Bubblegum: A Beginners’ Guide

ARCHIES: As the Monkees started to slip in late ’68, Don Kirshner unveiled his new media blitz – a cartoon show (based on a popular comic book), with records supplied by anonymous session technicians. The Archies, being animated figments, were not susceptible to Monkees-style flak over playing-their-own-instruments. They got off to a slowish start, but their third hit, ‘Sugar Sugar’, became one of the top five selling records of all time. The first three Archies albums are attractive artifacts of unpretentious pop, thanks to producer Jeff Barry and the usual talented Kirshner songwriting teams.

BOYCE & HART (Tommy & Bobby): Pop purveyors par excellence (Boyce dates back to Fats domino’s ‘Be My Guest’), they penned many of the Monkees’ big hits (‘Clarksville’, ‘Valleri’, ‘Stepping Stone’). Turning performers, they scored with an early bubblegum landmark, ‘I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonite’. They split around 1970, enjoyed markedly less success, and are now teamed up with Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones in the reconstituted Monkees.

BUDDAH RECORDS: Home of the 1910 Fruitgum Co., Ohio Express, and most Kasenetz-Katz acts. Thanks to their tireless promotion efforts (by Neil Bogart, Marty Thau, etc.), bubblegum became a catch phrase and a national phenomenon. Thanks to bubblegum, Buddah became a successful label.

‘CHEWY CHEWY’ (Ohio Express): Perhaps the archetypal bubblegum record. It’s all here – hard-rock riffing, obnoxiously nasal vocals, mid-song ‘Then He Kissed Me’ ripoff, mindless refrain and not-so-subtle sexual innuendo.

RON DANTE: The male voice of the Archies (female lead was Toni ‘Groovy Kind Of Love’ Wine), a veteran sessioneer who also sang on records by the Cuff Links, Eighth Day, Detergents, and himself since 1964. Almost the Tony Burrous of America. He’s just issued a new version of ‘Sugar Sugar’ under his own name – done disco style.

1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY: Faceless Buddah band whose ‘Simon Says’, ‘1-2-3-Red Light’, ‘Goody Goody Gumdrops’, and ‘Indian Giver’ were bubblegum classics. On the fade, their ‘When We Get Married’ was a surprisingly strong Spector-style ballad (complete with cadres of clicking castanets cats).

BO GENTRY/RITCHIE CORDELL: Production team who with Tommy James made the first strictly bubblegum hit, ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (January 1967) with its pioneering bass line. Worked with James through ‘Mony Mony’ (another classic riff), and (together and separately) later with the big Kasenetz-Katz groups (Crazy Elephant’s ‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’, etc.). Formed their own label, Life, in late 1969, with one fair-sized hit by Wind (‘Make Believe’/’Groovin’ With Mr. Bloe’), but Life came to an end and little has been heard since.

TOMMY JAMES: Though ‘Hanky Panky’ was a surf/rockability mutation of a girl group number, ‘Alone Now’, ‘Mony’, ‘Mirage’ and ‘Do Something To Me’ were topnotched bubblegummers. Then James created ‘Crimson & Clover’, transcending the genre entirely. He never quite equalled that work of pop genius, but 1971’s ‘Draggin’ The Line’ was one of the last bubblegum hits.

JERRY KASENETZ/KATZ: The Kings of Bubblegum. They started with modest Christine Cooper records in 1965, and were involved with Attack Records, which issued the original versions of ‘Come On Down To My Boat’ and ‘Beg Borrow & Steal’, as well as the Music Explosion’s ‘Little Black Egg’, a cover of a seminal proto-bubblegum hit. Their first smash was a Carter-Lewis song originally cut by the Little Darlings in 1965, ‘Little Bit Of Soul’ (the Music Explosion). Then came the nursery rhyme adaptation ‘Simon Says’, (1910 FG Co.), and a dynasty was founded. They masterminded hits by the 1910, Ohio Express, Shadows Of Knight, and Crazy Elephant, and made countless other equally wonderful records that weren’t hits. They even produced Bo Diddley at one point. All their acts faded by the end of 1969, their custom labels Team and Super K with them, and the duo retreated until early this year with a new label called Magna Glide (none of whose records have yet rivalled, aesthetically or commercially, past glories).

DON KIRSHNER: After building his Aldon/Screen Gems publishing empire (Goffin/King, Mann/Weil, Sedaka), Kirshner brainstormed the Monkees and the Archies to unprecedented multimedia success. Later synthetics, like Tomorrow (featuring Olivia Newton-John), fizzled, but Kirshner stayed on top with his TV Rock Concert series, and lately his Grammy-rivalling Rock Awards, one of which should be awarded him for never missing a beat.

ANDY KIM nee Youakim): Canadian artist who co-wrote ‘Sugar Sugar’ with Jeff Barry and also enjoyed several quasi-bubblegum hits in 1968-69 (‘Rainbow Ride’ and a delightful ‘Clarksville’ cop). Still a chameleonic hitmaker (‘Rock Me Gently’ – Neil Diamond).

JOEY LEVINE: Voice of the Ohio Express – the grating insinuations of ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ and ‘Chewy Chewy’. He first perfected the style with the Third Rail, whose satirical ‘Run Run Run’ was a minor 1967 hit. Later he recorded under further pseudonyms (Bohanna, for one) and under his own name for his short-lived Earth label. He scored again in 1974 with Reunion’s mind-boggling musical tribute/catalogue ‘Life Is A Rock’.

MONKEES: More important for attitude and climate influence than for actual bubblegum relevance. Classifiable as a teen fave act, like prototypes Dino Des & Billy, and later manifestations like the Partridge Family/David Cassidy and the Osmonds. But though their music was not pure bubblegum, they did establish the TV-records combination blitz and the all-time manipulation/packaged group precedents. The newly-reformed group is knocking ’em dead at amusement parks.

NOMENCLATURE: Inspired by the Fruitgum Co., Kasenetz-Katz and imitators created a dazzling array of absurdly complicated group names. The K-K stable comprised the JCW Ratfinks, Captain Groovy and his Bubblegum Army, Pattie Flabbies’ Coughed Engine. Professor Morrison’s Lollipop, the 1989 Musical Marching Zoo, the Carnaby Street Runners, the Detroit Road Runners, the British Road Runners, the Super K Generation, and Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus (which included many of the above). Rivals included the Amazing Pickles, the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show, the Unchained Mynds, the East Main Street Explosion, the First Street Marble Team, the Licorice Schtik, and the Chicago Prohibition 1931. Toppers, though, were the Rock And Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Co. of Philadelphia 1914, whose ‘Bubble Gum Music’ was an inspirational anthem.

OHIO EXPRESS: Originally a real Ohio group (though their first hit, ‘Beg Borrow and Steal’, is note-for-note identical to the Rare Breed’s earlier Attack version). For their third release (‘Yummy3’), Joey Levine took over lead vocal functions, lasting through ‘Mercy’, Graham Gouldman and various Strawberry Studios and other British cohorts took over for ‘Sausalito’ and ‘Cowboy Convention’. On tour, the Express used to boast of consuming more acid before showtime than any group in existence. Their act must have been a real mindblower.

SOME OTHER ENTREPRENEURS: Many noted behind-the-scenes-types flirted with bubblegum, aside from adaptable pop groups like the Raiders and Box Tops. Wes Farrell produced the Cowsills (‘Indian Lake’ is bubblegum) and Bubble Gum Machine before manufacturing the Partridges. Rupert Holmes was the Street People (‘Jennifer Tomkins’) and probably Jamie on Musicor, and conceived the Buoys’ cannibalistic ‘Timothy’. Paul Leka, now producing Tim Moore among others, had the Lemon Pipers (‘Green Tambourine’) and Steam (‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’). Jerry Goldstein of War fame masterminded the Rock & Roll Dubble etc. Kenny Young had a good one with Atco’s Raspberry Pirates. And Johnny ‘Mr Bassman’ Cymbal, masquerading as Derek, on Bang, synthesized the perfect combination of the label’s two stars, Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, for a big hit with ‘Cinnamon’. And many more.

TELEVISION: In the wake of the Monkees and Archies, a number of TV character groups were spawned. Among them were the Hardy Boys, Josie & the Pussycats, Lancelot Link & the Evolution Revolution (a group of chimps), and (quoting from their LP sleeve) “Bingo – a goofy gorilla; Fleagle – a bollixed-up beagle; Snorky – a daffy elephant; and Drooper – a loony lion. They pun, offer advice and answers to important questions of our time, run into each other a lot, fall down, and carry on like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The most unreal thing is their singing! They sing tough…Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Bubble Gum, Country and Hard Rock.” The Banana Splits, despite songs by Gene Pitney, Al Kooper, and Barry White (!), never had a hit, but their memory should live on forever nonetheless, as a tribute of sorts to the inane and wonderful reign of bubblegum in America, 1968-1970.

© Ken BarnesLet It Rock, December 1975

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