In short, slavery!
Well, I don't know if all that's true, but at least Sonny never forced her to appear on records as bad as her album with Gregg Allman, Two the Hard Way. Or, for that matter, her entire '80s and '90s output!
As the teenyboppers' newborn king and queen, Sonny and Cher were red-hot in 1965. So hot that the pair's success even afforded Sonny, who had a voice like the horn on a Hyundai, the chance to bleat on a solo hit of his own--the lovable "why pick on li'l ol' longhaired me" anthem "Laugh at Me." When an insecure and equally unsure-voiced Ian Hunter auditioned for Mott the Hoople, he sang both "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Laugh at Me"--high praise indeed!
For some unexplained reason, Sonny cut an entire album by himself in 1967, two years after "Laugh at Me" hit and its follow-up "The Revolution Kind" flopped. If I hadn't seen it on the dust sleeve of an old Cream album, I never would have known Inner Views even existed.
Its cover is a hideous etching of Sonny sitting peacefully, with a smoky genie of Cher billowing next to him, touching her heart and his to assure the remaining fans this is no declaration of independence. The back is even scarier--it prints the lyrics! This supports the notion that at the time of issue, Inner Views was every bit the important statement to Bono that "Laugh at Me" had been earlier.
In Bono's 1991 autobiography, And the Beat Goes On, he admits, "I tried chasing the newer sound for a while but could never get a handle on it. The LP Inner Views was my attempt at psychedelic music. Occasionally, I'll hear some radio station playing 'Pammie's on a Bummer,' a moody, contrived song, and I'll ask, 'God, is that really me?'"
Pammie may have been on a bummer, but she's a canister of Silly String compared to somber Sonny in this set. Since Bono was an outspoken opponent of drugs at this time, one can only assume he's on a natural low. Without a musical role model since Phil Spector stopped making records the previous year, Sonny was left scratching his head wondering where all these sitars and tambouras were gonna fit into his Leaning Tower of Pisa of Sound. The answer: nowhere, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
There aren't two grooves pressed together on the whole first side that escape contamination from squiggly sitar runs. Like the dull, droning buzz of a dying bee or the hum of a faulty air conditioner, it runs constant through side one's two songs. Yes, you read right. Two songs! Because Sonny understands the requirements of this new music (to take drugs and do everything to excess) but stubbornly refuses to follow through with those requirements (by doing everything to excess stone cold sober), Inner Views is a most fascinating psychedelic skeleton in the closet.
Inner Views' opener is a studio jam titled "I Just Sit There," which does just that, for 12 interminable minutes. Try imagining a sitar-riddled rewrite of "The Beat Goes On," then imagine Sonny and the band tackling it alone while Cher goes to the grocery stores and supermarts, uh-huh! Bono starts out mumbling, rightfully pissed that the beat is going on without him, everyone is getting stoned and not buying Sonny and Cher records anymore.
"Smell the air, it's real uptight," he warns. About six minutes into this ditty, after Sonny's quoted "Ring Around the Rosey" and rhymed "sturgeon" with "virgin," he favors us with a snatch of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and leaves us with this elevated observation: "I wonder why we want to fly/The closer we get to the sky/The less we see with the naked eye/The world looks like a little ball/And people don't exist at all/Oh wow!"
Elevator broken in the brain hotel, you say? Clearly, the Bono man's no Donovan. But he's no harmonica player, either. There's a painfully wretched harmonica solo that must be Sonny exorcising all his Dylan demons in 246 wheezy huffs and puffs.
You think you're out of the woods once the printed lyrics for "I Just Sit There" run out, but after the harmonica solo, Sonny starts right in again at the top of the song, only this time he's suddenly emotionally committed to the work, barking out the lyrics and instructions to the band like he's whipping a team of Alaskan huskies. Yah! HhhhYah! And yes, even the harmonica solo isn't exempt from Sonny's deja-voodoo.
Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord
How about that, they harmonize
With a car that's doing fifty five
Isn't that wild machines can sing
The driver's digging everything
And he joins in while four cats sing
I read the news today oh boy
I just sit there
I just sit there.
Give Sonny credit for some progressive thought--he quotes "A Day in the Life" seven years before David Bowie does the same thing in "Young Americans."
But Sonny's not through pinching Pepper just yet. If you skip over to track two, the verses of "I Told My Girl to Go Away" are the exact same melody as "I read the news today oh boy." At a dirgelike speed, no less!
Bono's bad trip improves little on side two. On "I Would Marry You Today," he accuses his bell-bottomed beloved of taunting him and jangling his nerves, while the album's stiff single "My Best Friend's Girl Is Out of Sight" finds him in a jealous rage during a double date ("I watched them kiss I watched them hug/My stomach turned and I got bugged"). All this sets the stage for the album's downbeat finale, "Pammie's on a Bummer."
The first two of its seven minutes are occupied with the band sounding as if it is trying to break into an instrument shop without a flashlight. The bad freakout guitars must be by the same person who squawked mercilessly on the harmonica before, one Salvatore Bono. I mean, who'd pay a session guy to play this bad? Once the guitar-raga demonstration is dispensed with, Sonny introduces us to Pammie, a street walker who apparently isn't lovin' life, either: "She started smoking pot just to keep herself from flipping/But it wasn't strong enough so she graduated to tripping/Every day she'd take a ride to hide from the world outside/And all her tears were so cool 'cause they were so easy to hide/Pammie's on a bummer and nobody knows where she's at/Fate gave her one more vicious blow/She got hung up on an untouchable cat."
We never find out whether Pammie's fallen for Elliot Ness, Rico, Youngblood or Phil Spector, but it's a moot point. By the time Inner Views was released, Sonny and Cher were deemed untouchable with the under-30 crowd. Claims to the contrary in the teen mags, Sonny was 30 when he and Cher first said they were young and they don't know.
Well over 30 by the time Inner Views was under way, Sonny had already stopped trusting himself and his grasp of youth culture. As if to hasten that decline, the future congressman came on like a groovy narc in a widely distributed anti-pot educational film shown in grade schools that rivaled Reefer Madness for its flimsy grasp of reality. Bono, dressed in paisley threads and love beads, advised kids that smoking pot would make them so paranoid that they'd jump out of windows. In truth, far more kids probably took that fatal leap after listening to Vanilla Fudge's The Beat Goes On album, easily the worst psychedelic album of all time and one which Sonny was inadvertently responsible for, since it featured nine nauseating revisions of his hit song.
The failure of Inner Views wisely convinced Sonny to forget about the kids and go after their casino-packing parents instead. It's a record Sonny had to make, but it's not a record you have to hear. And you probably never will unless the pro-Bono sentiments get even more militant or Rhino Records gets la-di-da-di-dee, la-di-da-di-desperate.
The Charleston Gazette
November 16, 1995, Thursday
HEADLINE: WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN, SONNY
BYLINE: Heather Svokos
"Charleston was once the rage, uh-huh. History has turned a page, uh-huh. And the beat goes on. The beat goes on." Sure, Sonny Bono was talking about the lively ballroom dance - not our fair city. But ever since I heard he was coming to town on Friday, the lyrics keep pounding rhythms to my brain. La-dee da-dee dee.La-dee da-dee dah.
The news has also made me look deep within my soul. Does Sonny Bono make me smile because his musical legacy is one of pure kitsch? Or is there something more genuine at work there? Fortunately, I can only answer for myself.
I like the guy.
At least, that little mop-topped crooner of yore. This guy, the congressman coming to town to regale Republicans, the 60-year-old who's picked up this sort of used-car-salesman vibe along the way, I don't know him. I miss the old guy.
Come back to the five-and-dime, Sonny Bono, Sonny Bono.
Some say he was a misunderstood talent. No, really. There was even a tribute album. The 1991 disc, "Bonograph: Sonny Gets His Share," comes complete with gushing liner notes from underground joke rocker Ben Vaughn. "Laugh at him. Go ahead, laugh," Vaughn dares the reader. "He wrote 'I Got You Babe,' and still collects money from it. What have you done lately?"
Indeed. Who among us hasn't lolled their head from side to side upon hearing those infectious woodwind chirps that introduce the chorus? It was a transatlantic No. 1 hit in 1965, but apparently, timeless enough to drag Chrissie Hynde out of hiding in 1985 to cover it with UB40. And yes, the man born Salvator Bono wrote all this stuff. He even has a co-writing credit on the Searchers hit "Needles and Pins."
But if those are too obvious, the interested and plain curious can find more obscure tunes on " Inner Views, " Bono's 1967 solo project, and on the tribute album. On "Bonograph," DBs founder Peter Holsapple does a spare rendition of "I Look for You" that imbues the song with a kind of, well, beauty.
"I look for you because I didn't care, because I went nowhere. I look for you until my dream came true, until I could feel that you were real. That's why I held my hands up high, so you could hear me cry."
Speaking of emotional turmoil, Sonny met Cher when he was working as - who knew? - Phil Spector's assistant. Cher was doing a back-up gig at a 1963 Ronettes session.
In those early years, before Cher adopted what trained professionals like to call "a voice," it was sometimes difficult to distinguish her flat, nasal drone from Sonny's. That might be why my friend Bill and I got confused as we rehashed a few Bono lyrics - this time from the stirring "Baby Don't Go."
On the one hand, in the song, someone is clearly leaving town because she's never had a mother, hardly knew her dad. She'd been in that town for 18 years, and this guy was the only love she'd had. "I can't stay, maybe I'll be back some day," the vocalist sings. Then, without warning, what sounds like the same voice urges the pretty baby to stay put. "I love you so, pretty baby, please don't go."
But voices and other things started to change by the time their variety show hit the technicolor highway in the mid-'70s. There, atop a grand piano, Cher would lounge seductively, singing of some unnamed woman being a "camp, scamp and a bit of a tramp, she was a V-A-M-P, VAMP."
Silly? Of course. But it wasn't too long before both were taken a bit more seriously. Maybe Sonny was prophesying his own future in "Baby Don't Go": "I never had no money. I bought at the second-hand store. The way this whole town laughs at me, I just can't take it no more. I can't stay, I'm gonna be somebody some day."
Hmmph. I guess he showed that whole town. Bono gave up his day job, his variety show, his marriage. He has since been mayor of Palm Springs, Deborah Harry's husband in the John Waters film "Hairspray," and a pitchman for Nike. His latest job site is the nation's House of Representatives.
Even he was surprised.
"The last thing in the world I thought I would be is a U.S. congressman, given all the bobcat vests and Eskimo boots I used to wear," he said in a 1994 Associated Press story.
Misunderstood talent? Well, his status as songwriting legend might be suspect to some, but he was certainly misunderstood. At least by one of my old roommates. Once, as she absently sang a verse of "The Beat Goes On," she was right on target as she warbled: "Teeny bopper is our newborn king, uh-huh."
But I noticed she wasn't getting the part about the Charleston right. "What are you singing?" I demanded.
"Uh," she offered uncertainly, 'Charo's skin was once the rage uh-huh?'"
I don't think I've ever fully undoubled from laughing so hard. But really, a lyric like that wouldn't have been so far-fetched, considering Sonny did write the dichotomy of how our world's eternal truths plod on in the face of a massive technological revolution.
"Men still keep on marchin' off to war. 'Lectric'ly, they keep a baseball score. La-dee da-dee dee La-dee da-dee dah."
Maybe, just maybe, when he's done cutting Medicaid and otherwise ruling America, he'll take up songwriting again.
"When I get to the city, my tears will all be dry. My eyes will look so pretty, nobody's gonna know I cried. I'm goin' away. Maybe I'll be back some day."
Sonny, we can only hope.
The Houston Chronicle
May 11, 1995, Thursday, 2 STAR Edition
SECTION: HOUSTON; Snippets; Pg. 2
BYLINE: Staff, Wire Reports
Bummer of a 'View'
When John Linnell of the rock group They Might Be Giants was asked by GQ magazine to name his favorite awful album, his thoughts turned to the oldies but goodies of Rep. Sonny Bono, R-Calif.
Linnell singled out Bono's '' Inner Views' ', released in 1967, the opening song of which features a sitar, strings and 13-minute harmonica solo. Some lyrics: ""The world looks like a little ball/And people don't exist at all/Oh, wow. ''
""There's a psychedelic bad-trip aspect to the record. It's kind of a bummer,'' said Linnell, who listens to the album while on tour with the Giants. ""We were fascinated by it and then repulsed. ''
The Washington Post
December 25, 1991, Wednesday, Final Edition
SECTION: STYLE; PAGE D7
BYLINE: Mark Jenkins,
Special to The Washington Post
'Bonograph: Sonny Gets His Share' The notion of an auteur in pop music, an inherently collaborative form, is a dubious one, but Dylan clearly comes closer to qualifying than does Sonny Bono. That doesn't mean that Bono, a promotion man-producer-performer turned politician, is unworthy of consideration. Just his position at the right hand of Phil Spector during the Wall of Sound days is the stuff of legend, and Bono did write or co-write such Top 40 classics as "Needles and Pins," "She Said Yeah" and "I Got You Babe" (the latter the acceptable, teen-romance face of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe"). Indeed, in their own functionally commercial way, Bono's compositions seem as amenable to interpretation as Dylan's -- but preferably by someone other than the obscure Amerindie acts enlisted for "Bonograph: Sonny Gets His Share" (Bogus).
Most of the Bono songs recorded for this 16-song salute originally married Spector's pop-opera grandeur to Dylan's folk-rock rasp. In their attempts to put their own stamp on them, these minor-league musicians -- Ben Vaughn, Peter Holsapple and the Cynics qualify as the album's heavy hitters -- attempt some desperate measures: What Else turns "You Better Sit Down, Kids" into a heavy-metal recitative, the Spuds lose the tune of "The Beat Goes On" and the last three songs (including the Jimmy Silva Quartet's version of the less than immortal anti-drug epic "Pammie's on a Bummer") each run more than six minutes long. The album's record-collector's-chic tone is set by Vaughn, whose liner notes argue that Bono's 1967 psychedelic solo turn, " Inner Views, " is a "masterpiece." Altogether too many of these bands act as if they actually believe him.(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call 202-334-9000 and press 8173.)
The Seattle Times
September 6, 1991, Friday, Final Edition
SECTION: TEMPO; WORD; Pg. 8
HEADLINE: HE'S DONE THE RIGHT THING, BABY - FOR A LONG TIME
BYLINE: BY PATRICK MACDONALD
-- Always searching for compelling material, other than their own great tunes, the Young Fresh Fellows have recorded "I Just Sit There," a psychedelic oddity from Sonny Bono's 1967 solo album, " Inner Views, " for the new "Bonograph: Sonny Gets His Share" album on Pittsburgh-based Bogus Records. The Fellows turn the track into a 10-minute freak-out, befitting a song from the Summer of Love. Scott McCaughey, the Fellows' lead singer, contributes an additional tune, "Our Last Show," Bono's lament over the breakup of Sonny & Cher. The collection is made up of Sonny Bono covers by a variety of modern rock bands, including "The Beat Goes On" by the Spuds, "I Got You Babe" by the Cynics, "Laugh At Me" by Otis Ball and "Pammie's On a Bummer" by the Jimmy Silva Sextet, another Seattle-based band.
Where the Interaction Is!
by Jeff Tamarkin
Rhino Gives Itself a Hand
If you wanted to buy the late Sonny Bono’s only solo album, 1967’s Inner Views, on CD, you’d be out of luck: it’s never been reissued in that format. Likewise, if you watched VH-1’s recent TV film about the Woodstock-era group Sweetwater, and then decided you wanted to own some of their music, you would go home from the CD shop empty-handed: their Reprise albums have never been released on CD.
That’s what you think.
Rhino Records, the leading repackager of catalog music, has made that music available. But you’ll need access to the Internet to get it, and you’d better act fast.
According to Baker, the Handmade idea was born because, he says, space is shrinking in traditional CD shops that are increasingly reluctant to stock oddball titles. ‘Retail is a wonderful place to sell hundreds of thousands of things or tens of thousands of things, but if you have some wonderful music that may only appeal to several thousand people, retail just doesn’t work anymore. Rhino oversees a great number of wonderful catalogs and the idea came up of how do we get this stuff to people? This was the simplest way.’
Rhino decided to go the Web-only route, rather than traditional mail order, because, Baker says, ‘The Internet is a television station, it’s a radio station, it’s a fax machine. It can’t help but keep creators in touch with consumers.’
Where other sites offer MP3 audio files by the hundreds for download, or allow customers to create their own custom-programmed CD from licensed material, Rhino’s unique venture is consistent with the label’s quality approach to reissues. Each package comes complete with a professionally - designed cover, liner notes and, of course, top-notch sound quality. Besides, says Baker, most people don’t have the patience or computer knowhow to download an entire CD’s worth of files.
‘I think people have this illusion that you push a button and you end up with this disc,’ he says. ‘But for anyone who actually has done this, you have to download each piece, then configure them. It is work. If it ever becomes time when it truly is easy to download content, and form an artistically controllable disc, and ensure that people have a better than even chance of ending up with what you actually want them to hear, we would embrace something like that. [Downloading is] a great idea, but while this is a nation that loves machines, most people get baffled programming the time on their VCR. I can’t imagine people sitting and downloading 20 separate files and then assembling them and waiting while it burns. Maybe my kids and your kids will do it, but not presently.’
The Handmade way, Rhino does all the work, you pay them, and you get a CD that relatively few people will own. You can expect to pay a bit extra for the privilege of owning this rare music - with tax and shipping charges a CD will cost as much as $24.00 - but, as Baker points out, that’s still a better buy than a risky bootleg or most imports. Rhino Handmade is specifically geared toward the collector market, and, as Baker says, most collectors wouldn’t balk at paying the extra few dollars to get rare music from a favorite artist. And those who aren’t interested or don’t want to pay the price, well, they simply won’t buy these particular CDs. Baker understands this.
‘Although some titles will have greater appeal than others, they’re not really for everybody,’ he admits. ‘Not out of snobbiness, just out of practicality. There are few people that would want to have Wild Man Fischer, but we think there are a thousand people. And for those thousand people, they will love it.’
Rhino Handmade is also anxious to hear from collectors who have ideas for future Handmade releases. There is a suggestion page at the site, and after about five weeks online, more than a thousand e-mails had already been received by Mr. Hand, Rhino Handmade’s suggestion taker. ‘We love the feedback,’ Baker says. ‘If people are interested in things they think should come out, no matter what label they’re on, I encourage them to go to the site and go to the suggestion page. We truly get ideas from it.’
DECEMBER 11, 1999
Labels Search For New Ways To Jump-Start Catalog Sales
BYLINE: BY CHRIS MORRIS
DATELINE: LOS ANGELES
With back catalog sales disturbingly flat in the U.S., major labels are peering into the future to see if new technologies and marketing opportunities may reignite an important yet currently stagnant segment of the business.
In the view of label catalog executives, no single solution emerges, though they see possibilities in such diverse areas as the Internet, kiosk delivery, the DVD Audio format, and marketing to nontraditional outlets.
Few can be cheered by the picture reflected in figures from SoundScan, which depict a catalog market that is practically flat. Through Nov. 21, U.S. catalog sales for 1999 totaled 204.3 million units, vs. 204.4 million units for the same period last year.
Garson Foos, senior VP of marketing at Rhino Records, which oversees much of Warner Music Group's catalog, says the Internet "also opens up all kinds of options for ways for people to come to the music that we didn't have before . . . from people reading things and then people being linked to directly download that song, purchase the song, as they're reading about a particular song.
"There'll be so many more ways to go," Foos continues, "because all those origination costs and some of the limitations that physical distribution causes [won't be involved]."
To take advantage of the Web, Rhino has instituted its Web-only imprint Rhino Handmade, which is selling especially deep catalog titles by acts like Sweetwater, Tim Buckley, SONNY BONO, Tower Of Power, and Devo in limited editions of 1,000-10,000 units. It will make a seven-CD set of complete sessions for the Stooges' "Funhouse" album available on Dec. 27.
Foos says, "I do think that there's the potential that we can increase business through making very deep back catalog titles available through direct download, but we don't have any immediate plans to do it. I think the Handmade model, for the next few years, is a better model for us."
Oak Lawn woman cherishes memories of time with Sonny and Cher
(BY) By LISA PEVTZOW
(SN) Associated Press Newswires
OAK LAWN, Ill. (AP) - Flickering frames of home movies made more than 30 years ago scroll across Linda Stearns television in her Oak Lawn home.
Sonny Bono mugging for the camera before his trademark mustache. A teen-age Cherilyn Sarkisian goofing around, dancing the Charleston, doing a cheerleading routine and making a pretend Coca-Cola commercial.
(TD) And in one of the rarest images, the singing duo, Cher in a dark fur coat and surrounded by an entourage, after getting kicked out of London's Hilton Hotel.
"Who's to think that anyone would be interested in film I took 30 years ago," Stearns asked.
Lost Rock & Roll Masterpieces, Volume 1 Gregory Curtis 04/03/2000 Fortune Magazine Page 346 MOTT THE HOOPLE "Laugh at Me" from Mott the Hoople, 1970 (Atlantic) Bombast is entertaining only when, like a pyramid turned upside down, it's built on a tiny foundation--you can't help but marvel at all that weight balanced on a single point. Mott the Hoople tried to meld the power chords of arena rock with the sensibility of Bob Dylan. It sounds loony, but for longer than anyone thought possible, that's exactly what they did. "Laugh at Me" was written by Sonny Bono . "What do they care," Sonny asks, "about the clothes that I wear? What do they get from making fun?" Mott's version begins with a piano phrase repeated with great seriousness before Ian Hunter, in a voice as penetrating as Dylan's, begins the inane lyrics. An organ joins in, then drums and bass; tension builds, is relieved, then builds again until the guitars turn the song into a heavy-metal frenzy. When the last chord sounds, you realize that they got you. You listened to a Sonny Bono song, and its simple plea for tolerance made sense. You actually began to believe that the gulf between Bob Dylan and Sonny Bono wasn't all that wide. Mott makes you wonder: Who's laughing at whom? --GREGORY CURTIS