Sometimes I come across a Cher love song on shuffle and think, huh, a love song. I should make a mix of these but I don’t normally associate Cher with love songs, which is daffy because that was Sonny & Cher's stock-in-trade, two lovebirds singing love songs. But I was like, nope, not enough songs. So I was shocked when compiling this first mix in Spotify last week.
The songs run the gamut from sweet to crazy. Because this is Spotify, there are songs from four albums we couldn’t add here, like the lovely version of “Love Hurts” from Stars, “I’d Rather Believe in You” from the album of the same name, or any song with Gregg Allman. The mix is also missing the rare b-side “She’s No Better Than Me” and probably one of the most moving songs Cher ever sang for Sonny, Jimmy Webb’s “Didn’t We” from her last recorded torch performance on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour in 1974. On purpose I didn’t include Cher’s latter-day "Love Hurts" (too bombastic) and “Bang Bang” (she’s having too much fun in the 1980s remake and the 1966 version feels like it somehow belongs to another mix). I curated these songs out-of-chronological order to indicate their timelessness.
Here’s the blow-by-blow:
The Way of Love: Easily Cher’s biggest, most-representative torch ballad and the ballad that started off her torch era. It has to go first.
Song for You: Leon Russell’s classic torchy ballad. Strong love song. Cher's version is better than the Carpenter’s version I think. Cher gives a more jaded delivery.
Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You: From Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline album. When I was 8 years old I made my parents sit in the living room and listen to this song on the record player because I thought it was that good. They patiently sat there until the song was over and then excused themselves to go back into the den to finish their cigarettes and whatever TV show I had interrupted them from.
I Wasn’t Ready: Loved this one as a kid too and still like it.
Angels Running: One of Cher’s most bittersweet covers. This version isn’t as good as the rarer, alternate US version, which is simpler and dispenses with the superfluous touches, especially around the bridge(s).
All I Ever Need Is You: Easy listening gold. As perfect a vocal as Sonny could get. Cher perfection.
Needles & Pins: A classic Sonny Bono/Jack Nitzsche song. I prefer Cher’s more more sincere, painful version than all the other silly-sounding pinzah covers. Thanks the Searchers!
You Take It All: Underrated little deep cut. I love the underwater sound of it.
The Man That Got Away: Lots of tragic love songs on Bittersweet White Light. "More Than You Know" is a Cher favorite and good candidate, but her televised and live versions were better than this up-tempo attempt. This song was noted as a good Judy Garland cover recently by The Boston Globe and I can’t deny that might have influenced my choosing it for this list. The song is at turns resigned, bitter, anguished and dismayed.
Let It Be Me: S&C loved the French around this time and two of their Gilbert Bécaud covers made this list. Sweet and lilting.
Train of Thought: I’ve been thinking about this suicide song and that it was released in May of 1974, eerily one year before Jenny Arness’ suicide in May of 1975 when Gregg Allman left her for Cher. Cher’s smoker’s voice here leads us through a harrowing (very meta) train of thought.
Catch the Wind: Sweet song by Donovan. Cher does a doe-eyed version.
Then He Kissed Me: Not as great as The Crystals version but I’ve always liked this version too. Nice Harold Battiste piano part in this one.
United We Stand: The sonic version of the photograph displayed on the back of their 1971 All I Ever Need Is You album. As true as any S&C love song probably, at least emotionally, if not when they actually divided a few years later. Neither of them did, in fact, fall.
Love & Pain: Cher’s fist belting melodrama. I like that there are non-belting parts here too, unlike the Geffen years full of full-blast ballads.
Stand By Me: I was torn about including this one. Took it out. Then added it back in. The original is so iconic. But this is very Sonny & Cher too, similar to "United We Stand" (lots of standing). I like that Sonny comes in at the very end with his support.
What Now My Love: The second Gilbert Bécaud ("Et Maintenant"). Both of these versions are go-tos when I’m feeling gloomy. The numbness , the becoming unreal, the resignation! Such a sorrowful lyric. As I kid I always loved their cheesy nightclub version better. But this version has grown on me quite a bit.
Somebody: My favorite modest little S&C song.
Just You: I liked this song better when I was younger. It’s kind of a plodding event to me now. But that said, it’s the best, most perfect example of Sonny Bono writing a lyric about his own thoughts and feelings which he sublimates by letting Cher sing them instead. It’s easy for the audience to read these sentiments as Cher’s (it’s what we wanted to believe about their dynamic) but they truly belong to Sonny. After all, he would sound paternalistic and crass singing them (and why is Cher so jealous? Question for another day.) so giving them to Cher probably felt chivalrous to him. Not without its charm anyway.
Baby Don’t Go: I don’t love their honky version but this is one of the most popular love songs for other artists to cover from the S&C oeuvre. So it seems important to add here. It’s also an easy song to cover well, unlike "I Got You Babe."
After All: Sonically mushy but good slow-dance material. Still popular and still a part of her shows.
It’s The Little Things: My non-Cher-fan-friends (boys or girls) always pick this song as one of their favorite Sonny & Cher songs and it's a deserving favorite. Again Sonny speaking through Cher (remember Sonny told Cher she wasn’t pretty enough to make it without him and they both often joked about how naïve and dumb Cher could be), but more catchy and a happier song than "Just You."
I Got You Babe, Live at the Westside Room in Century City: Haven’t we all heard enough of their original recording? It’s a classic but this has always been my sentimental favorite version, particularly due to Sonny’s humorous interjections.
I Got You Babe, Good Times Soundtrack Version: Another sweet cover of their own song. No one covers this song better than S&C did themselves.