On 14 September 1968, The Archie Show, a Saturday morning TV cartoon show, made its debut on CBS in America. The show was a Don Kirshner creation based on a high school rock band in a popular comic book, from which hit singles were to be spun off, following the pattern Kirshner evolved with The Monkees.
Cynics suggested that the mogul hoped to avoid the personality clashes which soured his grand design for The Monkees by ensuring that this group consisted only of animated drawings.
The Archies’ field of musical endeavour was ‘Bubblegum’ – A term coined by two New York record producers, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz (pictured below), the owners of Super-K Records.
Kasenetz and Katz saw a gap in the market for uncomplicated danceable pop with simple lyrics – a complete reaction to the progressive and psychedelic rock scenes. The hit they wrote for Ohio Express, Yummy Yummy Yummy – featuring the lyric “Yummy yummy yummy, I got love in my tummy” – was not untypical.
The 1968 Archies’ hit Bang-Shang-A-Lang (which opened the TV cartoon show) was recorded with session singer Ron Dante (pictured below) on lead vocals. His voice became identified with The Archies sound, and during the peak of “Archies-mania”, the Post Cereal company issued Archies’ records on the back of cereal boxes, and an Archies restaurant even opened in Joliet, Illinois.
The group only ever played live once, at a charity event at St Theresa’s Church in Kenilworth, New Jersey, with Dante and Donna Marie performing Sugar, Sugar and Who’s Your Baby?
Kasenetz and Katz were equally responsible for Simon Says, the 1910 Fruitgum Company‘s pre-teen pop smash based on a children’s game. When Simon Says passed the million sales mark on 5 March 1968, it confirmed that Bubblegum had really arrived.
Despite accusations that Super-K acts like The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo and Lieutenant Garcia’s Magic Music Box were fronts for groups of studio session players, the label prospered.
Super-K took over New York’s Carnegie Hall on 8 June 1968 for a promotional concert at which the label’s entire roster combined to form the 46-strong Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus.
Composed of Kasenetz and Katz’s top-selling bands, a mind-blowing idea in itself, this Super Circus was a strange aggregation that featured the 1989 Musical Marching Zoo, Lt. Garcia’s Magic Music Box, J.C.W. Rat Finks, and the St. Louis Invisible Marching Band.
Whether this extreme was self-parody or a quick attempt to cash in on a good thing, Kasenetz-Katz did eventually abandon the project, trimming the band in half and naming it the Super Cirkus (Quick Joey Small and I’m In Love With You).
In 1969, Kasenetz-Katz Associates reported an 85% sales increase over the past 12 months, earning $25 million and scoring 25 hit singles.
There was no sign of the Bubblegum hits slowing either, and Sugar Sugar by The Archies hit the US #1 slot in September 1969, and returned once again, as a dance novelty, in 1987.
As Super K bubblegum developed into a Bizness Boom, imitators tried to duplicate the sound. Of course, there were the usual bandwagon-buffoons besmirching the genre (scene-maker Kim Fowley‘s Bubble Gum, the Zig Zag People’s vanilla-fudge versions of gumball standards); yet, bubblegum did go beyond K-K’s classic form.
Almost as chaste as K-K’s quintessential productions were Derek’s (formerly Johnny Cymbal of Mr Bass Man fame) Cinnamon, Tommy Roe‘s Sweet Pea and Jam Up and Jelly Tight and The Fun & Games’ The Grooviest Girl In the World.
Through the ’70s, bubblegum ingredients scattered and infiltrated the entire pop spectrum, from the polished salubrity of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family to the heavy-metaloid thud of Ram Jam’s Black Betty, K-K’s last great production.
Vestiges of the genre were evident on records by Tony Orlando & Dawn, early Sweet (Funny Funny), Daniel Boone (Beautiful Sunday and Annabelle), the DeFranco Family (Heartbeat, It’s A Lovebeat), Wadsworth Mansion (Sweet Mary), and, even lyrically, ABBA (pick one).
Primarily as dance music designed for kids, classic bubblegum was always one-note away from becoming a solid hoofing sound like, say, The Isley Brothers‘ Twist And Shout.
Other than the sound, what united these records under bubblegum’s banner was a common lyrical construction that combined the language of childhood games with puerile suggestions of sexual foreplay.
Consider Yummy Yummy Yummy – “Love you such a sweet thing/Good enough to eat thing/ And it’s just what I’m gonna do.” Compare that to a Tommy Roe tune – “Jam up and jelly tight/You look a little naughty but your so polite/Jam up and jelly tight/You won’t say you will but there’s a chance that you might.”
With the exception of Chewy Chewy, the best example of the genre’s seemingly naive sexual chanting was Derek’s Cinnamon – “One potato, two potato, three potato, four/Open up Cinnamon I want more/Five potato, six potato, seven potato, eight/Give it to me Cinnamon I can’t wait.”
What 12-year-old wouldn’t get hot after hearing that stimulating jingle?