Sunday, October 09, 2005


It was early 1967. Don Kirshner, producer of the Monkees, was on his way to a meeting with his band to address concerns they had over the release of the single A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You. The band, led by Michael Nesmith, had long desired artistic control over the content of their songs - in deed Kirshner had allowed Nesmith to co-produce some of his own songs and even allowed Peter Tork to play guitar on a couple more.

Kirshner had been in the business for years and was accustomed to dealing with strife. Besides, he was extremely excited over a new song that he had recently gotten a hold of that he believed would be the best Monkee song ever. And that was saying something given the success of Daydream Believer and I'm a Believer. But when Kirshner arrived for his meeting he soon discovered it was an ambush. The meeting lasted less than an hour, and when it was over, Kirshner was canned.

Undaunted, Kirshner put the song on a shelf until such time as he felt he could release it. That time occured in 1969. Kirshner had been asked to produce an annimated TV series for CBS consisting of the fictional Archie Comics. The cast of characters included Archie Andrews, Betty Cooper, Veronica Lodge, Reggie Mantle and Jughead Jones. Kirshner needed a song that would be the theme for the group, but he also needed a band to perform it. Remembering what happened with the Monkees, Kirshner decided he would create the band out of session players and keep their identities secret. That way they could not rebel and demand creative control. He hired Ron Dante and Toni Wine to do all the vocals. Dante was lead singer for the Cufflinks who had a single of their own that year called Tracy. Wine, no stranger to the business herself, co-wrote the smash hit A Groovy Kind of Love for the Mindbenders in 1965.

In the spring of 1969 the session musicians and Dante and Wine entered a studio to record the song written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim and shelved for almost two years by Kirshner. The song took less than a day to record and was released later that year. It went on to become the best selling hit single of the year, spending four weeks at number one.

The song was Sugar, Sugar.

What Kirshner was able to accomplish was nothing short of ground-breaking. He had single-handedly created a fictional band based on a comic strip, hired non-entities to perform a song that was written by somebody else, and with a minimal amount of effort went on to create a blockbuster hit single that took the country by storm. The record industry, never one to deny a success, or pass up an opportunity to make a buck, took notes. Within a year of it's release, Sugar, Sugar was garnering copycats. Other groups like White Plains and Vanity Fare began emerging and scoring top forty hits of their own. Soon an entire genre had been born. Bubble gum, once thought to be the purview of lesser talent, was now in full vogue, and everyone wanted a piece of the action.

Here is a list of some of my favorite bubble gum songs of the '70s along with some relevent comments.

1. Norman Greenbaum: Spirit in the Sky (1970). The only song in the list written by the artist himself, Greenbaum was the only artist to make both God and dying cool at the same time. Try that sometime. Even Billy Graham would give it it's do.
2. Edison Lighthouse: Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) (1970). The lead singer, Tony Burrows, who also sang lead on My Baby Loves Lovin' (see #3) and United We Stand (#10), was the ultimate bubblegum session singer. While Ron Dante holds the mantle as the voice of history, Burrows' contribution is insurmountable. Three top 20 hit singles in three months. Only the Beatles had managed to accomplish that feat.
3. White Plains: My Baby Loves Lovin' (1970). This song used to get me in trouble with mom every time I sang it. Oh, and by the way, I sang it quite often!
4. Alive & Kicking: Tighter, Tighter (1970). Co-produced by Tommy James, this was my favorite summer hit of that year. Whenever it came on the radio I immediately stopped what ever I was doing and turned up the volume, much to my parents chagrin.
5. Mark Lindsay: Arizona (1970). While most prefer 1971's Indian Reservation, this is my pick for his best song of the decade.
6. Steam: Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye (1969). Released late in '69 this rather obscure song wound up going all the way to number one. To this day it gets sung in more arenas and ball parks than even Queen's Another One Bites The Dust.
7. Vanity Fare: Hitchin' a Ride (1970). Unlike most of these artists, this group actually had a hit earlier in the year with Early in the Morning. But this would be their moniker.
8. Daddy Dewdrop: Chick-a-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It) (1971). A song about a guy going after a naked girl. Now that's rock-n-roll.
9. Gallery: Nice To Be With You (1972). There are few songs that hold so much personal joy for me as a kid as this song. I couldn't stop playing it.
10. The Brotherhood of Man: United We Stand (1970). Even as a 9-year old I dug the meaning of this song. Though written as a love song, it could just as well have been about mankind.

Well that's my top 10. Perhaps later I'll put up another ten songs.

Bye, for now.

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