Friday, August 19, 2011

Folk Explosion No. 1: Cher: "Bang Bang"

This is the next in this blog's irregular look at NME-only #2s. The folk rock boom in the mid-60s was a genuine thing for some, for others it was a way in - Sonny Bono was a fast learner in the studio and he wrote and produced Cher's songs before she even went by her own name; they both learned how to do drama from Spector and Cher, in effect, was Sonny's one-woman girl group. (The girl group era, as such, was starting to fade just a bit at this time, at least on the Spectorish side of things.)

There is an uneasiness to this song that comes out of the fact that while it was recorded in dear sunny Los Angeles, it comes straight out of the kitschy Italian folk song tradition, which treads a mighty fine line indeed between letting it all hang out and making the audience feel as if something vaguely sinister is happening, or has happened, and most likely they will never find out what it is. Which is to say if it is sung in another language (and it has been - Italian of course, French too) it might actually sound even better*. There's kids playing; there's young love; there's a frenzied section wherein a wedding happens ( and then he dumps her for no apparent reason - I suppose in a folk song there would be some kind of denouement wherein she goes after him in some way, but not here. She's on the ground again, her only consolation being maybe she will now know not to go out with a guy who was mean to her and didn't even play fair in the first place (he always shot her down - wow, what a guy).

This also treads a line - an uneasy one - between being a kind of folk rock and being just plain showbiz, exactly the kind of thing regular radio would play, and exactly what would do well in Las Vegas, too. I can well imagine real folkies scoffing at this, even as their parents enjoyed it. Sonny was betting the army of girls who loved Cher would buy this as well, and they did. Cher was their homegirl, in effect, not perfect but somehow more real because of that, and from this point on they would stay by her, the girl who would suffer much (in real life and in her songs) and somehow survive. This song set her up as tough, vulnerable and her later songs of woe and vengeance start with this one, wherein she dies and dies again, always coming back no matter what.

*Of course there are some people who think everything sounds better in another language; amazingly I don't get to France for a long time and then...well, you'll see, dear readers.

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