Graded on a Curve:
Sonny and Cher,
The Beat Goes On

They were, during their time, America’s most beloved singing couple. The short one wasn’t much to look at, but, boy, was that Art Garfunkel hot!

No, I’m talking about Salvatore Bono and Cheerily Sarkisian, who started their career together as Caesar and Cleo but won hearts and minds as Sonny and Cher. The duo did it all; put out a lot of great songs, parlayed their musical success into a successful CBS television variety show, even popularized animal skins and knee-high caveman boots.

Many Sonny and Cher best-of compilations muddy the waters by sneaking Cher’s solo hits into the mix, but me, I’m a purist–you might as well slap a couple of Paul McCartney songs onto a John Lennon greatest hits record. Which is why I chose to review 1975’s The Beat Goes On. Except, wait–the great “Laugh at Me” was Sonny’s only solo hit, so what’s it doing here? And if they saw fit to include it, why not also toss in his legendary LSD freak-out ode “Pammie’s on a Bummer”?

The duo will forever be best remembered for “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe.” The former captured the ebullient spirit of young America every bit as well as Simon & Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy)”; the latter’s shared avowal of love so moved the Dictator’s Andy Shernoff and Handsome Dick Manitoba they sang it together on 1975’s Go Girl Crazy. Anybody who hates either song is certifiably insane.

The compilation also includes a slew of other boffo tunes. Bono’s “Laugh at Me” is groovy and brims with pathos–why, oh why, Sonny wonders to the sound of church bells, must the whole world make fun of him? Doesn’t matter, seeing as how big-hearted Sonny is willing to turn the other cheek because kindness has got to start someplace and that someplace might as well be–Sonny! It’s so great a song that Ian Hunter–a big Sonny fan, surprisingly enough–chose to cover it on 1969’s Mott the Hoople.

I also dig the couple’s semi-cheesy R&B-meets-county cover of Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline ditty “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”; their Phil Spector-like takes on the very French “What Now My Love” and the lovely “Just You”; and Bono’s excellent girl group pastiche “It’s the Little Things,” which makes me happy whenever I hear it.

The easy-going “Baby Don’t Go”–which dates back to 1964 and was the duo’s first (regional) hit–is a likable harbinger of great things to come. As for the duo’s pop take on Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” it’s a sacrilege but I love it. It strikes the same exotic note that the very exotic Cher would make hay out of on “Half-Breed” and “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves.”

The remaining cuts aren’t as strong. Cher’s interpretation of “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” ain’t bad, but sure she ain’t no Aretha Franklin. “Sing C’est La Vie” is the kind of song that makes people hate France. And what “C’est La Vie” does for France, “Little Man” does for Greece. I love the way Cher calls Bono her little man, but the arrangement is pure souvlaki.

Everybody knows what happened later. The couple’s musical career stalled, they went through a very messy divorce, and the divorce put paid to their TV show (although it later returned from the dead). Sonny went on to become mayor of Palm Springs before skiing into a tree. Cher went on to superstardom, after being married to Greg Allman for about six minutes. The beat goes on.

The whole world loves Sonny and Cher. They helped to bridge the generation gap with their witty banter and great songs. Moms loved them because they were romance personified. Kids loved them because kids love everything. And dads loved them because, boy, was that Art Garfunkel hot!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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