Sonny Bono was an up-and-coming record producer when he got Cher a job with Phil Spector as a session singer. They started dating and moved in to their manager's house, where Bono would write songs on a piano in the garage. He came up with "I Got You Babe" and wrote the lyrics on a piece of cardboard.
Cher didn't like it at first. She recalled to Billboard magazine: "Sonny woke me up in the middle of the night to come in where the piano was, in the living room, and sing it. And I didn't like it and just said, 'OK, I'll sing it and then I'm going back to bed.'"
Sonny changed the key in the bridge to fit her voice and she loved it.
Depending on what side of the fence you stand, this is either a beautiful love song or pure schmaltz. To Sonny Bono, it was sincere - an earnest declaration of commitment and support. "The lyrics of my songs are very important to me," he told the New Musical Express in 1966. I never write anything until that very moment when I feel the emotion conveyed in the words I write. I know what it is like to be kicked around because you dress differently. I know what it is like to see the girl you love hurt because a hotel refuses you admission because of your dress. I know what it is like to have that one person stand by you. There are a lot of other people who have experienced these things and I'm trying to put our feelings into words for everyone."
Ahmet Ertegun, who was the boss at the duo's label Atco Records, didn't think much of this song, so he planned to issue it on the B-side of "It's Gonna Rain." Bono was sure "I Got You Babe" was the hit, but he couldn't convince Ertegun.
This was an era when disc jockeys could overrule record executives when it came to airplay, so Bono brought a copy of "I Got You Babe" to the Los Angeles radio station KHJ, and made a deal with their program director, Ron Jacobs. If Jacobs played the song once an hour, he could have it exclusively. When KHJ started playing it, the song got a great reaction, leading Ertegun to issue it as the A-side.
This isn't an anti-war song, but it went over well with the hippie crowd because it stuck up for guys with long hair when Cher sang, "Let them say your hair's too long, I don't care, with you I can't go wrong."
In 1985, UB40 covered this with Chrissie Hynde doing the female vocals. Their version hit #1 in the UK and #28 in the US. Sonny & Cher's original version was the first record UB40's Ali Campbell ever owned.
In 1994 Cher re-recorded this with the cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-Head. This version hit #35 in the UK.
Bob Dylan's use of the word "Babe" in his 1964 song "It Ain't Me Babe
" gave Sonny Bono the idea to use it in this song.
In the 1993 film Groundhog Day
starring Bill Murray, Murray's character is awakened to this song every morning at precisely 6:00 a.m. on the alarm clock in his hotel room.
Sonny and Cher performed this one last time
when they appeared on the The David Letterman
show in 1987. They didn't expect to sing, but the host cajoled them until they did song. Sonny and Cher put their differences aside and did a touching performance.
Sonny Bono is the only person to perform on a #1 hit and also serve in congress. He was elected to California's 44th district in 1994, and served there until his death.