Fifty years ago this week, Sonny and Cher’s I Got You Babe topped the Billboard charts. I was thirteen. The moment I saw that doe-eyed waif in bell-bottoms sing to her shaggy-haired partner in a bobcat vest, I knew I was leaving my crew cut behind.
Their hippie image waned before long, but the star-crossed couple reinvented themselves in the 1970s - ruling Sunday night television with a variety show as famous for their seemingly good-natured marital banter as her dazzling Bob Mackie costumes. I adored the all-too fabulous Cher as she gazed into her goofy Svengali’s eyes, and belted anthems of abiding love over the closing credits every week.
But in 1974, Cher filed for divorce, citing involuntary servitude. The tabloids detailed their acrimonious split, while Sonny and Cher Bono segued into separate careers. Despite the bitterness of their legal battles, the duo came together on David Letterman’s talk show in 1987 and reprised I Got You Babe.
This was the last time they performed together, but their signature hit continued. In the film, Groundhog Day, the song was used as a running joke: Bill Murray woke every morning to the tune on his clock radio. Countless artists covered it; check out David Bowie and Marianne Faithfull’s version on YouTube.
Cher sang it with REM at the Hollywood Bowl and she accompanied the animated characters Beavis and Butt-Head on MTV, who joked they thought Bono was U2’s singer, not her former husband.
I Got You Babe found new relevance after Sonny’s fatal skiing accident in 1998. The funeral was broadcast live. In her eulogy, Cher said she owed her career to him. All was forgiven. Since then, she includes a Sonny montage in her live concerts.
Today, Cher perseveres at age 69. Performing on final tours that never end, she’s the only recording artist to score top 10 hits in each of the last six decades. And she also became a serious actress, winning an Academy Award, along with an Emmy, Grammy, and Golden Globes. She remains topical by tweeting to followers. This fall, she is the face of fashion designer Marc Jacob’s new collection.
But no matter how many incarnations her career takes, I will always remember her as that teenager hanging on to Sonny singing:
I got you, I won’t let go
I got you to love me so
I got you babe.