Sonny Bono’s one and only solo album was released in 1967, just as Sonny & Cher’s hits and Cher’s solo success were entering a three-year drought. The obvious touchstone for this 5-track, 33-minute experimental outing is the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which Sonny quotes in the album’s title track. But the acid-tinged lyrics (including quotes from both “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “A Day in the Life”) and pseudo-psych musical freakouts have neither the expanded consciousness nor musical inventiveness of the Beatles. The anti-drug Bono might have heard Sgt. Pepper’s, but he didn’t really seem to understand it. The drums, likely played by Wrecking Crew ace Hal Blaine, sound as if they were lifted from a Phil Spector session, and the sitar noodling and tuneless harmonica blasts are indulgent and irritating, especially at the jam-session length (12’45) of the opening track.
The social commentary of “I Told My Girl to Go Away” might have drawn more attention had Bono been a more commercially compelling vocalist, or perhaps if Janis Ian’s scathing “Society’s Child” hadn’t exploded earlier in the year. The 32-year-old Bono sang with an air of defeat that couldn’t compare to Ian’s searing defiance. “I Would Marry You Today” might have made a nice light-pop folk-rock production for Sonny & Cher, and would have greatly benefitted from the latter’s ability to carry a tune. A few years earlier, and with a gender switch and some editing, “My Best Friend’s Girl is Out of Sight,” might have made a good tune for one of the New York girl groups, but sung as light-pop and stretched to over four minutes, it hasn’t the focus of Bono’s hits. The closing “Pammie’s on a Bummer” is more successful with its instrumental experimentation, though its message (prostitution leads to pot leads to LSD) isn’t particularly knowing.
The initial reissue of this album was produced by Rhino Handmade in 1999. That limited edition CD added eleven bonus tracks, including all of Bono’s singles for Atco: his 1965 releases “Laugh at Me” (in three versions) and “The Revolution Kind” along with their instrumental B-sides, and single edits of Inner Views album tracks that still couldn’t make these productions consumable by radio. A subsequent CD edition by Collectors’ Choice dropped the bonuses, and Rhino’s digital reissue restored everything but the shortened album tracks and session backing for “Laugh at Me.” This is by no means a masterpiece; Bono wrote much better songs for Sonny & Cher, and produced more compelling records when he stuck to the classic techniques he’d learned at the feet of Phil Spector. His vocals were never his strong card, and without a catchy angle, his record falls flat. [©2013 Hyperbolium]