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The Beat Goes on for Sonny & Cher

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

The team of Sonny & Cher wasn’t considered by many pop fans in the ‘60s to be any more substantial a pop-rock force than, say, Herman’s Hermits.

So, why should anyone be interested now in a whole album of the Los Angeles duo’s material?

One reason for listening to “The Best of Sonny & Cher/The Beat Goes On,” which was just released by Atlantic Records, is “I Got You Babe.” The song, a No. 1 single in the summer of 1965, is such a compact expression of young lovers standing together against the world--most notably disapproving parents--that it was a hit all over again when UB40 and Chrissie Hynde teamed up on it four years ago.

The song’s opening lines define the record’s blend of innocence and dramatic tension.

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Cher first declares:

They say we’re young and we don’t know.

Won’t find out unti-i-ill we grow

Responds Sonny Bono:

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Well, I don’t know if all that’s true

‘Cause you got me and baby , I got you . . . babe .

The other reason “The Best of Sonny & Cher . . .” is worth attention is the way the 21 selections document writer-producer Bono’s passionate drive to conquer the pop charts. In that quest, he borrowed freely from a variety of influences and made some woeful detours, including the clumsy vaudevillian spirit of “Sing C’est La Vie” and the drippy romanticism of “What Now My Love.” Yet the best tracks offer an endearing passion.

Before recording with Cher, Bono, who is now mayor of Palm Springs and has an eye on the U.S. Senate, had written some hits (he and Jack Nitzsche wrote the bristling, folk-rock jewel “Needles & Pins”) and had worked as an assistant to Phil Spector, the most celebrated record producer of the ‘60s. Many of Sonny & Cher’s early records--including “I Got You Babe"--were clearly patterned after Spector’s rich, emotional “wall of sound” arrangements.

Among other highlights:

* “The Beat Goes On.” Though the Dylan-influenced lyrics are little more than arbitrary images (“The cars keep going faster all the time / Bums still cry, ‘Hey, buddy have you got a dime?’ ”), there is a power to the instrumental design that gives the record a lingering appeal.

* “Laugh at Me.” According to Ken Barnes’ liner notes, this was written by Bono in a “fever of outraged inspiration” after the record-maker was put down by some disc jockeys in a restaurant for wearing one of his trademark shaggy vests. The model for this solo hit was Bob Dylan’s biting imagery and underdog vocal fury.

* And there’s “Hello,” one of the most curious pop records ever released. Rather than a song, it is just Sonny & Cher thanking fans for supporting them. It was released as the flip side of “But You’re Mine” in 1965.

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