Vice is Nice: Songs That Make You Go Hmmm
by Becky Ebenkamp
It’s a good thing Tipper Gore and her PMRC minions weren’t around during the heyday of bubblegum music, as doubtless they would have found the lyrics inherently more obscene than anything ever penned by El Duce or Luther Campbell.
That songwriters got their jollies by fortifying bubblegum with dirty, double-entendre lyrics that bypassed the ears of the average unsuspecting kid or not terribly “with it” record exec is an idea that has been heatedly debated. Still, while the existence of this smutty subtext is seemingly buried deep beneath a hard candy coating, other, more frighteningly transgressive concepts such as incest, bestiality and kiddie porn appear to hover right on the surface, broadcast to the nation’s nine-year-olds through mouthpiece groups like the Bradys, the Evolution Revolution and the Cattanooga Cats. Fuck metaphors, said the brazen, envelope-pushing songwriters—who apparently felt no need to obfuscate their wacko agendas.
Which sort of begs the question: What the hell were they thinking?
While anthropologists may posit that incest is “taboo” in every known culture, it was alive and well on a Paramount soundstage circa 1970, where Brady Bunch cast members were pairing off so furiously one might think they were privy to advance notice of some world-devastating flood. So admitted Barry “Greg” Williams in his book Growing Up Brady, a point later confirmed by sundry other giggling former Bradys in E! channel docs and tabloid TV fare.
Williams copped to having had the hots for TV stepsister Maureen “Marcia” McCormick, but nowhere on the tube does this bro/sis wanna tryst vibe come across as strong as in the recording studio, where producer Jackie Mills apparently didn’t see any irony in the duo’s rendition of “Candy (Sugar Shoppe),” the side two opener on the vocally challenged cast’s third musical outing The Kids From the Brady Bunch (Paramount, 1972).
Considering what we know today—that the Brady kids were all but boning their tic-tac-toe board counterparts out back in Tiger’s dog house—the already dubious lyrics rooted in bubblegum’s stock sugar-as-a-stand-in-for-sex structure take on startlingly perverse proportions. While the Bunch specialized in chorusy, harmony-free singalongs of current chart toppers like Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo,” this catchy and surprisingly melodic original set to a funk-fortified Bo Diddley beat paired the show’s eldest step-sibs Williams and McCormick to trade off suggestive lyrics that might pass for sexy were they not posing as kin on a weekly TV basis. Sample at your own risk:
I wanna take you to my sugar shoppe, so come on
I wanna give you all the love I got, so come on
Candy kisses in the moonlight
Sugar shoppin’ all through the night
Sippin' milkshakes in the hot sun
C'mon sugar come and give me some
If on paper the sweets = sex metaphor isn’t enough to convince the skeptic, the passion play panted out by pubescent horndog Williams surely will. Upon listening, it is difficult not to envision the poly-clad teens making eyes (or worse, making out) in twisted Magenta/ Riff Raff fashion. When Barry belts—make that growls—out “I got such a sweet tooth” or “C’mon sugar come and give me some” one can practically envision him sprouting his first facial hair right there in the recording booth. Or something much worse!
Poor McCormick, her sweet vibrato makes Williams’ delivery seem all the more lascivious, and one gets the sense that her coyness masks a naiveté on the level of Serge Gainsbourg protégé France Gall, who found out too late that she wasn’t just singing about sucking lollipops, but, subtextually, cocks.
Prehistoric was an oft-co-opted motif throughout the 1960s thanks to the popularity of The Flintstones, one that especially resonated with the garage bands forming all across the lower 48, as teen boys picked up cheap guitars and set out to pursue the new American Dream: to be Brit bad boys the Stones. Both well-known and obscure acts borrowed from Bedrock in name (the Barbarians, the Monkees), song (the Avengers’ “Be a Caveman,” Joanie Somers’ “Johnny Get Angry,” the Emperors’ “I Want My Woman”) or dress (Sonny & Cher, the Robbs, Paul Revere & the Raiders—the boys sometimes ditched the colonial garb in favor of caveman gear on the road) to obtain a primitive vibe. But while wannabe Neanderthals specialized in copping a cocky club-my-woman-over-the-hear-and-drag-her-back-to-the-cave-by-the-hair attitude, all their most sexist lyrics combined couldn’t match the basic instinct laid down in a single track by Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution.
After all, who could out-primate a rock group comprised of actual chimpanzees?
On Saturday morning TV series The Lancelot Link Secret Chimp Hour (ABC, 1970-72)—basically, a Get Smart gone apeshit—protagonists Lance and Mata Hairi and their primate pals provided musical interludes between the show’s spy vs. spy-themed skits. “Playing” guitar (Link), drums (Bananas Marmoset) and Farfisa organ (Sweetwater Gibbons) while decked out in Beatle wigs, fringed vests and Roger McGuinn granny glasses, the Evolution Revolution was a sight to behold. An eponymous record on Dunhill/ ABC Records soon followed.
Courtesy of writer/singer/producer Steve Hoffman, standout songs such as “Sha-La Love You,” and “Yummy Love” are the apex of pure, innocuous pop, and rightly earn their standing next to the best recordings of the Archies et al. But while the EvRev appear to promote personal expression and gender equality (a Betty-fied, blond-wigged Hairi plays tambourine), their lyrics belie the egalitarian look to reveal a smattering of old-school sexism.
You thought only human males suffered from Madonna/whore complexes or applied to the sexes a double standard? Apparently these are tactics open to anyone equipped with one Y chromosome and two opposable thumbs—just add three chords and stir. In “Teaser,” a prudish vocalist chastises a chimpette for promoting free love: “Girl you spread yourself around like strawberry jam.” Another beef of his, “You ask me to come over and we turn off the lights,” an activity that Mr. Willing Participant doesn’t seem to have a problem with until the morning after. Yet in the very next song on the LP, “Wild Dreams and Jelly Beans,” the amnesiac singer “can’t understand why you’ve been holding out on me.” Probably for fear of being labeled a slut, banana breath.
But nowhere is sex objectification more evident than in “Kissin’ Doll,” where our macho monkeyman struts into a department store and picks out his desired merchandise: the babe behind the counter. This wouldn’t be nearly as offensive if he weren’t so dang cocky about it:
Can I help you, that’s what she said
I took one look at her and I said, yeah
I’m lookin’ for something just like you
I’m lookin’ for a kissin’ doll, I’m sure you’ll do
Her response to this smarmiest of pick up lines? Since the song was written by a guy, let’s just say Lance Romance didn’t have to club the gal to walk off with “the greatest bargain in town.”
But thankfully, there is no indication that Link was “Rollin’ in the Clover” with anything but fellow simians, for some of our cartoon songsters, it appears, prefer to partake in dalliances across species.
The covert approach was nixed for the Scooby-Doo song “Daydreamin,’” one of the ditties by Brady/ Josie/ Partridge songsmith Danny Janssen that would play as the Hanna-Barbera crew was being chased past limited-cel animation backgrounds by various imposter mummies and ghouls. For there is no use for the thinly veiled subliminal message when a song proudly proclaims in its opening line, “I’m in love with an ostrich”—you’re pretty much out of the closet at that point. After the bird-love apologist (Shaggy?) confesses his should-be-forbidden romance, the relationship serves as a metaphor for following one’s heart and maintaining individuality in a cookie-cutter world:
So if you find somebody who loves you
And your friends are all complaining
They’re not friends anyway
Just go out in the sun
‘Cause it’s so much fun
Forget the rest of the world
Put your head in the sand
A noble, worthy sentiment, albeit not one normally reserved for or extended to foul, fowl fetishists.
A tribute to zoophillia would be incomplete without a nod to “Ben,” a film ballad interpreted by Michael Jackson and, later, Brady gal Maureen McCormick (Not that two versions are needed—Maureen mimics perfectly Mike’s prepubescent falsetto). If boy-rat friendship is the song’s outward theme, as with “Daydreamin’,” finding unconventional love in an unaccepting world is the underlying message. Especially when that world is a post-Richard Gere-gerbil rumors world. Extra especially when sung by Jacko.
But all pale in comparison to the well-documented (in this book, at least) “Hot Dog,” the Archies’ odious ode to their fave fleabag. Simultaneously redefining the term “doggie style” and elevating “Puppy Love” to a new plane, the song is paws down the most egregious example of musical bestiality. I don’t know and I don’t care if songwriting team Barkan-Adams were the most naive duo roaming the planet or trying to get away with major murder here. Doesn’t matter; what comes across is unadulterated mutt smut.
Perhaps it wasn’t their fault that the comic gang’s pooch unfortunately shared its nasty name with a phallic slang term, but knowing that—as any snickering five-year-old does—should have been enough to erect (no pun intended) a stop sign right then and there. So disturbing is the song, which manages to metaphorically mangle references to junk food, sex and household pets, that the “don’t tell, show” strategy is best in relaying its ramifications. Let the lyrics speak for themselves:
So put some mustard on my roll
‘Cause you’re barking up my soul
So wag your tail and let me know
Just how much you love me so
I really relish you
Who could embellish you?
Even if the wiener/dog connection is dismissed as coincidence or ignorance on the songwriters’ part, clearly, one cannot ignore the idea that boy-dog romance is implied via such lines as “Oh how good your kissing feels” or “‘Cause you love me like you should,” sentiments a sane person might bestow on Betty or Veronica, but certainly not man’s best friend.
There’s a fine line between multiculturalism and racism, especially in the Postmodern, post-PC, post-everything era. That line was often crossed in an attempt to enlighten the kiddies to diversity (or perhaps more importantly, placate watchdogs) during the Golden Age of Saturday Morning TV. If featuring a sea of whiteness was a sin of omission, attempts at showcasing a broader representation of races and cultures came off, especially in retrospect, as self-conscious quota filling and/or blatant caricaturing.
Whereas Fat Albert and the Jackson 5 come across as genuine because of the involvement of Bill Cosby and a flesh and blood musical group, other cartoons were obvious attempts to plug a token dark face into a character set. Some shows followed what could be called a Racist Superfriends format: Dick Tracy with his stereotypical sidekicks (the lazy Mexican, the Japanese martial arts expert, the Irish cop o’ the beat); Lance Link, the peppy and pop-as-hell theme song to which runs through a smorgasbord of exotically evil Cold War enemies. Naturally, when a show had spin-off music, the same traits shined through.
The Wombles were a fine specimen of this not exactly racist but offensive window into another world via the three-minute pop song. The Brit children’s series produced music that at its best pulls off a Sweet-fused-with-Krofft sensibility, and at its worst, comes off more than a tad twee (those with a weak stomach for Jack Wild song and dance or “Honey Pie”-type McCartney numbers might want to avoid the catalog entirely). Highlighting various factions of the fluffy, tidy creatures whose hobbies include doing laundry and collecting litter, singer/songwriter/arranger Mike Batt cast off tunes covering all the genre bases over the course of five albums, including the rousing anthem (“Remember You’re a Womble”), country & western (“Nashville Wombles”), the barbershop quartet (“Down at the Barbershop”) the Beach Boys harmonies (“Wombling Summer Party”) and the torchy faux Bond theme (“To Wimbledon With Love”).
Then there’s “Ping Pong Ball,” which details the lives of the “Oriental” (not a bad word back then) Wombles who “exercise their Oriental litter picking skills” by cleaning up “old chop suey tins” as “rickshaws rattle by.” Opening with the clash of a gong and followed by ching-chong Chinatown flourishes, back-up Wombles warble in sped-up Chinese Chipmunk voices that conjure up images of characters outfitted with massive bucked teeth and severely slanted eyes. Borderline distasteful—but in actuality probably no more offensive than the average tourist travelogue of the day—“Ping Pong Ball” is also one of the catchiest Wombles tunes.
Also hard hit: Native Americans, who got the treatment from the Sweet (“Wig Wam Bam”) and a double whammy from 1910 Fruitgum Company, a “band” that recorded “Indian Giver,” a term that has since been deemed disparaging, and fond of donning tribal garb and prop squaw for photo shoots.
A half dozen years or so before streaking came into vogue, the Cattanooga Cats were encouraging children to take it off, take it all off in “My Birthday Suit.” It is not known whether the lyricists were advocating kiddie porn or some misguided, hippiefied “back to the Garden” ethic, but frankly, either way it’s disgusting. For those who didn’t own the record, all this was played out through an episode of the Saturday morning show, where the Hanna-Barbera feline trio performed as go-go gal/ groupie Kitty Jo purred “How do you like me in my birthday suit?/ Aren’t I cute in my birthday suit?” while dancing au naturel. Innocent fun perhaps, but just a hop skip and a jump to, “Wanna snap a few Polaroids of me in my birthday suit?”
While rock scholars were busy debating the existence of lyrical sexual shenanigans in the likes of “Louie Louie,” “96 Tears” or some Jim Morrison Oedipal rant, the average nine-year-old circa 1969 was quietly compiling an exuberantly smutty record collection and no one ever seemed to notice. Add the above examples of transgressive bubblegum to the genre’s better-known references to Little Willies, cucumber castles, Di-Ki Dongs and tummies full of “love,” and even the most trusting listener must eventually sense a pattern: Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a pastel bubblegum cigar.
Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth
by Kim Cooper
If you do not wish to have your illusions about bubblegum destroyed, you should read no further than this paragraph. The chapter that follows is an exploration of the dark side of a genre which, to all appearances, dwelt entirely in the light. If you still cling to the notion of a happy world composed of sugarcone hills and chocolate milk streams, where cotton candy robins pluck gummy worms from shredded-coconut lawns (and then kiss them kindly and return them to the soil), and the wind blows a lovely scent of peppermint and spice, well, I don't want to be the one to take that away from you. Don't worry, your happy candy world is still there, and there are no shadows on the lawns. Now turn the page, quick, before you're ensnared by my evil heresies.
Bubblegum music was much maligned in its brief heyday (I968-69), and is pretty much ignored or despised today. A Los Angeles oldies station was recently launched with the slogan "No bubblegum, and no weird stuff." (To which I responded, "In that case, I'm tuning out!") Such derision is a pity, for the oddball recordings of the 1910 Fruitgum Co., Archies, Ohio Express, Lemon Pipers, Banana Splits, et al. are quite fascinating, in addition to being catchier than a huge yawn. Emerging out of a producer-driven system that makes Phil Spector look laid-back, bubblegum was made and marketed for a powerful new demographic: the pre-adolescent with cash to burn. Someone should tell Arrow-93 that these kids are all growed up and listening to oldies radio today.
In the late Sixties the American economy was in great shape, and for the first time a whole generation existed that knew nothing of deprivation. Their parents remembered WW2 and perhaps the Depression, and wished to spare their own progeny such pangs. And in direct response to this economic force emerged a startling variety of kiddie-driven commodities: comic books and skateboards, goofy plastic paraphernalia, half-length lovebeads, Sea Monkeys, and a whole new kind of rock and roll.
Bubblegum, however, was meant from the start to appeal to the eight-year-old of the house. It was the rare bubblegum album that had an accurate track-listing on the jacket—since much of the target audience could barely read, there was little point. Lyrics were calculated to evoke schoolyard rhyme schemes, and the groups themselves were marketed as wacky gangs of cuddly juveniles, or even as anthropomorphic animals and cartoon characters—entirely devoid of the sexual threat embodied by adult artists. Band members were often nameless and even interchangeable, as on the two Kasenetz-Katz Super/Singing Orchestral Circus records, which claim to feature all the hit-making Buddah bands playing simultaneously, but which internal evidence suggests was a session project. The photos inside the jacket of the so called "Original Cast Recording" of the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus (Buddah BDS-5020) are a revelation into the type of "band" favored by the masterminds of New York bubblegum.
The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo was composed of young men wearing expensive animal costumes, and cradling their masks in their arms; it is unclear how they were supposed to have played their instruments in such attire, or how "The Lion" and "The Bunny" kept their blonde locks looking so neat beneath the stifling character heads.
Lt. Garcia's Magic Music Box dressed n fetching mariachi drag, attractively accented by the Anglo members' Beatle boots.
The 1910 Fruitgum Co. presented a distinctly disunited front, with members clad individually in the garb of 1940s businessman, British bobby, Old West huckster, Napoleonic foot-soldier, and minor pre-Revolutionary Russian noble.
The St. Louis Invisible Marching Band, on the other hand, was invisible. 'Nuff said.
It was the 1910 Fruitgum Co. that transformed the game "Simon Says" into an upbeat number that gleefully reveled in the dominance and submission of childhood play. This was the same group that turned "Pop Goes the Weasel," "1-2 -3 Red Light," and "May I Take a Giant Step" into original pop songs (the latter two also heavy on the implied s/m.) Other groups played up the infantile lyrics without delving quite so literally into the music of the classroom. "Yummy Yummy Yummy" is a typical Ohio Express song: catchy, simplistic, with a first grade vocabulary and a killer punk presentation. Like several bubblegum acts, the OE started life as a cool mid-‘60s garage band, and were always able to conjure up a little punky phlegm to wash the sugary-sweetness down.
There is an astonishing amount of food imagery to be found in the lyrics but, like its namesake substance, bubblegum music was meant to be ingested for pleasure and not for nourishment. The Archies sang of a "honey," an "ah-sugar sugar," a paragon of empty caloric grace. The Lemon Pipers suggested you join them in a "jelly jungle of orange marmala-a-a-ade." And the 1910 Fruitgum Co. even had a signature candy edifice, the "1910 Cotton Candy Castle," where a young listener was invited to come and eat his or her fill. It is inconceivable that a b-gum band might have ever sung about something healthful like green onions or mashed potatoes. (But as seductive as a land of candy may seem, one would do well to recall that the candy house in the Grimm Brothers' "Hansel and Gretel" concealed a cannibalistic witch [read: a mother who wished to re-absorb her child into her body], and that all the kids but Charlie who visited Wonka's place came to very bad ends. Also, if you eat all that stuff you'll get spotty and fat and no one will want to have sex with you once you reach puberty.)
Food is, of course, incredibly important to children. Often it is only at the dinner table that children are able to exert power over their parents. By pointedly not eating, or by gorging, a child can focus the attention of the family directly upon himself. At its most extreme, such behavior can produce life-threatening conditions of anorexia and bulimia, but there are many subtle gradations which (while far less dangerous) also achieve the desired ends.
In many households, certain foods are forbidden, and thus take on a fascinating gloss to the children that are denied them. Sugar-free families were an unfortunate, growing phenomena in the late sixties, and the brown-rice kids must have gaped at the glorious food fantasies to be found in bubblegum lyrics. In nearly every neighborhood at this time, there was a child whose house everyone longed to visit, because their parents stocked an astonishing variety of junk foods, and had no qualms about letting guests gorge on them. If there was no such child in your neighborhood, or you were a complete social outcast, then at least there was bubblegum. In the privacy of your room, it was possible to glue a transistor radiator to your ear and drink in the promise of a new world, full of rare spices, fantastic flavors, and weird characters that beckoned you to join their feasting ranks.
A possible source for the excess of food imagery in these songs can be found in the names of the writers and producers who created them: Artie Resnick, Joey Levine, Jerry Kasenetz, Jeff Katz, B. Bloom, Don Kirshner—a bunch of Jewish guys! Who better to understand the seductive power of the edible, the powerful bond between noshing and being loved? "Eat, boychick, eat!"
But in truth, these junk food lyrics concealed a menace far more dangerous than hyperactivity, obesity or the eventual threat of diabetes. There was a big fat uncircumcised snake in the garden of bubblegum, and his name was S-E-X. Blame it on the writers, guys in their twenties hired to write innocent faux-rock lyrics designed to appeal to little tykes. The same impulse that led an anonymous Disney animator to draw a towering phallic castle on the video box for The Little Mermaid seems to have blossomed in the minds of the b-gum staff writers. The producers must have figured no one would notice (this was long before the current rage for parental supervision of pre-adolescent entertainment vehicles), and it doubtless amused the bands.
And so you have a cuddly group like the Lemon Pipers following up "Green Tambourine" with a very lewd Top 40 hit "Jelly Jungle," to wit: "Take a trip on my pogo stick/ Bounce up and down, do a trick/ I'll play a beat on your pumpkin drum/ And we'll have fun in the sun." A suggestive title like "Hard Core" from the same LP turns out to be ghastly white-'fro blues; the Pipers concealed their smut discretely within cutie-pie metaphor. This was a Kama-Sutra Production (on Buddah Records), names not chosen lightly. I'm sure I'm just one of many children of the era who remembers finding mock-Eastern sex manuals which had been poorly hidden by doped-up adults: to me, the Kama-Sutra name and the many-armed Buddah logo evoke rather sinister forms of acrobatic sex. And indeed, much of the smuttiest bubblegum could be found on Buddah.
"Yummy Yummy Yummy" (#4, Billboard, June 1968) by the Ohio Express is a prime example, a huge hit that to all appearances is about oral sex. (Ditto "96 Tears," but that's another story and genre.) That panting sounds were used as a percussive device seems unsurprising when one looks closely at lines like "The lovin' that you're givin' is what keeps me livin'/ And the love is like peaches and cream" and, of course, "Yummy yummy yummy, I've got love in my tummy." Oh yeah, and how did it get there?!
And in fine Freudian tradition, Buddah made the most of the fast train metaphor of the Ohio Express name. Album jackets pictured the group romping around train yards, dressing in drag and giving the kids a real good look up their legs.
The 1910 Fruitgum Co.'s " 1-2-3 Red Light" was clearly about the timeworn American hobby of getting into an unwilling pair of panties, by whatever means—psychological in this case—necessary. This theme was blatantly celebrated on the album cover.
"Every time I try to prove my love/ 1-2-3 Red Light, you stop me .../ If you stop me again/ That's when we might end/ So please don't refuse." He's threatening to break up with her if she doesn't put out; what a doll, and what a lovely message for the pre-sexual kiddies listening to this happy hit. The same band's "9 10 Let's Do It Again" is even more blatant:
“9, 10, let's do it again, gee that was so much fun
1, 2 , I'm counting on you, to be my #1
3, 4 , I'm shutting the door, gee this is so much fun
5, 6, I'm getting my kicks, doing what I love to do
7, 8, I'm feeling so great, doing what I'm doing with you”
This one was apparently intended as a sing-a-long—or, on second thought, perhaps the line "9, 10 let's do it again, join in everyone!" is meant to inspire an orgy rather than a group sing. The notion of a sexual utopia, lorded over by a benign Hefneresque figure is raised in this lyric from "1910 Cotton Candy Castle": "Here comes the Lollipop Man in his goody ship Lollipop/ All aboard for lollipop land where the lovin' never stops." Mm-hmmm, mister, this thing tastes good!
The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" (# 1, Billboard, September 1969), pretty much the only bubblegum hit that still turns up regularly on oldies radio, has one of the sexiest moments this side of Tim Buckley when the anonymous vocalist (Archie? Reggie? Ron Dante?) explodes, "Like the summer sunshine, pour your sweetness over me." These are the same Archies who celebrated bestiality in their non-hit "Hot Dog." It's always seemed suspicious that a gang of kids would name their canine mascot Hot Dog, but this is worse than anyone could have imagined.
“Hot Dog, life is tastin' pretty good, oh yeah
Hot Dog, 'cause you love me like you should, oh yeah
So put some mustard on my roll
'Cause you're barking up my soul, Hot Dog
Hot Dog, feel like kickin' up my heels
Hot Dog, oh how good your kissing feels, oh yeah
So wag your tail and let me know
Just how much you love me so, Hot Dog...
I really relish you
Who could embellish you?”
The Archies were masters at evoking the nervous excitement of adolescent sexuality. Reggie's menacing "Don't Touch My Guitar" is directed at his room-cleaning mother, and the titular "guitar" is clearly a symbolic stand-in for less savory items hidden in his bedroom. "Kissin'," with its Who-inspired stutter, sums up everything you need to know about what really went on at Riverdale High: "When you're feeling sad and blue, kissin' is the thing to do." There was a dark side to all this experimentation, however: on "Hide and Seek," the traditional children's game is played out as sheer sexual predation, and that old date-raper Reggie sneers, "It's an old game with a brand new twist/ Whoever gets caught is gonna get kissed"—at least!
And so things might have continued indefinitely, with new and goofier bands springing up to service each fresh generation of tykes, had not the creative team of Hanna-Barbera and Sid & Marty Krofft conspired to take things entirely too far. They shamelessly developed and unleashed an act whose very name evoked a sexuality so blatant that there was nothing for the other producers, writers and so-called bands to do but pack up their toys and go home. I refer, of course, to the Banana Splits.
Contemplate with me the genius of that moniker. It is on one level innocent and sweet, suggestive of nothing more than a favorite taste of childhood. Simultaneously, it is an unspeakably lewd reference to the sexual act. With such a name, it was hardly necessary for the Splits to be smutty in their music, although they were at times. Why, to even look upon the obscene proboscis that composed Snorky's "trunk" was to feel as if one had been flashed.
On their sole Decca LP, these Monkees imitators explored genres as varied as psychedelia, soul and bluegrass, demonstrating great skill in each. But their musical charms were not enough to erase the chill that the sexual content of their lyrics instilled in parents. "This Spot," purportedly about a nightclub, was a masterful double entendre ("This spot cannot be stopped when they dim the lights..."), while "Don't Go Away—Go Go Girl" explored the hopes and fears of a foot fetishist. Also notable is the obviously acid- (and Bee Gees-) inspired "I Enjoy Being a Boy," with lyrics so far out that it was pointedly left off their only album, despite being prominently featured on their TV show. ("I live in a cucumber castle on the banks of a cranberry sea/ And starfish dance under my drawbridge and blackbirds make nest in my tree/ I enjoy being a boy in love with you girl/ OH YEAH!")
But the Banana Splits' most outré moment came in their recording of "Two Ton Tessie," a song allegedly for children that featured these lyrics, sung by animals: "She's got big red lips and big brown eyes and everything my mamma's got is king-size/ Oh she's big and round and I love every pound," and "When she holds me tight it feels so nice, we can't get it on 'less I go round twice!" Twice, no less. It is a truly sickening image.
Who, after this, could pretend that bubblegum music was appropriate for children? It clearly was far better suited for teenage boys, who could appreciate the subtleties and snicker when they "got" the dirty bits, alá "Louie Louie" and (later) "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang." But it was simply too late to appeal to them. Marketing had aimed bubblegum directly at the little tykes, and older kids thought it horribly juvenile. Now that the secret was out it could no longer be given to youngsters, lest it cause psychic cavities. There was in fact no audience left for the genre. It quickly fizzled and was gone.
And thus ended a great era, which when the powdered sugar had settled was seen to have lasted barely two years. Two short years, the span between the first and third grades. Only one generation of American children had been lucky enough to forever have their sexual imaginations overflow with absurd treacly psychedelic imagery. (And since you ask, yes, I do resent the fact that by the time I got my first AM radio, all there was to listen to was Elton John and Cher. Curse you, Hanna-Barbera!) As quickly as it had begun, it was gone. Remainder bins filled with cutouts, which were ignored even when their prices got down to 49¢. Critics occasionally roused themselves to sneer (except for Lester Bangs, who typically knew exactly how great bubblegum was from the start), but mostly this spiffy realm was left unexplored, forgotten, its vast charms appreciated only by a peculiar few. And most of us don't talk about it, to even our closest friends.
If the time is ripe for a bubblegum revival, this unapologetic fan doesn't want to know about it. I have no interest in iffy compilations of alternative bands playing Saturday morning cartoon themes, or in the rumor that the original Archies have been playing a Florida hotel-bar. The faux-innocence of that time cannot be aped.
But the real thing makes me happy, and as long as I can listen to my bubblegum, I know all my silly troubles will go down in the most delightful way.