Eclipse of the Sonny

Sonny Bono's 1967 solo debacle captured the moment when pop music passed him by

Elevator broken in the brain hotel, you say? Clearly, the Bono man's no Donovan. But he's no harmonica player, either. There's a painfully wretched harmonica solo that must be Sonny exorcising all his Dylan demons in 246 wheezy huffs and puffs.

You think you're out of the woods once the printed lyrics for "I Just Sit There" run out, but after the harmonica solo, Sonny starts right in again at the top of the song, only this time he's suddenly emotionally committed to the work, barking out the lyrics and instructions to the band like he's whipping a team of Alaskan huskies. Yah! HhhhYah! And yes, even the harmonica solo isn't exempt from Sonny's deja-voodoo.

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord
How about that, they harmonize
With a car that's doing fifty five
Isn't that wild machines can sing
The driver's digging everything
And he joins in while four cats sing
I read the news today oh boy
I just sit there
I just sit there.

Give Sonny credit for some progressive thought--he quotes "A Day in the Life" seven years before David Bowie does the same thing in "Young Americans." But Sonny's not through pinching Pepper just yet. If you skip over to track two, the verses of "I Told My Girl to Go Away" are the exact same melody as "I read the news today oh boy." At a dirgelike speed, no less!

Bono's bad trip improves little on side two. On "I Would Marry You Today," he accuses his bell-bottomed beloved of taunting him and jangling his nerves, while the album's stiff single "My Best Friend's Girl Is Out of Sight" finds him in a jealous rage during a double date ("I watched them kiss I watched them hug/My stomach turned and I got bugged"). All this sets the stage for the album's downbeat finale, "Pammie's on a Bummer." The first two of its seven minutes are occupied with the band sounding as if it is trying to break into an instrument shop without a flashlight. The bad freakout guitars must be by the same person who squawked mercilessly on the harmonica before, one Salvatore Bono. I mean, who'd pay a session guy to play this bad? Once the guitar-raga demonstration is dispensed with, Sonny introduces us to Pammie, a street walker who apparently isn't lovin' life, either: "She started smoking pot just to keep herself from flipping/But it wasn't strong enough so she graduated to tripping/Every day she'd take a ride to hide from the world outside/And all her tears were so cool 'cause they were so easy to hide/Pammie's on a bummer and nobody knows where she's at/Fate gave her one more vicious blow/She got hung up on an untouchable cat."

We never find out whether Pammie's fallen for Elliot Ness, Rico, Youngblood or Phil Spector, but it's a moot point. By the time Inner Views was released, Sonny and Cher were deemed untouchable with the under-30 crowd. Claims to the contrary in the teen mags, Sonny was 30 when he and Cher first said they were young and they don't know.

Well over 30 by the time Inner Views was under way, Sonny had already stopped trusting himself and his grasp of youth culture. As if to hasten that decline, the future congressman came on like a groovy narc in a widely distributed anti-pot educational film shown in grade schools that rivaled Reefer Madness for its flimsy grasp of reality. Bono, dressed in paisley threads and love beads, advised kids that smoking pot would make them so paranoid that they'd jump out of windows. In truth, far more kids probably took that fatal leap after listening to Vanilla Fudge's The Beat Goes On album, easily the worst psychedelic album of all time and one which Sonny was inadvertently responsible for, since it featured nine nauseating revisions of his hit song.

The failure of Inner Views wisely convinced Sonny to forget about the kids and go after their casino-packing parents instead. It's a record Sonny had to make, but it's not a record you have to hear. And you probably never will unless the pro-Bono sentiments get even more militant or Rhino Records gets la-di-da-di-dee, la-di-da-di-desperate.

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