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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.

Friday, April 22, 2016

An Informal History Of Bubblegum Music, Part 7

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 PART 5 and PART 6 


Cleaning Up This Gooey Mess

Although bubblegum's heyday had passed, its influence continued to be felt, often in some unexpected guises.

"I think Europe kept the idea going more than America did," Pitzonka says. "Which is kind of ironic when you consider that bubblegum in America was a response to the British Invasion. But yeah, I'd say the early ABBA records are definitely bubblegum. And of course, a friend of mine pointed out to me that a lot of the Eurovision records were very, very, very contrived, and they were meant to appeal to the broadest common denominator. But in the process, they also got very onomatopoeic in the early '70s. You had stuff like “Boom Bang-a Bang” and “Jack In The Box” and all these songs that sounded like “Abergevenny” [a #47 hit in 1969 for Shannon, a.k.a. singer Marty Wilde], only more schmaltzy.

"It then became more of a teen idol phenomenon, which was a different thing entirely. Because they realized that they did need faces, they couldn't have faceless bands. What do you attach to? Oh, attach to a cute guy who you can market to a magazine. So I think bubblegum kind of evolved, and it evolved separately. In Europe it evolved into glam; in America, it evolved into the teen idols. Bell Records, while they had The Partridge Family and The Bay City Rollers, they also had Gary Glitter. Sweet, of course, started out as a bubblegum band—there's no question that “Funny Funny” is a bubblegum record. And then, of course, that came back and you've got The Ramones, based on that melodic garage angle."

The dialectic of bubblegum is indeed far-reaching. Aside from the obvious, inherent bubblegum appeal of various teen-idol records in the early '70s, from The Osmonds to The Jackson Five to The Kids From The Brady Bunch, British glam/glitter owed a very real debt to bubblegum. Glam records were catchy, clunky, artificial creations, designed to grab you with mindless, repetitive and frequently irresistible hooks. It’s not a huge jump from The Ohio Express to The Sweet, Gary Glitter, Mud, Hello, or even Slade and Suzi Quatro. Heck, The Bay City Rollers had a foot in both camps, as a teen idol band with vague glam roots.

Speaking of The Bay City Rollers, they also wound up with a weekly TV series, although their came after their hit-making career had stopped.  One of the writers on that show was Mark Evanier.

"I worked on the show with The Bay City Rollers, Krofft Superstar Hour," Evanier says.  "There were two [different] shows:  there was The Krofft Supershow on ABC, which had Kaptain Kool and the Kongs [as] the hosts, and then we did Krofft Superstar Hour on NBC, which had The Bay City Rollers.  That show was later re-titled The Bay City Rollers show.

"That was a case where we had ABBA signed to do the show.  At the last minute ABBA pulled out, and The Bay City Rollers were substituted at the last minute.  The Bay City Rollers had actually dissolved the group; they put it back together because a couple of them needed money.  So they took the offer and came over and did the show.  And I think they dissolved the group right after that again."

(Note:  lead singer Les McKeown did indeed leave The Bay City Rollers after the TV show ended.  The remaining members--Alan Longmuir, Derek Longmuir, Stuart "Woody" Woods, and Eric Faulkner--recruited a new lead singer, Duncan Faure, and recorded a few little-heard [but pretty damned good!] albums under the truncated name The Rollers before finally folding in the mid-'80s.)

Another genre with connections to bubblegum was disco.  "Disco was actually another bubblegum outgrowth," Bill Pitzonka agrees, "because that's where all the producers went. Neil Bogart [who'd left Buddah to form Casablanca Records, probably the preeminent disco label] was a marketing genius. In fact, [superstar Eurodisco producer] Giorgio Moroder used to put out these bubblegum singles out of Germany, with titles like “Looky Looky” and “Moody Trudy” and stuff like that, and they're these infectious little pop tunes that all sound like “Papa Oom Mow Mow.” Which actually leads us back to [bubblegum]. Because, you know, “Papa Oom Mow Mow,” “Wooly Bully,” these onomatopoeic things, had a real base appeal. And that's what bubblegum tapped into."

It is not a huge jump from The Archies or The Banana Splits to a prepackaged disco act like The Village People, who recorded for Bogart's Casablanca. Another Casablanca act with bubblegum roots was KISS, whose outlandish costumes and merchandising efficacy—not to mention their punchy, spunky singles, which drew inspiration from pop-rock as often as they did from hard rock—made them the kind of act Kasenetz and Katz would have killed for.

And then there's punk. Though the anger 'n' anarchy clatter of early punk was what got all the attention, punk also placed a premium value on concise ditties with immediate, visceral appeal.
"The punk movement was about breaking down barriers," notes Pitzonka, "and basically breaking through that whole art-rock thing that was going on. But also, once they got over the rage, once they actually learned how to play, no movement can go along without melody for long."

Punk acts like The Undertones, Generation X, The Rezillos and—especially!—The Ramones all drew readily-apparent inspiration from bubblegum. The Ramones actually covered both “Indian Giver” and “Little Bit O’ Soul” on record, and even the seemingly humorless Talking Heads used to cover “1-2-3 Red Light” live. At one point, Bomp! magazine openly wondered when The Ramones would get around to covering an Ohio Express tune; one regrets that they never did.

"It's just a dark edge," Ron Dante notes of punk's similarity to bubblegum.  "They had a dark edge to it.  But musically it's very close.  I always thought musically it was very close.  It was that band sound, formula type of song, that kind of predictable but fun [approach].  Their themes were a little darker, that's all.  You're right, there was a definite connection.  Nobody in that area is gonna admit it," Dante concludes with a laugh.

Don't be too sure about that, Ron.  As legendary Ramones guitarist told Goldmine in 1994, "We started off, and I think we wanted to be a bubblegum group.  At one point, The Bay City Rollers were becoming popular.  They had written 'Saturday Night' and then we sat down and said, 'We have to write a song with a chant in it, like they have.'  So we wrote 'Blitkrieg Bop.'  Somehow, in our warped minds, I think we thought we were a bubblegum group."

NEXT:  Sticky Residue:  Bubblegum's Legacy