Sonny & Cher
Look At Us
Release Date: August 2nd, 1965
Words by: Greg Webster
August 4th, 2015
Phil Spector, so the story goes, initially hired Cher as a 'baby-sitter' for his girlfriend, Ronnie Bennett. She later graduated to backing singer in a number of Spector's Wall of Sound recordings, but was often put behind the other singers because the power and tone of her contralto voice typically cut through the wall. Cher had met the "strange yet groovy" Sonny Bono in a Sunset Boulevard coffee shop in 1962. Bono - a songwriter, backing singer and occasional percussionist - had introduced Cher to Spector. More importantly, Bono had been studying Spector’s craft and was waiting for an opportunity to take these production techniques into the studio himself.
Sonny and Cher performed in small clubs as the duet "Caesar and Cleo" and released a few singles - including "The Letter" for Vault Records - yet commercial success still eluded them. Somewhere around late 1964 to early 1965, they exchanged marriage vows, became Sonny & Cher professionally, and recorded a song penned by Bono called, "I Got You Babe".Sonny and Cher in their fur vests and striped bellbottoms were splashed across the front page of the tabloids.
The Rolling Stones told them that America didn't "get" them, so they decided to move to England. On arrival at the London Hilton Hotel, the staff took one look at their proto-hippie appearance and escorted them off the premises - right into the arms of the waiting media. Sonny and Cher in their fur vests and striped bellbottoms were splashed across the front page of the tabloids. Suddenly, London fans could not get enough of them and "I Got You Babe" was soon sitting at number one on the Billboard charts. By the end of the year, they had five songs in the Billboard Top 20.
Sonny & Cher's debut album, Look At Us, was thrown together quickly in order to ride the wave of this newfound success. They acquired the rights for “The Letter”, re-released a previously failed single called “Just You”, and found another seven cover versions to fill out the album. Such was their popularity that the record flew off the racks at the rate of 200, 000 copies a week.
There is an unconventional innocence about the album; Sonny’s voice is high and stretched while Cher’s is low and rich, but somehow, the harmonies work. The percussion is clever and overdubbed guitars are plentiful, yet the sound is surprisingly open and spacious. Hal Blane (of The Wrecking Crew) drives the songs along with every eight beat drum signature imaginable. "Sing C'est La Vie" - which became a big hit in Australia and Belgium - uses piano accordion and Sonny has some fun with his French street accent, but the standout pop song is definitely "I Got You Babe".
It’s been suggested that Bono had written "I Got You Babe" as a counterpoint to the cynicism of Dylan’s "It Ain't Me Babe", which Johnny Cash and June Carter had just released as a duet. Sonny & Cher's song certainly seems to answer that cynicism with an unconditional love that is sweet and without guile. Yet, when Sonny first played it to Cher, she wasn’t impressed, saying, "I don't think it's your best work - and now I’m going to bed". Sonny was able to win her over in the end by adding a key change, which Cher had been pestering him to write. There are flutes and oboes, too, but most of all, the sense of "listening-in" on a conversation between a couple that really liked each other - and of course the fans loved them, too.