Who was/is Cher ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Without the Svengali-like ministrations of Sonny Bono, Cher's elevation to superstardom would have taken a very different path—or might never have transpired at all.
Sonny molded the beautiful teenager into a distinct entity, writing and producing her 1960s solo hits for Los Angeles-based Imperial Records at the same time he was helming their duet smashes for Atco. Given to wearing fur vests and modeling a Prince Valiant haircut, Sonny cast himself and his considerably younger (by 11 years) girlfriend as starstruck lovers rebelling from society's stodgy norms, and Cher's striking look—long, straight black hair, oodles of mascara, trendy bell-bottoms emphasizing her long legs—was emulated by countless fashion-conscious teens. Their romance came equipped with a commercially potent soundtrack.
Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere came into the world on May 20, 1946 in El Centro, Calif. and was steered into acting by her mother at a young age (a talent that would serve her well when she later got serious about film roles). But it was Cher's striking looks that caught Sonny's attention. The two first crossed paths in 1962 at Aldo's, an L.A. coffee shop. Sonny was promoting records, and the place was situated next to KFWB radio, one of the city's Top 40 powerhouses. Cher was there with her then-boyfriend, but a few weeks later, when Sonny ran into the lovely 16-year-old in his apartment building, she was suddenly single and in need of a place to stay.
Salvatore "Sonny" Bono was already an industry vet, having hired on in 1957 as an A&R man at Art Rupe's Specialty Records (where he wrote "Koko Joe" for Don & Dewey and "She Said Yeah" for Larry Williams). In 1963, he found his way into producer Phil Spector's inner circle (he and fellow Spector cohort Jack Nitzsche co-wrote "Needles And Pins," first cut by Jackie DeShannon and a 1964 smash for the Searchers). A smitten Sonny offered to let Cher stay at his crib; he was struck by her singing voice from the outset.
Sonny brought her to a Spector session to sing backgrounds, and in February of '64 Bono and his discovery cut their first duet, "The Letter" (another Don & Dewey chestnut from the Specialty days), for Vault Records as Caesar & Cleo. Around the same time, Spector produced a novelty by Cher to cash in on the Beatles phenomenon. "Ringo, I Love You" was issued under the alias of Bonnie Jo Mason on Spector's short-lived Annette label and disappeared instantly.
Bono had absorbed the basics of Spector's trademark Wall of Sound, and when he split with Phil he put those lessons to work. Reprise released the duo's remakes of Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange" and Bobby Freeman's "Do You Want To Dance," helmed by staff producer Jimmy Bowen, as by Caesar & Cleo, and the loping Bono-penned-and-produced folk-rocker "Baby Don't Go" as Sonny & Cher on back-to-back 45s in 1964. The latter posted solid West Coast sales, and a year later the label issued it again and scored a national Top 10 hit.
Later that year, Cher inked a pact with Imperial as a solo. Sonny's imprimatur was stamped all over her output. He wrote and produced her Imperial debut, "Dream Baby," cut in October of '64 and released as by Cherilyn; Gene Page's booming, percussive arrangement was in the great Spectorious tradition, but it failed to dent the hit parade. Happily, that wasn't the case with her jangly rendition of Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want To Do," recorded in March of '65 and at last issued under the name of Cher. Sounding for all the world like another duet, the tune was actually all Cher as she convincingly answered her own voice with a Sonny-esque drone on each line. Cher's version vaulted to #15 Pop that summer, handily besting a competing Byrds version. Her subsequent debut album of the same title included Pete Seeger's "The Bells Of Rhymney," another piece recently given a folk-rock treatment by The Byrds.
Meanwhile, the duo moved their tandem efforts over to Atco, their "Just You" missing the charts its first time out (like "Baby Don't Go," it cracked the Top 20 in the wake of "I Got You Babe"). Sonny stuck with Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, where Spector made his magic, for his productions. With Stan Ross behind the board and a coterie of L.A.'s finest sessioneers at his command, he hit paydirt with "I Got You Babe," which dominated the airwaves at the same time as "All I Really Want To Do" as it skyrocketed to the very top of the charts.
The market was fairly flooded with Bono-generated product as the year progressed. "Baby Don't Go," "Just You," and "The Letter" were joined by Sonny's solo hit "Laugh At Me" on Atco. Imperial unleashed Cher's debut album that August; among its charms were a dreamy reading of Ray Davies' "I Go To Sleep." Sonny wrote, arranged, and produced her folk-rockish encore hit, "Where Do You Go," which was waxed in August of '65 and rose to #25 that fall.
World music is quite the rage today, making Sonny a visionary in retrospect: he weaved a tapestry of gypsy motifs through the striking "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." Arranged by Harold Battiste, Jr., who headed the AFO label in his hometown of New Orleans before relocating to the West Coast and playing piano on many a Bono session, it was cut in February of '66 at Gold Star and by the following month was on the fast track to the #2 Pop slot. The hit was a highlight of her encore Imperial album The Sonny Side Of Cher, which also featured "A Young Girl."
Both as a team and solo, Sonny and Cher were now reaching well outside their immediate circle for material. They enjoyed a solid duet seller in early '66 with "What Now My Love," a delicate theme by French composer Gilbert Becaud, and Cher beat Cilia Black and Dionne Warwick to Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "Alfie." Normally taken at a stately pace, Cher's Imperial rendition, waxed in June of '66, started out sedately with chirping woodwinds but picked up steam after one stanza and showed she was eminently capable of crooning adult fare as it cruised to #32 later that summer. Bono contributed its flip, "She's No Better Than Me."
Battiste devised another exotic backdrop for Cher's melodramatic "Behind The Door," written by Graham Gouldman, the British songsmith responsible for The Yardbirds' "For Your Love" and future co-founder of 10cc. It barely squeezed into the Hot 100 in late 1966, coupled with Bono's "Magic In The Air (I Feel Something In The Air)." Cut in August of '66, this brave statement on the perils of single motherhood was a tad ahead of its time lyrically. Cher's third album Sunny sported a nice cover of Bobby Hebb's then-current hit along with Buffy Sainte-Marie's moving "Until It's Time For You To Go," and "I Want You." Cher's cover of "Hey Joe"—a hit the year before for the L.A.-based Leaves—managed a little chart action for her in the fall of '67, but it couldn't compete with the enormous success of Sonny & Cher's slinky "The Beat Goes On" for Atco earlier that year. Her fans could be forgiven a bout of bewilderment when first confronted with Cher's last hit for Imperial. Sonny wrote "You Better Sit Down Kids" from a man's perspective, yet Cher was quite obviously a female. No matter the gender discrepancies, its soap opera narrative and jazzy Battiste arrangement resonated with record buyers, who catapulted the unusual theme to #9 in late '67 (it was recorded that July). Cher exited Imperial midway into 1968. Backstage, her last LP for the firm that year, included a delightfully R&B-laced "I Wasn't Ready" that came by its Big Easy ambiance naturally—it was written by Mac "Dr. John" Rebennack and Jessie "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" Hill and arranged by fellow Crescent City expatriate Battiste. Tim Hardin's poignant, violin-enriched "Reason To Believe" also graced the set.
The hits tailed off considerably until 1971, when a label change to Kapp and the debut of their CBS-TV variety program The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour regenerated the duo's fortunes. The country-tinged "All I Ever Need Is You" restored the pair to the Top Ten, and "A Cowboys Work Is Never Done" repeated the feat the next year. Similarly, Cher's own platters were once again selling like hotcakes. "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves" went gold and paced the charts that fall, and with the Number One hits "Half-Breed" in '73 and "Dark Lady" in '74, Cher's sultry voice thrived on the airwaves once more. Her marriage didn't—she and Sonny were divorced in 1974.
Diversifying into acting, Cher won an Oscar® for her starring role in 1987's Moonstruck. She coped as best she could when Sonny, by then a U.S. Congressman, tragically died in a 1998 skiing accident. Though she's been in the midst of a purported farewell tour, Cher's nearly four decades in the spotlight ensure that she'll eternally be revered as a diva for the ages. And it all started with these recordings, when Sonny was her lovestruck mentor
— Bill Dahl