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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.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

An informal History Of Bubblegum Music, Part 6

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 PART 4 and PART 5


(Wait For It) The Bubble Bursts

"I think bubblegum itself," Bill Pitzonka says, "the ending point can be pretty clearly cut off around 1971, '72. I like to cut it off right at the point where Dawn became a real act. Where all of a sudden this band that was making these pop singles and was just supposed to be this singles factory, you know,  became a real band and had a real identity.

"The whole thing about bubblegum is it's kind of faceless. And that is a good thing and a bad thing, because I don't know a lot of people who go around knowing the names of the members of The Ohio Express," Pitzonka notes, laughing. "That wasn't the point."

Although one can say accurately that bubblegum never really went away, its golden era had clearly passed by the early '70s.

"I think bubblegum had no place to go around '72, "Pitzonka says. "I mean, you could only work so much mileage out of a band that didn't exist. Unless you're like The Alan Parsons Project, which is a completely different animal. You can't make a career out of singles; hard as you try, you just can't. Even back then, you could have ten hit singles, but then it just dries up—there's nowhere to go.

"I think the genre pretty much dictated its own course. Kasenetz and Katz stopped hitting the charts as of the '70s. Then Bell (the label that inherited The Monkees' label, Colgems) took over—Bell was big. And that was the stuff like Tony Macauley, who also did “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes).” That's when you also had Dawn and you had The Partridge Family. Davy Jones recorded for Bell.

"I've got the Bell singles listing. And it's funny, because until The Partridge Family, Bell had never had a gold album. All of a sudden, once they had a gold album, they had money. And you notice their singles release schedule goes from 20 singles a year to 40 singles a year to 70 singles a year to 90 singles a year to then, their last year of operation they had something like 125 singles. Now, in the process of doing 125 singles, and a lot of these were studio things--they'd hire producers to concoct bands for them. They didn't have any albums. They put out ten albums a year to 100 singles. That's kind of an example of how bubblegum was progressing and couldn't really pay for itself."

Kasenetz and Katz, for their part, attempted to move on past bubblegum.

"You know," they say, "a lot of people don't even know that we were involved with a lot of other artists and things; like 10cc, before they were 10cc, were doing a lot of things for us also [specifically, as a post-"Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" incarnation of Crazy Elephant].  That was Graham Gouldman, [Kevin] Godley, [Lol] Creme, [Eric] Stewart.  We were involved with Bobby Bloom, who had the 'Montego Bay.'  We did Bo Diddley, not that it was successful, but we recorded a lot of other people.  You know, there's a whole lot of things that a lot of people don't remember.
"And even like The Music Explosion, 'Little Bit O' Soul,' which I never thought was a bubblegum thing, people still refer to that at times as, 'That was a bubblegum type of thing.' and I said, 'Bubblegum?'  That really wasn't bubblegum, that was lik a lot of other things.  But I think it was because of us--if we put our name on it, everybody said, 'Oh, it's another bubblegum thing,' whether it was or wasn't.

"We were good to most of our people," say Kasenetz and Katz.  "We used to send them on trips and get 'em pianos as bonuses and this and that.  Because we had to keep them pepped up so that we could keep everything going.  And then that was it.  The groups had changed, and I think at the time that they were all burned out on the type of songs or whatever it was.  And that was it, and then we went on to other things.  We had a hit with the Ram Jam group with Bill [Bartlett], who was originally in The Lemon Pipers."  Ram Jam's cover of Leadbelly's "Black Betty" was a # 18 hit in 1978.

Joey Levine also moved on.  "I did a bunch of work with this record company," he says, "and some things happened, but then we had fallen into a situation of...I don't know, it was over.  So what happened was I kind of sat out for a while.  I just sat down and just did some songwriting and thinking.  I was doing some songwriting, and some people recorded a couple of things.  You know, I had songs recorded, James Taylor recorded something ["Ain't No Song," co-written by Levine and David Spinozza], a little later on Bonnie Raitt ["I Got Plenty," co-written with Jim Carroll].  And I was getting records, but I stopped for a while.  And then I started doing commercials."

As noted before, Ron Dante refers to Levine as the biggest jingle producer in New York.

"Um, probably in the world," Levine corrects with a laugh.  "I probably have been at it longer and more successful than anybody."

Levine did return to the charts one more time in 1974, as the lead singer on "Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)," a # 8 hit for a studio group (of course!) called Reunion.

"Reunion's an old friend of mine," says Levine, "who I hadn't seen in a while.  I had been writing with this guy Mark Bellack [co-author of "Try It," by The Standells and Ohio Express] a little up at Aaron Schroeder's office.  And Mark wasn't really a great writer, but he was a good friend of mine and we worked on a couple of things.  And up at Schroeder, at a certain point they wanted to sign me, which I didn't wanna be signed.  So I said, 'But you should sign Mark.  Because if Mark is here, I'll write here,' you know?  But then when the contract came up, I said to Mark, 'Listn, don't renew your contract, 'cause I'm not writing over there any more.'  And he renewed it!  And I got a little peeved, I said, 'Mark, I told you not to renew it.'  And he said,'Well, I'm gonna write with some other guys, I think I got the handle.'

"So we didn't talk to each other for about...not aggressively, but we didn't see each other for about two years.  And then he came to me with that song, and he was cutting it and he said somebody was interested.  But I listened and I listened and I said, 'I like the song a lot,' I said, 'I think you're production's no good.  And I'm not trying to weasel in, but if you wouldn't mind, let me go and cut it.'

"And we re-cut the record, and I fixed up some of the lyrics and stuff, and it became a Top 10 record."

Ron Dante, now free of any compelling reason to remain an anonymous voice, returned to recording under his own name.


"I had a record called Ron Dante Brings You Up," he recalls,"and 'Let Me Bring You Up' was a Jeff Barry/Andy Kim song, and I thought it was a smash.  And [it[ just did not happen big across the country.  But it was a really good record, 'Let Me Bring You Up.'  And it was kind of The Archies meet some of those 'Happy Together' type of groups.  It was a pretty damn good record.  I always liked that record and song.  So it was kind of close--it wasn't as bouncy as the other stuff.  I wrote a bunch of stuff for the album.  I wanted to write a bunch of stuff, so I wrote a lot of the album."

During this period, Dante also recorded a single for Bell, "Don't Call It Love," under the name Bo Cooper.  He also returned to doing commercials, and it was in that field that he met a songwriter named Barry Manilow.  Dante went on to produce Manilow's first hit, "Mandy," and continued to co-produce Manilow's records until 1980.  Manilow, in turn, produced Dante's own (aughh!) disco remake of "Sugar, Sugar" in the mid-'70s.

Today, Dante remains proud of The Archies.  "Just two years ago," he says, "I did a cerebral palsy benefit type of thing where I went to the Hard Rocks and visited and performed for a special occasion to raise money for the Oreida Tater Tots.  Oreida put The Archies on their Tater Tots, and every bag you bought a few cents went to [fight] cerebral palsy.  And the Archie publication went into conjunction with that.  So I actually did the Hard Rocks last year, a year and a half ago.  And then I did The Greek Theater last October as The Archies, a special favor.  You know, I don't do it a lot because The Archies are owned lock, stock and barrel by the Archie comic book people.

Which is why Dante is interested in working out a deal with Archie's publisher to create a new Archies project.

"They're very protective of their copyright," he says.  "And they have other projects going, a Broadway show, a TV movie or a movie, a TV series, that are all potentially in development.  And they have signed deals with these people.  So I wanted the record rights to The Archies, and I negotiated with them for six months, because they wanted to see what the Broadway show did or what the TV show did.  So I understand their hesitancy.  But I think eventually I will end up with th right to the Archies recording group, and I will do a '90s version."

Dante goes on to describe his vision of the new Archies.  "In The Archies, the original group, the male lead voice was the strong lead voice and carried it.  In the '90s, I would use the female voices of Betty and Veronica.  The '90s would be more current.  Jughead might get an album out of it, you know, because he looks like a grunge rocker.  He could be a garage-band type of sound, with Jughead playing drums, have maybe a funny lead sound.

Reggie, Archie, and Jughead in 2016
"So there's many ways to do it.  The danceability of the records are important, and the fun, up, positive nature of it, because it does appeal to a younger market, I think, it does appeal to a pre-teen, teen [market].  But it's not hard-edge, if you know what I mean.  The average readership of an Archie comic is age seven to 13 girls, about 70 percent girls.  And it's very popular with that kind of innocent age too, that kind of not-yet-hip teenager," he says with a laugh, "still some babysitting jobs and things.  Some clean, wholesome music I think is necessary for popular music to be balanced.  If we have all one thing, as you know, it becomes very boring."

And, a few years ago, a clip of a whole group of Ron Dantes singing "Sugar, Sugar" began airing occasionally on VH1.

"When I was on tour as a solo artist in the 1970s," Dante recalls, "I went to Cleveland and did a show called Upbeat.  And I think Upbeat decided to tape me five or six times, singing 'Sugar, Sugar,' playing different instruments.  I think that's where I did it, I think I did it in Cleveland.  I know I was on tour for about six months, visiting all the major cities and doing all the local TV shows.  And I think I might have done that in Cleveland.  I was as surprised as anybody when [VH1] started to play it," he notes with a laugh.  "I had forgotten all about it."

Over two decades after the cartoon Archies appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, TV viewers finally had a chance to match the face with the voice of "Sugar, Sugar."

NEXT:  Cleaning Up This Gooey Mess