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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, July 23, 2016

BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH: The Audio Companion

Although I've already presented my epic Goldmine history of bubblegum as a serial on this blog, I realized the other day that I never got around to collecting those chapters into one post. That will be remedied in the near future.

 

An abridged version of the above-mentioned bubblegum history was used in the book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, and I remain enormously proud to have been involved in that fine project.  While that book earned its own cachet of cool, few realize that there was initially talk of compiling an audio companion to the book, either to be sold separately or included with the book itself.  Editors Kim Cooper and David Smay invited contributors to submit ideas for what tracks could be included on this hypothetical, aborted compilation, and this was my submission: 
 
BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH

1.  THE OHIO EXPRESS:  “Try It”

Before morphing into a bubblegum kingpin, The Ohio Express was more in the mold of a traditional '60s garage-rock group.  “Try It” had originally been recorded by The Standells, whose version failed to dent the Hot 100 (either because of or in spite of the publicity surrounding attempts to ban the record for its supposedly suggestive lyrics).  The Ohio Express changed the lyrics slightly, and managed to scrape the lower regions of the chart (# 83) with this impressively super-charged reading.  Perhaps more importantly, this was the first time The Ohio Express or producers Kasenetz and Katz ever worked with the song’s co-author:  one Joey Levine, whose name would soon loom quite large in the Super K story.  (I included this tune here as an exercise in wishful thinking; the track is part of the elusive Cameo-Parkway motherlode owned by Allen Klein, who has been notoriously difficult when it comes to licensing tracks.)

2.  THE FLASHCUBES:  “Boy Scout Pin-Up”

The Flashcubes were one of the great lost power pop bands of the '70s, a group that understood the pop-punk roots that led from The Beatles, The Kinks, and Herman’s Hermits through The Sex Pistols and The Bay City Rollers.  Though not really a bubblegum tune, this unreleased new wave pop track from 1979 examines the erotic undertone of Tiger Beat idolatry with its sprightly tale of a girl fantasizing about her Shaun Cassidy poster.  (I wrote the liner notes to the ‘Cubes anthology CD Bright Lights; this track was left off due to space limitations.)

3.  THE TARTAN HORDE:  “Bay City Rollers, We Love You”

Parody?  Pastiche?  Both?  Nick Lowe’s way fab “Rollers Show” could be taken either way, though most who heard the song on his Pure Pop For Now People album probably presumed Lowe was simply mocking our lads in tartan.  The song was originally released as a single, credited to The Tartan Horde, and paired with this similarly-themed salute to Derek, Alan, Eric, Les and Woody.  It has never been issued in America.

4.  THE ROLLERS:  “Roxy Lady”

After The Bay City Rollers’ days as teen idols had passed, lead singer Les McKeown left the group.  He was replaced by Duncan Faure, as the band shortened its name to simply The Rollers and attempted to forge a post-tartan identity.  Elevator, the first album by this edition of The Rollers, was a fairly solid effort that flat-out bombed commercially.  After eventually severing ties with old label Bell/Arista, The Rollers took a cue from Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Alias Pink Puzz LP:  The Rollers released their Ricochet album anonymously to Canadian radio stations, daring folks to listen without prejudice and defying 'em to guess the artist.  Alas, the stunt did little to ignite interest in The Rollers, and Ricochet remains unreleased in the U.S. to this day.  Which is a shame, because this particular track ranks among The Rollers’ best.

5.  THE ARCHIES:  “Who’s Gonna Love Me”

By the time of The Archies’ fourth album, 1970’s Sunshine, the long-simmering rivalry between guitarist Archie Andrews and bassist Reggie Mantle had reached a boiling point.  Mantle was particularly unhappy; he was stung by criticism that the group hadn’t played on its own hit records, and was now seething with jealousy as one of The Archies’ old opening acts, Led Zeppelin, was fast becoming one of the hottest groups around.  Mantle had announced his intention to leave The Archies and form his own hard rock group, Old Man Weatherbee (flippantly named for an administrator at Riverdale High School, where The Archies had originally formed).  Andrews had already tested the solo waters with a country single, “I Need Something Stronger Than A Chock'lit Malt,” and was ready to move on.  However, in a rare show of solidarity, The Archies rallied to take control of their last record, providing the bulk of the musical backing themselves.  The highlight of Sunshine was undeniably “Who’s Gonna Love Me,” an exuberant track that inspired Andrews to give his most soulful, commanding vocal ever.  Ultimately, after all the bickering, The Archies parted as friends.  Andrews went on to his solo career (though his solo debut was credited to The Archies, to fulfill a contractual obligation); he eventually moved into artist management.  Mantle moved to England and remained a fixture on the hard rock circuit for years to come; he even produced Spinal Tap’s Shark Sandwich LP.  Drummer Forsythe “Jughead” Jones became an in-demand session player, keyboardist Veronica Lodge began a film career, and percussionist Betty Cooper retired from show business entirely.  The Archies have repeatedly turned down multi-million dollar offers for a reunion tour over the years, though they did agree to a touching, emotional on-stage reunion at Live Aid II.   And that provides a fittingly mature coda for the career of a band once described as America’s typical teens.

6. THE LOLAS:  “Feelin So Good”

Let’s face it:  anybody can cover “Sugar, Sugar” but it takes a visionary act to tackle “Feelin So Good (S.k.o.o.b.y-D.o.o),” The Archies’ failed second single (after “Bang-Shang-A-Lang” and before the smash that was “Sugar, Sugar”).  The visionary act in question is The Lolas, who included the tune on their debut album, Ballerina Breakout, which was one of the best rockin’ pop albums of 1999. 

7. 976-SING:  “Reggae Barbera”

California-based musical comedy act.  Sure, it’s obvious...but it’s funny...!

8.  THE HONEYBEES:  “You Need Us”

America’s sweethearts, Ginger, Mary Ann, and Lovey, three castaways in no danger of ever being voted off any island.  The Gilligan’s Island girls sang this song to convince the ersatz rock group The Mosquitoes to bring them back to civilization and inevitable rock 'n' roll success.  Like all of the castaways’ efforts to be rescued, the plan ultimately failed--The Mosquitoes were afraid that The Honeybees would be too much competition for ‘em, the bastards.  If nothing else, however, The Honeybees left their mark on a nation of young boys, who discovered the secret allure of gurls just by watching Ginger writhe seductively as she sang “Mmmmm, mmmmm!”  Mmmmm, mmmmm, indeed.

9.  THE CLINGERS:  “Gonna Have A Good Time”

Looks like the rest of the Yummy Yummy group has more information on this group than I do, so I’ll defer to them.  All I know is that I taped this off a rerun of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and that Dawn Eden named the single in an article on compiling an essential bubblegum tape in Mojo magazine a few years back.

10.  DOLENZ, JONES, BOYCE & HART:  “You Didn’t Feel That Way Last Night (Don’t You Remember?)”

Working under the lumbersome billing of “The Great Golden Hits Of The Monkees By The Guys Who Sang ‘Em And The Guys Who Wrote ‘Em,” DJB&H recorded one out-of-print studio album and one import live album before dissolving.  The group was dismissed as bubblegum, but Micky Dolenz immediately shot back, “Yeah, but we’re progressive bubblegum!”  Progressive or not, this ace re-write of The Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” deserved a better fate.

11.  BLOTTO:  “We Wanna See The Monkees”

This remake of Blotto’s signature tune “I Wanna Be A Lifeguard” was originally done for a NYC radio station, and it's likely that no suitable master exists.  (Since I’ve been playing this dub-of-a-dub-of-a-dub periodically on my radio show, Blotto’s drummer has asked me if I can get HIM a copy of it, which doesn’t bode well for a clean copy turning up.)

12.  THE NEW MONKEES:  “Burnin’ Desire”

Perhaps the most universally reviled pop act of the last 20 years, so they must have been doing something right.  The New Monkees were a crass attempt on the part of Coca-Cola (ironically, “The Real Thing”) to capitalize on resurgent interest in the original Monkees in 1987 by creating--wait for it!--a NEW set o’ Monkees.  Jared, Dino, Marty, and Larry did an album and starred in their own TV series, but never achieved quite as high a profile as Micky, Davy, Peter, and Michael.  Monkees fans hated The New Monkees, and the whole ill-conceived project was doomed from the start.  However, one bright shining moment from the sole New Monkees album was this cover of a tune originally done by The Elvis Brothers, a group said to have been in the running to actually play the role of The New Monkees until The Elvis Brothers themselves realized what a stupid career move that woulda been.

13.  THE PLEASERS:  “The Kids Are Alright”

As power pop began to emerge as a post-punk movement in the late '70s, The Pleasers were the blokes in suits and bowlcuts trying to pretend that they’d never heard of The Beatles.  The Pleasers' image made them ripe for derision, but some of their records were fairly...well, fab, and this cover of The Who’s power pop classic manages to effectively sound like The Monkees sing “My Generation.”  We mean that as a compliment, and the fact that Tommy Boyce produced it just makes it seem all the cooler.

14.  BO DIDDLEY:  “Bo Diddley 1969”

Bubblegum Bo Diddley?!  YES!  A 1968 Super K single no less, and it shoulda been a freakin’ hit.

15.  THE POPTARTS:  “Poptart Theme/Happy Together”

The Poptarts, an all-female combo based in Syracuse, NY in the late '70s, were basically The Go-Go’s a few years too early.  When The Go-Go’s hit big in the ‘80s, those of us who’d followed The Poptarts in their day could only sigh and think of what might have been.  One of The Poptarts’ stated goals was to be on a lunchbox, and this little ditty could well have been the theme song to the Saturday morning cartoon show they’d have been given in a world more just than ours.

16.  THE NOW:  “He’s Takin’ You To The Movies”

Bubblegum-pop from this fake new wave group helmed by Bobby Orlando, who also wrote and produced The Flirts’ willfully stupid “Jukebox (Don’t Put Another Dime).”  And willfully stupid is GOOD...right?
 
2016 POSTSCRIPT:  Although this compilation wasn't meant to be, I did eventually play a part in finding homes for two of its proposed tracks.  The Flashcubes' "Boy Scout Pin-Up" was included on the companion CD for Shake Some Action, the wonderful power pop book edited by John M. Borack, and Blotto's "We Wanna See The Monkees" made its lo-fi way to the most Dana & Carl compilation, This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio, Volume 3.  And yeah, I did subsequently recycle some of that Archies entry for my piece on What If The Archies Had Been A Real Band?