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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 15, 2016

An Informal History Of Bubblegum, Part 4

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 and PART 3 

I also recommend Mark Evanier's terrific blog, News From ME 

                             

Cartoon Rock

The success of The Archies led to an odd tangent in the bubblegum story: Saturday morning cartoon characters singing pop-rock songs and, frequently, making pop-rock records. Kirshner himself was involved with many of them.

"He did a couple of other bands like the Chan Clan," Bill Pitzonka says, "which was also Ron Dante—it was Ron Dante and Barry Manilow, go figure that—and then there were all the other Saturday morning TV shows like Josie and the Pussycats."

Even the animated version of The Harlem Globetrotters played on this field, courtesy of Kirshner.
"Kirshner did that with Sedaka and Greenfield," Pitzonka says. "A lot of this is languishing in Don Kirshner's vault because he's for some reason going into delusions of grandeur that it's going to be worth a lot some day.

"There were a couple bands before The Archies. There was a band called The Beagles, which I know nothing about. They put out an album on Columbia and I knew nothing about them until I got this one CD which had their stuff on it."

"That was a show that was produced by Total Television," says writer and animation historian Mark Evanier, whose television credits range from Welcome Back, Kotter to Garfield and roughly a zillion other series, specials, one-shots and pilots. "The Beagles were—there were two of them, it was a team. That was one of the few shows like that done out of New York that was like that.   That was produced out of New York, and I think that was a case where somebody bought the show based on the name.

"There were a number of shows about music groups, and you could go back even further than that, I think. Did the Beatles cartoon show precede that? Certainly the success of the Beatles in other media spawned a lot of interest."

Still, animated pop groups proliferated to an unprecedented degree in the wake of The Archies.

"Yeah, a lot of that was a Fred Silverman belief," Evanier says. "Fred liked those. Fred was programming CBS quite successfully in the late '60s and his influence certainly bled over to the other networks. I'm not even sure chronologically what was the first show that did it, but the success of The Archies certainly didn't hurt any.

"The other trend that had a lot of parallels here was there was a trend toward pre-established properties. Which was a case of using characters that already existed. The idea was that, because of the way the cartoons were sold to the advertisers, frequently sold before the show even was finished, there became a very strong interest in programming cartoon shows that existed in other media. In other words, something that was based on a TV show, based on a movie. There was a dislike of shows that were 'only' cartoon shows. And one of the ways in which they took a property that otherwise was not known—like, say, Jabberjaw—and gave it some sort of a feel of familiarity was to try to spin a record group out of it, or to try to spin something akin to The Archies out of it.

"There were attempts several times to replicate the success of The Archies," Evanier continues, "because The Archies had a hit record, and The Archies were on a record label, and such. It also became a simple case of believing that that was an element that was popular in the shows, particularly with female viewers. One of the problems that Saturday morning animation has frequently had is attracting female viewers. It's very tricky to find a show that girls will watch that doesn't alienate boys. And the music segments seemed to be something that had some value there.

"There were a lot of reasons. But also, at that time the shows were a little more formularized than they later became, or than maybe was desirable. And the idea of just putting a music segment in, making that part of the format, it was pretty easy to crank them out assembly-linewise. The writers would write up to the chase scene, and then the idea would be that there'd be a minute-and-a-half song that would take over the action. You'd notice they would reuse animation an awful lot in those, and I think that was also a powerful incentive. Basically it was simply a case of a belief that kids liked [the music segments]; just as Scooby-Doo spawned a whole raft of shows where four kids went out and solved mysteries, The Archies spawned a whole raft of shows where, although the characters were not necessarily a rock group, they would at some point pull out their keyboards and drums and play something."

As noted previously, Kasenetz and Katz were also approached to provide music for a proposed Saturday morning cartoon, Captain Groovy & His Bubblegum Army.

"Well, we were approached," say Kasenetz and Katz.  "We were dealing with Hanna-Barbera, and the reason it really didn't come about is because they wanted 50 percent of whatever we did.  And we said, 'Hey listen, if we're gonna do it for you, we're gonna do it for you--it's our stuff.'  And we really didn't want to give everything up.  And I think more than anything that's why it never came about.  We thought they were asking for too much, and it wasn't worth it to us."

While pop music seemed to take over kiddie TV, no such music ever really crossed over to the pop charts after The Archies.  "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)," which was he theme song to The Banana Splits (actually a non-animated Saturday morning show featuring four guys in animal suits as a rock group) managed a # 96 showing on The Hot 100, but that was about it.  Joey Levine did contribute one song to The Banana Splits, "I Enjoy Being A Boy (In Love With You)," but it wasn't even released outside of a limited-edition mail order offer.  Still, the song had some high-profile fans.

"Basically, the only thing that became big about that was R.E.M., early in their career, used to play around with that song," Levine recalls.

A relative lack of chart success doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't some tasty bubblegum music being created for the Saturday morning crowd.  "Two of the best bubblegum albums ever are the album that The Sugar Bears did and the album done by Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution," Bill Pitzonka says. "And both of those were for prefab artists. That's the point at which they realized again that the faceless aspect was taking its toll, so they hitched onto TV shows or, in The Sugar Bears' case, a breakfast cereal."

It's also worth noting that reruns of The Monkees' TV show, which had completed its prime-time run on NBC in 1968, began airing as part of CBS' Saturday morning lineup in September of 1969.

                       

One Saturday morning act that may have deserved a better fate was Josie and the Pussycats. The group is something of a pop culture footnote for introducing the world to one Cherie Moor, later to find fame as actress/singer Cheryl Ladd. Though based on an Archie Comics title, the music for Josie And The Pussycats was produced, not by Don Kirshner, but under the direction of songwriter Danny Janssen, best known for co-writing "Little Woman" for Bobby Sherman. And the sound Janssen chose for Josie and the Pussycats was cast, not in the image of The Archies, but in the soulful pop style of The Jackson Five.

"That was fully the intention of Danny Janssen," Bill Pitzonka says. "They held auditions for the girls for Josie and the Pussycats and he had selected the three girls. Cheryl Ladd—who wasn't Cheryl Ladd  then—Cathy Dougher, and Patrice Holloway. And when he presented them to Hanna-Barbera they said, 'Well, we really like Patrice Holloway, but we've never had a black cartoon character before.' And he said, 'Well, tough, '" Pitzonka notes with a laugh. "'I won't do the project unless she does it, because she's got the greatest voice for it.'

"So they sat on it for a while and he didn't hear back, and then they said, 'Come down to the studio, we're doing Josie and the Pussycats.' And (Janssen said), 'You didn't fire her, did you? Because I wasn't gonna do it.' And they said 'No, just come down to the studio.' They hired every major soul musician in L.A. to work on those sessions. Because they said, "We're gonna do this right, we are gonna do this right.' And that's why there is a black character in Josie and the Pussycats, and why the music has such a soul slant.

Unfortunately, neither of Josie and the Pussycats' two Capitol singles, “Every Beat Of My Heart” and “You've Come A Long Way, Baby,” made so much as a light indentation on the Hot 100. (A competing version of “Every Beat of My Heart,” by 11-year-old singer Shawn, also failed to chart.) With the notable exception of Ladd, Josie and the Pussycats soon faded into obscurity.

"One of the things that a lot of different companies have tried to do over the years," Mark Evanier says, "is they like the idea of owning a group. You know, one of the things that made The Archies the envy of a lot of other people in the music business was that The Archies were anonymous, The Archies were owned. The Archies couldn't hold out for more money. I mean, I think they were always shocked that The Monkees, when they were done, turned into kind of independent guys. You couldn't just yank Mike out and put in somebody else. You had to go with those four guys.

"And I think that were was a couple of attempts in Saturday morning, through animation and through live action, to create groups like Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. It was owned by the Kroffts [TV producers Sid and Marty Krofft]. They could pluck people out, put people in. They could own all the publishing, they could own the likenesses, they could own the costumes, they could merchandise the characters in a way that you couldn't do if you had a comparable group that was using their real names and faces and such.

"And I think that's one of the appeals of some of these attempts, was, 'Well, we'll make our money on the records, we'll make money on the merchandising, we'll send the group out to tour.' I think at one point there was this dream that they could have four or five troops of Banana Splits going around the country touring, if The Banana Splits had been bigger. All you need is a set of costumes. Anybody in the world can be in the costumes, and anyone in the world can record the records. Like you have this generically-created music. In the same sense that right now a lot of live-action movie studios kind of envy Disney, because Disney doesn't have to cope with stars who want 25 million dollars. They can tear their stars up if they ever get out of line.

"A lot of the animation studios had deals with different people to produce the records," Evanier continues.  "For instance, I did a live-action pilot for Hanna-Barbera in 1977.  I did a show called The Beach Girls, which was about three girls in a rock group who lived at the beach and put on bikinis and played rock music.  Frankie Avalon was the guest star on the pilot.  And for the music tracks for these girls to sing, they didn't even let the three girls they'd hired sing; they pulled some of the music tracks which had been recorded for Josie And The Pussycats years earlier by some company that had produced those for Hanna-Barbera.  And this was the same type of thing, you know, 'We own these songs, we madea deal for these, so we're going to use them.

"That was the attitude.  And we did this live-action pilot, it was a sitcom, trying to kind of cross The Monkees with a beach party movie.  It was that period of time where every show had three girls in bikinis in it.  But there was a lot of that studio attitude of 'Let's create stars we own.'"

With no substantial hits to follow up The Archies' success, and with The Archies themselves already fading, the cartoon rock trend ran itself out.

"I think it was like a fad that (ended)," Evanier says. "See, you know, this business tends to always run in cycles of imitation. There was a period when everything was Scooby-Doo imitations. Somebody called them a 'Four kids and a nyaa-nyaa' show, or 'Three kids and a nyaa-nyaa.' Three kids and a dog, four kids and a horse, three kids and a car, you know, whatever it is, go solves mysteries. And you go through cycles on that until something else comes along. And I suspect that there was no specific catalyst here—The Archies was a hit, a bunch of other shows like that were tried, they weren't hits, something else was a hit, people tried other things."

NEXT:  The Bubble Bandwagon