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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

An Informal History Of Bubblegum Music, Part 5

Continuing my history of bubblegum music, originally published in the April 25, 1997 issue of Goldmine.  It was subsequently edited for an appearance in the book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, partially for length and style, but also to avoid duplication with subjects discussed elsewhere in the book.  Writer Gary Pig Gold and I revamped my original article's section on The Monkees into an amusing debate on whether or not The Monkees were every really a bubblegum group.  Except for some minor editing, this restores the original, full-length piece as it appeared in Goldmine.  You can catch up with PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 and PART 4


The Bubble Bandwagon

While bubblegum was hot, a lot of other hit-seeking acts tried their hands at chewy tunes.  One was a studio group called The Cuff Links, who had a # 9 hit in 1969 with a Vance and Pockriss tune called "Tracy."  The Cuff Links' lead singer was our old pal Ron Dante.  Since "Tracy" entered the Top Ten before "Sugar, Sugar" fell from the top spot, Dante had two simultaneous Top Ten hits, but neither of them under his own name.

"They were out at the same time," Dante says.  "And it was by the same team that wrote 'Leader Of The Laundromat,' Vance and Pockriss wrote that song.  And they brought me in, and they said, 'Could you sing this?'  And I said, 'Well, I've got a big hit in 'Sugar, Sugar.'  And they said, 'Well, you know, for old time's sake, come sing this for us.  If it's a hit maybe you'll do an album.'

"So I went in with them and I did like 16 voices on it, and I did the vocal arrangements, came up with something to help arrange it vocally.  And it became a [Top Ten] record.  And it was funny to have 'Sugar, Sugar' as # 1 and Cuff Links [at # 9], and I had another group called The Pearly Gates, which had a record called 'Free' on Decca I think it was.  So at the same time I had three records on the chart under different names."

In spite of the success of "Tracy" (and, to a lesser degree, its sprightly follow-up "When Julie Comes Around," which made it to # 41),Dante declined to return to the mic for the second Cuff Links LP.  His spot was filled by Rupert Holmes, later to achieve pop infamy with The Bouys' "Timothy" and his own solo "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," two perennial candidates for the All-Time Top Ten in Hell.

A couple of former hitmakers who'd gone a while without a big record each staged a return to the Top Ten via bubblegum.  Lou Christie had a # 1 hit in 1965 with "Lightnin' Strikes," but had been absent from the Top 40 since "Rhapsody In The Rain," a # 16 entry in 1966.  Recording for Buddah--where else?--Christie cut a gooey, gooey, thick 'n' chewy number called "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" and bounced up to # 10 in 1969.  "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" was written by Tony Romeo, who'd earlier penned The Cowsills' "Indian Lake," and would later write the Partridge Family smash "I Think I Love You."  "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" was Lou Christie's last hit, but it was arguably his best.

Tommy Roe also bubblegummed his way back into the hearts of radio listeners with “Dizzy,” a superbly sweet trifle that topped the charts for four weeks in 1969. Roe's first hit had been the amazing Buddy Holly soundalike “Sheila,” a #1 hit in 1962. Roe also hit with “Everybody” (#3) in '63, and two 1966 singles, “Sweet Pea” (#8) and “Hooray For Hazel” (#6) that were definite bubblegum prototypes. But “Dizzy,” co-written by Roe and the Raiders' Freddy Weller, was his first hit in a couple of years, and it was certainly one of bubblegum's defining singles. Two more bubblegummy singles, “Heather Honey” and “Jam Up And Jelly Tight” were also hits at #29 and #8, respectively.

In the same time frame, a British session singer named Tony Burrows was writing his own anonymous chapter in the bubblegum story.  Burrows has been referred to as the only person in pop history to be a one-hit wonder five times. The first four of these all occurred in 1970:  "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" by Edison Lighthouse, "My Baby Loves Lovin'" by White Plains, "United We Stand" by The Brotherhood Of Man, and (gulp!) "Gimme Dat Ding" by The Pipkins.  The first two of these were solidly in the bubblegum mold, while "United We Stand" was slightly more ersatz-soulful (and the novelty hit "Gimme Dat Ding" was in a remedial class all by itself).  Burrows' last hit was with The First Class:  the incredible Beach Boys pastiche "Beach Baby" in 1974.

(Note:  in 1996, the Varese Sarabande label put out a Tony Burrows career retrospective under the title Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)--The Voice Of Tony Burrows, collecting Burrows' various incarnations in one package.)


The Cowsills were a family group from Newport, Rhode Island, consisting of five brothers, their mother, and their little sister.  By virtue of their clean-cut image and such chirpy singles as "The Rain, The Park And Other Things" (# 2 in 1967), "We Can Fly" (# 21 in '68), and "Indian Lake" (# 10 in '68), The Cowsills were thought of as a bubblegum act, though their music probably had more in common with The Mamas and the Papas than with any Super K concoction.

"I think The Cowsills were bubblegum against their will," Pitzonka says.  "They were a family, they really had aspirations to be The Beatles, they really wanted to be this jangly power pop band.  But then the record company said, 'Oh, look!  A wholesome family from Rhode Island!'  And they kind of got lumped in that way.  But their later records--let's say from 'Hair' [#2, 1969] on--they really dug their heels in and tried to break that image in whatever way they could.  But they were also hawking milk.

[NOTE:  I originally wrote this bubblegum history in 1997, prior to the release of The Cowsills' terrific 1998 album Global, which I now regard as one of the best albums of that decade.]


"The Cowsills were also the basis for The Partridge Family.  And The Partridge Family is definitely a bubblegum band.  I mean, they actually retained some credibility by the fact that David Cassidy actually sang; originally it was supposed to be the Bahler Brothers [singing lead].  The whole thing was that originally they didn't even know he could sing, he was just supposed to lip-sync his way through it."

Like The Monkees and The Archies before them, The Partridge Family found a weekly TV series to be an effective tool to promote record sales (or vice versa).  "I Think I Love You" topped the chart for three weeks in 1970, but The Partridge Family's finest moment was "I Woke Up In Love This Morning," a # 13 stunner in 1971 that would have been a great record no matter who did it.


And, without conceding our position that The Monkees weren't really a bubblegum act during their heyday, it should be noted that the final pre-reunion Monkees album, 1970's Changes, was at the very least on bubblegum's periphery.  Reduced by now to the duo of Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones (following the departures of Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith), Changes found the Monkee pair again working with "I'm A Believer" producer Jeff Barry, as well as with bubblegum stalwarts Bobby Bloom and Andy Kim.

Though not really as bad an album as it's come to be regarded--the "Oh My My" single was a pretty good soulful-pop number that deserved a much better fate--Changes was still The Monkees' most disposable work (at least until Pool It! in 1987).  The album did not chart until its 1986 reissue, in the wake of resurgent Monkeemania.  "Do It In The Name Of Love," a bouncy bubblegum tune left over from the album sessions, was issued as a Mickey [sic] Dolenz & Davy Jones single in 1971.  (Interestingly enough, when Dolenz and Jones regrouped with songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart to form Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart in 1976, Dolenz defended the group against "charges" that it was bubblegum by saying something to the effect that, "Yeah, but we're progressive bubblegum!")

And then there was Dawn, originally a studio creation featuring lead singer Tony Orlando and background singers Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson.  With Orlando recording in New York and Hopkins and Wilson recording their contributions in California, the first two singles--"Candida" and "Knock Three Times"--raced up the charts to # 3 and # 1, respectively.  Orlando had previously been a solo singer in the early '60s, and had fronted a studio group called Wind, which made it to # 28 with the single "Make Believe."  Further illustrating how all this stuff seems to tie together, Joey Levine was also involved in the Wind single.

"We had this record company out of Kasenetz and Katz," Levine says.  "Artie [Resnick] and I had Earth Records, which was then L & R Records, and we had [Bobby Bloom's] 'Montego Bay,'  we put out that record.  And we had a record called 'Make Believe' with Wind,put out that record that Bo Gentry and I wrote, which was Tony Orlando's first record.  Matter of fact, the follow-up to that was 'Candida,' but the record company went under, and he went over and sold it over to someone else.  Or 'Knock Three Times,' I forget--one of those two."

In any case, Dawn's success prompted its members to become an actual touring, performing unit.  Bill Pitzonka sees this as the cut-off point for the end of the bubblegum era.

NEXT:  (Wait For It) The Bubble Bursts