I Desperately Need to Know: What was Sonny Bono Trying to Say in “I Got You Babe”?

Who out there remembers Sonny and Cher? “I Got You Babe” in particular. What? You say you were just spinning your classic vinyl of their first big smash “Look At Us”?

Okay, guys. I’m quite willing to look at Cher, but at you, Sonny? Not so much.

I teach ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) six hours a week through a local organization in Durham, North Carolina. My students are recent immigrants. “ESOL?” you ask. “Isn’t it called ESL?” Well, in some cases it is. But for many adult students, English isn’t a second language. Often it’s their third or even their fourth. For example, my new student from Algeria is a Francophone. So English is coming in at #3 behind Arabic and French. And come to think of it, he may have told me he speaks Berber as well.

Anyway, that’s just an intro to a question I desperately need to know the answer to. I’m teaching “I Got You Babe” to both my groups. Easy lyrics (though lacking in grammar, to say the least), lots of repetition, AND there are parts for the guys and the girls to sing separately and/or in unison. Oh, we are having too much fun! And if we can improve (a lot), maybe you’ll see us on America’s Got Talent (circa 20,000 BC). I’ve already ordered the appropriate shaggy dog vests — I’m thinking his is definitely made from blue merle collies (see picture below) — for all the men (including me).

Sonny, I’m looking at this dog and then at your jacket. Say it ain’t so, So! (photo by langhaar.collie.de/)

BUT, here’s the rub. There’s intense debate on the web as to WTH Sonny was saying in the second verse when he sings, “I guess that’s so, we don’t have a __________/But at least I’m sure of all the things we got.” But with Sonny’s speech pattern/impediment/whatever, people can’t tell if he’s saying “plot” or “pot.” “Plot” just seems kind of ridiculous — a plan for life? a piece of land? C’mon, Sonny, you can do better than that! And “pot?” As in “a pot to piss in?” That seems out of step with the rest of the song’s innocence. And if you’re referring to a pot to cook in, who can’t afford a pot for their kitchen? They’re like a dollar at the Dollar Store. And even cheaper at the Salvation Army. And back in 1965? What, maybe 50 cents? Hell, someone could have just given you one if you had bothered to ask.

Seeing as how rock lyrics are notorious for their ability to flummox even the most careful listener — Was it “The sky’s in love with you” or was it “This guy’s in love with you”? — here are some other alternatives that may have occurred to Sonny (in whatever state he was in when he wrote the song.)

  1. “We don’t have a baht.” (A baht is the main currency unit in Thailand. Probably not worth much. And Sonny could be showing off his intercultural chops.)
  2. “We don’t have a cot.” No bed, not even a cot? Now that’s pretty poor.
  3. “We don’t have a knot.” Now that, my friends, is poor! All you need is a piece of string and some fingers and you can have one of those!
  4. “We don’t have a Scott.” Here no doubt referring to one square of Scott toilet tissue. Again, this is an incredibly low-rent style of living.
  5. “We don’t have a thought.” Very possible, given Sonny’s verbal acuity.
  6. “We don’t have a squat.” This one would work so well but for one flaw. That added a. What’s with that, Sonny?
  7. “We don’t have a yacht.” Too obviously wrong! Just look your album cover. You’re living in a tree and you’re dressed like a wooly mammoth. We KNOW you don’t have a yacht, bro!
  8. “We don’t have a snot.” Too easily remedied, Sonny. Between the two of you, I’m sure you could produce a few (or more). Problem solved.

I could go on, but should I? Okay, okay, I hear you loud and clear. But other possibilities included “We don’t have a watt/ black rot/ Pol Pot/ a polka dot/ a jump shot/ a sun spot/ an astronaut.” As brilliantly poetic as these obviously were, I had to conclude they seemed rather improbable.

My girlfriend thinks it should be lot which makes perfect sense. “I guess that’s so, we don’t have a lot,/ But at least I’m sure of all the things we got.” So simple, yet so elegant. But if you listen closely to the song, it just seems like it’s pot or plot. Ears don’t lie, my friend.

So, did any one of you out there help Sonny write these lyrics? Maybe you were a fellow musician or an executive or producer with Atlantic Records. Or maybe, just maybe you might have these words imprinted on your ever-lovin’ hippie heart for the last 52 years? If so, could you tell me what the correct word is? People from Iran, Iraq, Cameroon, Algeria, Mexico, China, Salvador, Honduras, Vietnam, and other countries need to know. Thanking you in advance.

So Everly Grateful,

Daniel Berenson

P.S. And please don’t look up one lyrics site and think you’ve found the answer. It’s not that simple. I’ve looked at lots of those sites and some YouTube lyrics videos as well. Still stymied.

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About the “author” — — — —

Normally Daniel Berenson is supposed to be taking care of Freaky Dude Books, the site he maintains with Dr. Crankenfuss, a ranting teenage curmudgeon who lives in his spacious — some would say “empty” — brain. Also he’s only one story short of finishing Stories Guaranteed to Make You Even Sicker. But he’s been off on this bird adventure (See http://bit.ly/2m5nTcz) and he’s busy watching two Mexican telenovelas a night trying to improve his Spanish as well as starting his new semester teaching English to recent immigrants. He hopes to get the Freaky Dude Books site back on track soon if for no other reason than to keep Dr. Crankenfuss off his back.

Please follow me if you wish. I’d like that. I’ll be back with more articles soon. My mind is a fertile if unsanitary place, and the home of many suspect colonies of growth.

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