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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.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

An Informal History Of Bubblegum, Part 8

Concluding 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 PART 6 and PART 7

Sticky Residue: Bubblegum's Legacy

While bubblegum music still has its vocal detractors, its appeal has transcended such criticism. "It depends on what circle you're in," Ron Dante says, "If you're in the Aerosmith circle or the R.E.M. circle, it might be looked down on. The trick is, bubblegum is inherently young, and younger than the rock 'n' roll that surrounds it, probably. Who are the bubblegum chewers that they were talking about? It's usually the pre-teens or the very early teens, 13-14.

"So I think it had its place in terms of very clean, fun music, bubblegum music. And I think it can be used as a derogatory term. But to me, it's not a derogatory term. Mostly it's just another niche of music, like country is, or R & B, or any of the others. And it's got its own little niche and its particular sound. To me, there are bubblegum records made today. If you listen to that [sings a bit of Donna Lewis' “I Love You Always Forever”] 'I love you, always forever, la, la, la,' that is bubblegum. Or, [sings a bit of The Cardigans' “Lovefool”] 'Love love me say that you love me'—I mean, that is as bubblegum as you get! These girl groups and girl singers are doing bubblegum today.

"Bubblegum exists today in those kind of records, and it's very welcome, 'cause it's fresh and it's honest and it's very simple, straightforward kind of stuff that is appealing and very memorable. The minute you hear it you wanna hear it again, and you remember it. So there are things out today that equate to bubblegum. And bubblegum in its time was very popular."

"There's always songs that come out that are bubblegum songs," adds Joey Levine. "I mean, The Cars were certainly a big bubblegum group. But there's always been songs that are hit songs and they wrapped up a little bubblegum. I mean people call The Spice Girls the bubblegum of today. Is it a bad connotation? I don't know. It's a commercial connotation. And then it just becomes up to you to make the decision whether being commercial is bad or good, so I don't know."

"I tell ya, we had a heck of a good time," say Kasenetz and Katz. "We took The Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, we went out to some junkyard in New Jersey. We did a video there and shots for album covers and what-not, and to move everybody we had buses rented. And that was the first insight into sort of movies or what-not, where we did a whole thing.  It was an exciting time in general for things that were going on. I mean, we were on the charts, I would say three years straight we were never off the charts. And we ranked in one of those years, I don't even remember what it was, second to Motown in the number of chart records—and here we were, we weren't even really a record company, we were a production company.

"So we were very excited and happy. The only thing we felt that was missing is we felt that no one really, and even to this day, they don't look at is as quality so to say. And I think we don't get our just due for what we did and for the amount of hits, because we had a lot of hits. I mean, to this day, from all over the world and what-not, I would say we're close to 42 or 43 gold records. But, you know, that's show biz," they say, laughing.

"It was really an era in time that has great memories to us," Kasenetz and Katz continue. "And I speak to people now even, they have a lot of the stuff out on compilations, and they sell. I don't know if they sell because of the compilation or because of the people that want certain things or what-not. But it was a very exciting time. It was a style of music that was very popular for several years."

"It was fun doing," Dante says. "And I'm still making music, I still do some commercials. I've been working for a different company lately. The last thing I did was the Publisher's Clearing House theme. I did [sings] 'Publisher's Clearing House, the House where dreams come true.' That was the last commercial I sung on. I'm still cooking. I'm producing a couple of new artists, and I keep my hand in. But definitely that was a wonderful time. Some famous poet once said, 'It was the perfect time—the time we keep trying to repeat, imitate or sell," he concludes with a laugh.

"There really is something to be said about these songs that went in there, hit the hook and left," Pitzonka says. "There's something very vital about that, and bubblegum was all about that. Bubblegum was for disenfranchised 12-year-olds who couldn't listen to The Beatles anymore, because they didn't get the drug references.

"My personal slant on the whole thing or how I came to it actually is that I had a sister 14 years older than me and I used to collect records when I was a kid. Then in 1978 there was this album on TV called Super Bubble, which I ordered. It was like the first album I ever ordered, mail order, and I just fell it love with it.


"And around that time I was getting really upset with how music was. There wasn't really a lot in the late '70s/early '80s, because that was when arena-rock was coming into the fore, and I just couldn't get worked up about Journey. It just reminded me of the guys who hung out in the back of the school at the auto shop wearing the t-shirts. Those bands to me were all about the t-shirts. And the logo bands—I just couldn't get into it. So at that point I got into The Beatles. And then from The Beatles, instead of most people going from The Beatles to the Stones to Zep, The Doors, I went from The Beatles to The Monkees to The Archies to The Cowsills.

"Bubblegum really did lay a deeper foundation than anybody's willing to give it credit for," Pitzonka continues. "Yes, it is responsible for Take That and New Kids On The Block, but it's also responsible for The Ramones. A lot of the melodic metal comes out of that too. Bubblegum was based in melody; it was all about the song. It was all about getting the message across in two and a half minutes. A lot of people forget that; they kinda just look at it and say, 'Oh, these bands never existed.' Yet everybody remembers 'Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,' everybody remembers 'Simon Says.' And it was the perfect antidote to everything that was going on. In the late '60s, everybody was trying to make messages and make albums, and here are these people just happy to sing about bubblegum subject matter, which is kid's games, double entendre and stuff like that."

There is indeed a lot to be said for a record that hits the hook and hits the road. Bubblegum's appeal is that it's short, sharp, and to the point, and once it's stuck in your brain it's impossible to scrape off. In times of too much trouble (and not enough treble), there is a tremendous, cathartic rush to be had simply from joining in a rousing chorus of bubblegum's central mantra: "Pour a little sugar on me."