The press weighs in on Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth…
Jeff Tweedy (Musician, Wilco), Bookforum: I recently read a collection of essays: ‘Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears,’ edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay. If an anthropologist from the distant future came back to our time, *NSYNC would tell them more about our culture than any Will Oldham record – definitely more than a Wilco record. People have this misperception that if something’s easy to listen to or easy to read or easy to understand, then it was easy to do. I think the opposite is true. The circuit between Justin Timberlake and a fourteen-year-old girl is what’s really important about music, and I definitely would argue that that connection is more profound than the one between an Interpool record and a fifty-year-old rock critic. Me? I ‘m just trying to connect with myself."
Richie Unterberger: Bubblegum music has struggled for respect ever since the genre got a name in the late 1960s. It’s given its due and then some by this 325-page volume, which is not so much a conventional history as a collection of nearly 100 essays and articles on aspects of bubblegum rock and pop. The heyday of bubblegum in the late 1960s and early 1970s gets most of the ink, but other manifestations of bubblegum, all the way up to 2000, are also covered. Even devotees shouldn’t feel guilty about skimming some of these large-format 325 pages; you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone interested in so many facets of the genre. But even if your interest in bubblegum is somewhat casual, there really is a lot to dig into here. Contrary to what some would expect given the topic, the writing is mostly of a very high and professional standard, and often very witty, though perhaps over-generous in its critical evaluation of this oft- (always-?) frivolous style. There are not just features on important bubblegum acts, but also interviews with key songwriters, producers, and session singers, like Toni Wine (a female voice of the Archies), Richard Gottehrer, and Jeff Barry; labels specializing in the product, like Bell and Hanna-Barbera; TV shows, movies, and artifacts spawned by bubblegum; and kitschy pop with some (maybe vague) relationship to bubblegum, like the Eurovision contest. Certainly you’d have a hard time finding an article and discography of bubblegum records printed on the backs of cereal boxes elsewhere. Greg Shaw’s article about his surreal encounter with Monkees-Brill Building-Archies mastermind Don Kirshner is particularly hilarious.
there are many more bubblegum book reviews below, but we’d like to ask that you please check out our new anthology, Lost in the Grooves: Scram’s Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed
Mike Tribby, Booklist: Into the flaccid world of mainstream pop-music culture ride editors Cooper and Smay and the other contributors to this expose of the scaly underside of . . . bubblegum music, which the coeditors call "rock . . . revamped into . . . nursery rhymes [with] a backbeat that even the klutziest infant can’t miss." Coyly merchandising carnality to preteens and young teens is bubblegum’s stock-in-trade, and the many ways it has been done are this book’s subjects. They are treated piecemeal, in scores of articles on particular bands, record labels, and bubblegum spin-offs on TV, radio, and the silver screen. KISS–face paint, overtaxed amps, and all–is one of the targeted bands, and its Dressed to Kill album is characterized as "the most inarguable bubblemetal mixture ever," whose lyrical content renders "sex through the eyes and fantasies of a 13-year-old." The Cowsills, the Ohio Express, and the Backstreet Boys are treated, too, of course, though no mention is made of the psychedelic bubblegummers, Bubblepuppy. Insightful and highly readable popular-culture chronicling.
David M. Turkalo, Library Journal: Dedicated to the late music critic Lester Bangs and recently deceased punk legend Joey Ramone, this wonderfully quirky title leaves no stone unturned in its coverage of bubblegum music. Cooper, publisher of underground culture ‘zine Scram, and Smay, a Scram contributor, lay out this music’s long and winding parameters, concentrating on the "classic" years (defined as 1967-72). More than 30 contributors offer essays on forgotten artists whose songs are still played on oldies radio stations: the Archies, the Cowsills, and 1910 Fruitgum Company, among others. The book excels at showing the human side of these mostly forgotten artists and their producers. Also included are pieces on bubblegum progeny of the 1980s and 1990s, including Britney Spears. And there’s more: surveys of the media as it relates to the music, the international scene, and various bubblegum artifacts (remember cereal box records?). An excellent "Recommended Listening" section and a useful index round out the volume. Full of illustrations of classic album covers and artist photos (regrettably in washed-out black and white), this quirky and entertaining book is recommended as a reference for all comprehensive music collections. University libraries should also purchase for popular music studies collections.
Blag Power, www.dilettantepress.com: Of course, you could be reading U.S. News and World Report or The Economist and talking about the whys and wherefores of the IMF, the World Bank and the Federal Reserve. You could be at your local library learning advanced lifesaving techniques in the event of nuclear, biological or chemical warfare. You might even be stockpiling food for the coming crisis or siphoning gas out of your neighbors SUV to send to Uzbekhi refugees or the Red Cross. But of course, you aren’t. You’re an American. In times of crisis you know your best move is to head to your ancient record player and throw on a copy of "Chewy Chewy" by the Ohio Express or the Partridge Family’s classic "I Think I Love You". Escapism is our birthright and the editors of Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth have just the antidote for the current malaise. A huge cross section of critics, musicians and pop culture mavens join forces to honor that most maligned of musical genres-BUBBLEGUM- and the result is a book of astonishing scope and wit. In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that I have been torturing visitors to my house for years with Donny Osmond’s "Sweet and Innocent" and "Indian Giver" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, but Naked Truth expanded my limited knowledge of Bubblegum music immensely. With over 50 contributors from all over the pop culture spectrum this book leaves no stick unwrapped in its search for the meaning and message of Bubblegum. It also seriously calls into question the accepted Rock Crit dogma of Bubblegum as vacuous music made by untalented charlatans while Artists like Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are celebrated as original performers of impeccable integrity. The naked truth seems to be that no matter what the listening public would like to believe, the music business is, was and always shall be ruled by outside songwriters, session musicians and sharpy label owners, and Bubblegum music represents the apex of these hated figures’ art. And make no mistake, Bubblegum is an art form, one that is unashamedly commercial at its core, but still populated with great performances and classic songs. It’s also the unacknowledged soundtrack of your life. Is there anyone from our television damaged generation who hasn’t grooved to the sounds of the Archies classic "Sugar Sugar" or the Banana Splits "Tra-La-La" theme song? Can any of us claim a Monkees free childhood? I didn’t think so. Although some of the writers attempt to make a connection between classic late 60s/ early 70s bubblegum tracks and the new wave of teen idols (Britney et al) the generational divide is obvious. Most of the contributors are clearly enamored of the old stuff and deliver in minute detail the histories of the labels, (Buddah, Super K, Bell) the songwriters, (Jeff Barry, Levine/Resnick, Ellie Greenwhich) the producers (Kasenetz/Katz, Kirschner, PF Sloan) and the bands (Ohio Express, Lemon Pipers, Monkees) who created the original chewy, fruity, juicy sounds of Bubblegum, a more innocent music from an era at least as fractious as our own. Other chapters explore Black Bubblegum (Jackson 5, Fat Albert), Japanese Bubblegum (pre-Shonen Knife), TV Bubblegum (too numerous to mention) and every conceivable gum based variation from all over the globe. The only flaw in the overall package is the claustrophobic, text-heavy presentation and miniscule selection of black and white photos. If any collection of rock essays ever called out for eye-popping graphics and multi page color spreads it would appear to be this one. Maybe Feral House will re-release it for Christmas as an enormous Bazooka colored lunchbox and matching thermos set?
DJ Johnson, Cosmik Debris: I’ve been waiting for this book since the day I realized I couldn’t remember the story behind Captain Groovy and his Bubblegum Army. It’s here, along with dozens of other stories of that sweet and chewy music called Bubblegum, doled out in "chapters" that are actually articles by many of the best Net generation music journalists, including two Cosmik Debris folk, Bill Holmes and Gary Pig Gold. This is a book with everything for the true bubblehead. Do you live to debate what is and what isn’t gum? There are articles in here to fuel your fire. Do you have fetishes for certain groups – The Archies, The 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express, The Partridge Family, The Cowsills, The Lemon Pipers and on and on – that are almost never written about elsewhere? Roll up your sleeve and get ready for your fix. By the fifth or sixth article I’d decided to say a lot of nice things about this book. By the middle of the book I was determined to implore you to buy it, because it brings so many happy memories back, reminds you of so many things that were good and, most importantly, fills you with the realization that it’s okay to renew your love affair with this music. Seek out those Archies records and smile again as Cobain’s depressing genius work gets dusty on the shelf. By the end of the book, you’ll have digested enough information to consider yourself something of an expert on the subject, and since the articles covered the entire time span from the earliest gum to The Spice Girls (oh yes, I’m serious, and the writer was in his 40s), there’ll be few gaps in your education. You’ll have a healthy respect for the talent of Ron Dante (Archie) and a determination to walk on the other side of the street from Don Kirshner. And you, like me, will once again know that Captain Groovy and his Bubblegum Army was going to be a Saturday morning cartoon, but it never got any farther than having a theme song recorded (that actually charted). We don’t choose top five books of the year here at Cosmik Debris, but if we did, this would be a sure thing for number one. I checked for you. It’s easy to find online, most places ship it within 48 hours, and when it arrives it’ll be a sunshine day.
David Bash, Amplifier: The term "bubblegum" is one of those, like "pop," for which it has been difficult to draw clear boundaries. When hearing the word, thoughts of American ’60s icons like Buddha Records and its stable of artists like The Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Company come to mind, as do classic tunes like "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies. Bubblegum Is The Naked Truth goes to great lengths to define the perimiters of bubblebum, as well as everything within its confines. Editors Kim Cooper and David Smay, along with a slew of other experts, take a lighthearted but in-depth look at the many flavors of bubblegum in a series of articles on the subject, and by the time we’re even halfway through our taste sensations have been greatly heightened. We learn that bubblegum crosses many barriers, including racial (Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids did bubblegum music?? You betcha!), temporal (’90s artists like Jellyfish, Shonen Knife, and even B*witched, Britney, and Hanson), and cultural (a group from Japan called The Finger 5), and that teen idols like David Cassidy, The Osmonds, and Bobby Sherman definitely merit inclusion. An array of topics are examined, such as the possible nihilistic nature of bubblegum (I kid you not), whether or not The Monkees should wear the label (this writer says no!), and bubblegum’s roots in punk rock. Several luminaries such as Ron Dante (lead singer of the Archies, Cuff Links, etc) and Jeff Barry (writer of several bubblegum classics) are interviewed, while others like Don Kirshner are recalled (not too fondly). One of the most delightful passages is an interview by Cooper of her pre-teen brother and sister, in which they evaluate classic bubblegum songs (generally not too highly), and sniff that Hanson, with their long hair "look like they want to be girls or something!" Bubblegum Is The Naked Truth is a fun and informative read throughout and one that should be on the shelf of every music historian.
Beverly Paterson, Twist And Shake: Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth was a slogan conceived by Buddah Records, that groovy label responsible for bombarding the masses with all those sticky sweet bubblegum sounds in the late sixties and early seventies. Two visionary producers, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, were actually the guys who got the ball rolling and were the guiding lights behind top-selling Buddah bands like the Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruitgum Company. They also worked on gobs of other bubblegum discs, which are fully examined here in this wonderful book. At the time bubblegum music happened, psychedelic and hard progressive rock were hip, so catchy three-minute songs set to nursey rhyme verse and whiny baby vocals were not exactly any serious music fan or critic’s cup of tea. But bubblegum music succeeded. The singles tore up the charts and how could they not, considering they were so well crafted and energetic. Bubblegum music was not about being flashy or adventurous. The tunes were absent of political messages and masturbatory jamming. Bubblegum music was simple and fun. Easy to sing along with and dance to. In my opinion, bubblegum music rules and it’s really great a genuine book has come out on the subject. Besides the aforementioned bands, the book also furnishes the nitty gritty on the Archies, the Banana Splits, the Lemon Pipers, the Beagles, the Cufflinks, the Bugaloos, the DeFranco Family, the Yummies, the Bay City Rollers, the Partridge Family, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, the Cowsills, the Yellow Balloon and sackloads of other comparably appetizing artifacts. There’s even a heated discussion between Twist and Shake’s own Gary Pig Gold and Carl Cafarelli, pondering whether or not the Monkees should be linked with the bubblegum crowd. The book also features observations on more recent pop merchants such as Teenage Fanclub, Hanson, Apples in Stereo and Britney Spears. And hey, this book is dedicated to Lester Bangs and Joey Ramone!
GPR, Ear Candy: Ahh, the redheaded stepchild of rock ‘n roll. Yep, I’m talking about bubblegum! The music that the pinhead intelligentsia of rock critics love to disdain (you know, the ones who take rock ‘n roll TOO SERIOUSLY and actually think that Bono & Springsteen have something worth saying!). To some, it is considered the biggest insult to be called "bubblegum". The only insult that is worse is to be compared to Barry Manilow.
I’ll admit it…one of the first records I bought with my own money was Don Kirshner’s FUN ROCK. So, my consciousness was bombarded by the Archies, the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Lemon Pipers, the Ohio Players and more. Add to this a healthy Saturday morning dose of the Archies, the Monkees and all those fab ’70s shows which featured assembly line made to order, bubblegum music. But, bubblegum music is cool. It is catchy and infectious. It is timeless. And it SELLS. Hence, the reason why it keeps rearing its gummy head even today, albeit in the modern form of New Kids on the Block, Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys.
BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH is the best rock ‘n roll book I’ve read in many years. The great thing is that it serves as both a reference guide and an entertaining overview of this often misunderstood genre. It is actually a collection of many different authors, divided up into easy-to read sections. Just some of the sections include : the birth of bubblegum, the artists, the record labels, the producers, the moguls and even some of the collectibles/merchandising. The ‘sectioning’ of the book allowed me to skip ahead to some of the groups that I was more familiar with (the Archies, Bay City Rollers, etc).
Here are just a few of the fun trivial facts you will uncover:
- Who came up with the term, "bubblegum".
- What teen heartthrob did ABC briefly consider to replace the departing David Cassidy on the Partridge Family? (Shirley Partridge was to remarry and this was to be her new stepson)
- What legendary punk band did the Bay City Rollers inspire on one of their best-known songs?
- What connects the Bubblemetal group, Kiss to bubblegum? (Hint: it ain’t just the merchandising)
- Which anonymous bubble-singer actually charted twice with two different groups at the same time?
Additionally, this book is a learning tool when it comes to bubblegum. You come away with a healthy respect for such ruthless business practices, which ruled, bubblegum. There were a few surprises, too. For instance the sections on the Spanish & Japanese bubblegum phenomenon. There is a "recommended listening" section, which helped jog my memory to a few acts I’d forgotten about. My ONLY critique of this book is that there aren’t any images in color! Bubblegum music is a Technicolor format. But, then again, I’ve got to realize the cost involved.
I can’t say enough about this book. To get a little perspective, BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH has entered my hallowed shelve of much-re-read treasured rock ‘n roll reference books. This is in stark contrast to my dust-covered "May Pang" section of rock books.
WARNING: Like bubblegum music itself, this book is addictive.
Postscript: BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH inspired me to go to WinMX (sorry, but Napster is dead thanks to Metalicca) to assemble my own bubblegum collection of mp3’s. Over the years, I’ve lost all my copies of those vinyl 45’s, my cereal box records, plus my much-treasured copy of FUN ROCK. Its been three days now since I’ve downloaded the Archies, "Jingle Jangle" and I can’t get the damn thing out of my head! I’m still humming it!
John Borack, Amplifier: Speaking of bubblegum, both aficionados of the genre and novices alike should enjoy Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, an immensely enjoyable 300-page tome devoted to the artists, producers and hitmakers of this unfairly maligned musical subculture. Greg Shaw’s account of his encounter with Don Kirshner is priceless, the Jeff Barry interview is cool and the whole deal flows pretty seamlessly. And even though I coulda lived without the reference to Shirley Partridge’s vagina (and I’m still not convinced that Kiss and Paul Revere and the Raiders qualify as bubblegum), any book that includes a chapter titled "The Candy-Ass Charisma of the Archies" is A-OK in my book.
Terry Hermon, Bucketfull of Brains: Subtitled ‘The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears,’ Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth is quite simply the most fun music book I have ever read, or at least half-read. I’ve still got some way to go to get through this weighty 330-page tome. It’s compiled as a set of essays so you can pick and choose where to dip in to it. The writing is sharp, witty and engaging. On occasions it’s hard to tell how firmly tongues are pressed into cheeks – try the section on The Partridge Family Temple for example, which is downright spooky!
The book is edited by Kim Cooper and David Smay – a couple who know plenty about this enthralling genre, and with contributors of the caliber of Alec Palao, Carl Cafarelli, Greg Shaw, and our own Bill Holmes, you just know there’s going to be some real pearls of wisdom herein. For me, of the many delights sampled, I really identified with Pete Bagge’s view on his daughter’s CD collection, I was amazed to discover that Terry ‘Seasons in the Sun’ Jacks had a Bubblegum past, not to mention a stunning wife, and I loved looking at the photos of classic albums covers and kitsch memorabilia.
With features on Boyce & Hart, Richard Gotterher, Glam, Swedish Pop, Hanna-Barbera, Buddah Records, the Bubblegum Roots of Punk, and an American’s eye-view of the The Eurovision Song Contest (!!) to name but a few, there is definitely something here for everyone.
Clark Collis, Q Magazine: Considering the frothiness of kiddie pop, it seems somewhat odd that this book should turn out to be such a weighty tome. Or, given that chapter titles include The Partridge Family: Religion Is The Bubblegum Of The Masses and Never Mind The Bollocks – Here’s The Banana Splits, perhaps "insane" might be a better word. But for anyone interested in the socio-political importance of such forgotten ankle-biter icons as Alvin & The Chipmunks, the results should not disappoint, while anyone will appreciate such unbelievable titbits as the fact that some of the best Banana Splits material was penned by a pre-fame Barry White. (three stars)
Merrell Noden, Mojo: Sure, it was "pure pabulum for pre-teen people", but just try to get those hooks out of your head! The mere mention of songs like "Tracy" by The Cuff Links and "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies was enough to turn me into a hook-humming sap. Learning that those two "bands" were in fact the same guy, Ron Dante, and that two years after "Sugar, Sugar" hit Number 1 worldwide Dante became publisher of "The Paris Review," was too good to be true. Most of these 100-odd essays, interviews and rants wrestle with defining the style: were The Monkees bubblegum? In bubblegum’s late ’60’s heyday, pupppet master-producers like Jeff Barry and Don Kirshner were kings and the musicians were interchangeable props. The team of Kasenetz-Katz (Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Company) sometimes sent five bands out on the road simultaneously under the same name. Groups comprised of cartoon characters or goofy animals, like The Wombles, would never suffer delusions of artistic grandeur. Written with the right balance of affection and cheek, this is an entertaining look at campy art.
Jerry Beck, cartoonresearch.com: At first glance you might wonder why a book about late 1960s/early 1970s pop music would rate a mention on my cartoon research website. Well, first of all, I love "bubblegum" music – but the main reason I’m bringing this tome to your attention is that it is loaded with information about some of the cheesiest animated cartoons ever made. This is indeed a book about Bubblegum music – a genre the editors describe as music marketed to a pre-teen audience, produced by faceless studio band, and usually attached to a cartoon series. BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH is a 328 page trade paperback containing over 95 separate chapters (some are only one page – or even half a page!), each written by an expert or afficianado on the subject. But what subjects! Essays on everything from THE BEAGLES, MISSION: MAGIC, HANNA-BARBERA and KROFFT – not to mention The Monkees, THE ARCHIES, THE HARDY BOYS, THE IMPOSSIBLES, THE CATTANOOGA CATS, JOSIE & THE PUSSYCATS and more. Yes, The 1910 Friutgum Company, Colgems Records, Ron Dante, The Cowsills,The Partridge Family and Budda Records are covered throughly. This is a complete look at this sixties invention, manufactured kids rock music, which has made a comeback in recent years with the likes of Hanson and Britany Spears. It’s a real fun read and has dozens of black & white pictures of rare out-of-print record sleeves (I’d love to get my hands on that "PRESENTING THE SUGAR BEARS" record on page 18). If you have an interest in this music, or these series, and if you ever wondered about who the talents were behind their sounds, I urge you to check this out! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Matt Harnish, River Front Times: Sugar, Sugar – A new book about bubblegum bands provides more than empty calories
"Serious" music fans and critics (i.e., those who read or write for alternative weekly papers) usually operate under a few key assumptions: that popular music is rarely a good thing, that actively striving for popularity is worse and that music aimed at teen or preteen audiences is, by definition, worthless. What, then, of the glorious subgenre of music known as bubblegum? In its heyday (roughly 1967-74), bands such as the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Partridge Family charted hit after hit with a sound almost scientifically calculated to appeal to kids not quite ready for their older siblings’ Dylan records. While churning out these intentionally disposable hits, some bubblegum bands made, by accident or design, a surprising number of truly great songs, songs that have since become touchstones in pop-music history. Just as surprising is how downright naughty some of these sugarmongers could be, making as many references to drugs and sex as Jefferson Airplane did but couching them in seemingly innocent kid-speak. Add in some shady behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, and you’ve got a fascinating story of an unjustly neglected part of rock’s past.
Righting this wrong is Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth (Feral House Publishing), a lengthy collection of essays on high-sucrose pop ephemera. As exhaustively researched and obsessively detailed as it is lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, the book is a must-read for all those who love pop music’s past or present, particularly those who once carried a Josie and the Pussycats lunchbox. Bubblegum is written by music fans for music fans, and although it bears the subtitle The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears, most of the writers celebrate the genre rather than condemn it. Proving that grown women still get misty-eyed over David Cassidy and grown men still lament the fact that none of the music from the Fat Albert cartoon series was ever commercially released, editors Kim Cooper and David Smay present an impressive array of contributors: from publishers of tiny fanzines to rockcrit luminaries such as Chuck Eddy of the Village Voice and Dave Thompson of Mojo, from record-collector nerds to rockers such as Derrick Bostrom (of the Meat Puppets), from comic-book artist Peter Bagge (of Hate fame) to Cooper’s 10-year-old brother. What ties all these disparate views together is every writer’s genuine love of, and fascination with, pop music and its capacity to put a smile on the face and a tap in the toes. The jaded need not apply here. Better yet, the jaded are invited to lock themselves in a room for two weeks with a copy of this book and "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" by the Ohio Express on an endless loop.
Bubblegum is divided into a dozen-or-so main areas of focus, from specific sections such as "Artists," "Producers and Impresarios" and "Record Labels" to broader, more conceptual categories such as "Bubblegum Invades the Media!" and "Unlikely Bubblegum." The book is a well paced, well planned cover-to-cover read, but with most essays just two or three pages, it lends itself just as easily to skimming and skipping around to the reader’s particular areas of interest. Want to find out more about the Archies? They appear, in one form or another, in nearly a dozen essays throughout the book. Branch out into songwriter/producer Jeff Barry, the man most directly responsible for the cartoon supergroup’s hits, or cross-reference the studio musicians who performed the songs, and you’ll touch on virtually every other section in the book. In "Six Degrees of Jeff Barry," Smay shows how the Archies have ties to almost every artist in almost every genre. The Archies to the Melvins? Three steps. The Archies to Einstürzende Neubauten? Five steps. Miles Davis? Run-DMC? No sweat. All can somehow be traced back to Barry. Indeed, reading the silly and sordid interconnected stories of these prefabricated superstars can be as addictive as the songs themselves.
Now, as for the "dark side" promised on the cover, bubblegum is probably no shadier than any other aspect of the music industry. It may be more subversive, though. Consider the rampant sex- and drug-related innuendoes found throughout the genre, some of which the songwriters later admitted were intentional in-jokes, sure to be overlooked in the context of sunny kiddie music: Imagine Lou Reed singing about his craving for sugar and his fondness for sucking on lollipops, however, and the songs acquire entirely different meanings.
These revelations notwithstanding, the content’s far from scandalous: The fact that producers such as Don Kirshner and the Jerry Kasenetz-Jeff Katz team made more money than the bands they controlled or that most of the bubblegum supergroups were in reality interchangeable studio musicians should come as no surprise to anyone at all acquainted with the music industry. And it’s unlikely that any St. Louisan’s civic pride will be
damaged by the disclosure that the St. Louis Invisible Marching Band, featured on the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus album, didn’t actually exist. Of course, the writers don’t attempt to portray these details as shocking; surely no one in his right mind ever thought Danny Bonaduce was actually playing bass on "I Think I Love You."
The closest thing to a truly tragic tale in the book concerns the ill-fated Ohio Express. A real-life garage band (and from Ohio, even!), the Express was chosen as the public face for a series of session-musician-produced hits. Not allowed to write or even record any of the hits, the band was constantly out on the road, performing songs they didn’t write for kids who didn’t know any better. The Ohio Express essentially became an Ohio Express cover band, a source of deep frustration for the band members. Tensions reached a head when the group played a radio-station-sponsored event in support of "their" newest single and realized shortly before going onstage that they’d never heard the song and had no idea how to play it. Although that anecdote’s perhaps more hilarious than heartbreaking, it does show the level of contempt producers and record labels had for their bands.
Far from being a forgotten subset of music, bubblegum remains popular and influential even today. Direct descendents include indie-rockers the Apples in Stereo and prefab boy band the Backstreet Boys. Even notorious sourpuss Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields has gone on record proclaiming his love of "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies. Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth shows that even 30-plus years after the fact, these silly little-kid songs continue to fascinate on many levels — not bad for something that was intended to be as disposable as a candy wrapper.
Marco Ursi, Now Toronto: Bubblegum Music has received a bad rap over the years. Trashed by critics — except maybe Lester Bangs — and reviled by serious music fans as teenybopper schlock, bubblegum is easily the least respected musical genre. In their highly informative and often hilarious book, editors David Smay and Kim Cooper seek to change this poor public opinion by driving home their thesis that bubblegum is the purest form of pop music around.
A large number of writers help define what bubblegum music is, and discuss the artists, producers and labels behind it.
Highlights include a hilarious discussion between Carl Cafarelli and Gary Pig Gold about whether or not the Monkees are truly bubblegum, Becky Ebenkamp’s exploration of the sexual undertones of the genre’s seemingly harmless lyrics and a truly bizarre bubblegum fantasy piece about the Partridge Family Temple.
Occasionally, the ultra-subjectivity gets out of hand, as when Elton John, Black Sabbath and even Sgt. Pepper are unmercifully dismissed while the writers gush over bubble acts like the Archies and the Turtles.
Nearly every passage shines a positive light on its subject, except for Greg Shaw’s piece on the ego-ridden Don Kirshner — the guy who insisted his name be part of the TV show title Don Kirshner’s Midnight Special — who, Shaw reports, gave him the runaround when he was supposed to be assisting the producer to develop a documentary about him [sic].
This book serves best as an encyclopedia for music geeks rather than as a cover-to-cover read– the producer and record label sections are far from essential. But as a recent argument between two of my teachers over whether ABBA are or are not a legitimate pop act proves, rock and roll needs defining statements — and for bubblegum, this book is it.
Frank Halperin, Philadelphia Citypaper:
The Tao of Chew: Don’t throw that Bubblegum Music away just yet.
Let’s face it: Bubblegum music is the ultimate guilty pleasure. Infectious confections devoid of both pretense and redeeming social value, the sweetest aural candy-grams of this pop music genre ejaculate lyrical gibberish (often chock-full of sexual innuendo and lascivious double entendres) that are fortified with contagious vocal enticements to create 3-minute jolts of glucose ecstasy. Feed it "Green Tambourine," "I Think I Love You," "Mickey," or "Baby One More Time," the jones for slick, ephemeral singles refuses to be satiated. Yes, it’s vacuous and manufactured, but the pointlessness of it all is precisely the point. It’s the most melodious cheap thrill that your eardrums will ever know.
This ethos of if-it-feels-good-do-it, carefree abandon that typifies these taffy tunes is chronicled with a surging vitality in Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth. Unlike the chewy, chewy, chewy candy treat from which the sound derives its name, the book doesn’t lose its intoxicating flavor even after multiple readings. The extravagant treatment of the subject, combined with the fierce acuity of its numerous writers, not only distinguishes it as the consummate guide to bubblegum but also puts it in the same league with the best analyses of pop music ever published, right up there with Greil Marcus’ Mystery Train, Nik Cohn’s Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom, Albert Goldman’s Disco and Lester Bangs’ Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung.
In many ways, the book brings to mind the wonderful Retro Hell (1997), in which a diverse array of high-minded zealots with way too much time on their hands (the embodiment of Nick Hornby’s characters in High Fidelity) ranted and raved over ’70s/’80s pop-cult artifacts. Equally idealistic, edgy and unabashedly sure of themselves, the contributors anthologized in Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, who run the gamut from obscure underground ‘zine scribes to well-known rock critics like Chuck Eddy and Greg Shaw, raise the bar in terms of incisive deconstruction. As one might suspect with an eclectic collection such as this, literary aesthetics are a purely subjective issue; the style, tone and scope of these essays are hopelessly volatile, which is fine, since the fruit-stripe assortment manifests itself into a cohesive, jammed-up and jelly-tight aggregation.
It is, among other things, a thorough history, with no aspect of bubblegum artistry overlooked. The saccharine trajectory ventures from the Archies, the Monkees and the Cowsills to Britney Spears, Ricky Martin, the Spice Girls and ‘N Sync. Careful attention is paid to the groups that represented its golden age (1967-72); the editors balance the renowned favorites with those that aren’t as easily remembered, Crazy Elephant ("Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’"), the Defranco Family ("Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat") and the Peppermint Rainbow ("Will You Be Staying After Sunday?"). Of particular note is the profile of Ron Dante, bubblegum’s quintessential Renaissance man, who sang lead on two seminal tracks (the Archies’ "Sugar, Sugar" and the Cuff Links’ "Tracy"), served as publisher of The Paris Review (!), co-produced Barry Manilow’s albums, dabbled in disco (forming Dante’s Inferno, of "Fire Island" fame) and provided the backing for the Broadway smash Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Because the behind-the-scenes song crafters — or puppet-masters, to be blunt — were as crucial to the product as the actual bands, if not more so, Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth devotes a considerable amount of pages to the Oz wizards who stood in the syrupy shadows. Among those discussed are impresario Don Kirshner, who was to the record industry what Fred Silverman was to the television industry; multi-hyphenate Jeff Barry, who added bubblegum to his illustrious musical resume by co-writing "Sugar, Sugar" with Andy Kim and producing and arranging all of the Archies’ material, not to mention his work with the Monkees; and Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz, the "Super K" dynamic duo of Buddah Records, who produced Ohio Express’ "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy," the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s "Simon Says" and a catalog of other sticky hits (the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus’ "Quick Joey Small," Ram Jam’s "Black Betty," etc.).
Arguably the most enjoyable section of Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth is a series of articles that examine its ubiquitous proliferation in TV and film. Subheaded "Bubblegum Invades the Media," it surveys the obvious (The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Sid & Marty Krofft freakshows) to the mystifyingly arcane (the 1970 movie Toomorrow, a surreal fantasy that featured Olivia Newton-John a full decade before Xanadu). Specifically engaging are two pieces by James Porter, "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Banana Splits" and "Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids: The Last Great TV Bubblegum Band," the latter raising a question that’s surely been in the minds of thirtysomethings for quite some time: "So why aren’t there any Fat Albert records?"
This is just a bite-sized sampling of the sugar-rush hyper-activity that permeates Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, which also contains such whipped cream and other delights as a manifesto by two members of an organization called the Partridge Family Temple, who rewrite Christianity as a come-on-get-happy gospel, and a sort-of Dubble Bubble acid test wherein co-editor Kim Cooper exposes her prepubescent siblings to random bubblegum cuts, both classic and contemporary, while soliciting their reactions. Showcased amidst the Hansel (or is it Hanson?) and Gretel candy-constructed utopia is a fantastic gallery of vintage album sleeves, lunch boxes, magazine covers and related miscellany; the fact that it’s reproduced in black-and-white doesn’t detract from the visual impact whatsoever.
Any self-respecting pop fan must — I repeat, must — get Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth for their personal library. Perhaps Fat Albert’s creator and live-action commentator, the post-Alexander Scott, pre-Cliff Huxtable Bill Cosby, can furnish the most apt description: The book, just like his animated program, is "comin’ at you with music and fun, and if you’re not careful you might learn something before it’s done." That, my friends, is the naked truth. Peruse its pages and you’ll instantly feel as if Willy Wonka just handed you the keys to the Chocolate Factory.
Ken Burke, Goldmine:
Scram Magazine’s Cooper and Smay transform the previously unheralded contributions of bubblegum music, that disposable, danceable music aimed at the preteen set, into a scintillating blend of informative essay, fanzine fanaticism, and irreverent kitsch.
Boasting 46 contributors, the peppy Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth not only tackles the usual suspects - Don Kirshner, The Archies, Partridge Family, The DeFranco Family, Cowsills, along with various cartoon acts and boybands — but also examines the genre’s international purveyors and latter day disciples.
No mere dry encyclopedia, this zingy tome brims to capacity with opinion and attitude. For example: Carl Cafarelli and Gary Pig Gold play point/counterpoint concerning the Monkees and their bubblegum-worthiness. Roctober’s Jake Austen fantasizes about a proposed All-Star band for Archie’s drummer Jughead. James Porter equates the impact of a costumed kiddie group with the Sex Pistols in his tribute "Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s the Banana Splits." Especially entertaining is Hate cartoonist Peter Bagge’s illio-strewn "Raiding Hannah’s Stash: An Appreciation of late ’90s Bubblegum Music," which writhes with both parental cynicism and youth culture longing.
However, fans of straight historical info are served even better. The1910 Fuitgum Company, ABBA, KISS, the Spice Girls, the Ramones (yes, the Ramones), The Jackson Five, and many others are obsessively analyzed, worshipped, and picked apart. Becky Ebencamp’s "Will The Real Ohio Express, Please Stand Up?" provides a masterful band biography complete with a tasty, trivia-laden sidebar. Bill Pitzonka essays the quintessential contributions of Ron Dante lead singer for both the Archies ("Sugar, Sugar" #1 in 1969) and the Cuff Links ("Tracy" #9 in 1969), and mines valuable behind-the scenes info from singer-songwriter Toni Wine. In addition to noting the relatively lesser known works of My Three Sons co-star Dan Grady and Yellow Balloon, Dominic Priore authoritatively documents the early surf/pop achievements of the enigmatic producer/songwriter Gary Usher.
Gripes? The "Dark History" mentioned in the book’s subtitle is only alluded to in a few pieces about record labels, but few if any compelling tragedies are documented. That said, editors Cooper and Smay deserve credit for including Dennis P. Eichhorn’s clear-eyed, anti knock-off rebuttal, "I Hate Bubblegum!"
Littered with black & white photos of stars, LPs, picture discs, teen magazines, dolls, lunchboxes and even cereal box records, this crisply written book is a genuine, must-have pop culture document for both the nostalgic and those who come to scoff.
Slav Tabernacle, Shindig:
Yummy Yummy Yummy! For anyone who ever loved pop music, who ever danced to, and revelled in the sheer exuberant joy of ‘Sugar Sugar’, ‘Quick Joey Small’, ‘I Want Candy’ or ‘Spice Up Your Life’, this collection of articles, fan pieces, opinions and interviews musing on all aspects of mass packaged pop from the mid 60’s to the present day is an essential and riveting life-affirmer, if not a manifesto for all that is great in pop music indeed! Taking it’s stance against the long fashionable view of bubblegum as the lowest common denominator in the old art vs comerciality chestnut, it revels and celebrates in the direct hits of the immediate beats, catchy hook lines, sweet as sugar harmonies, and innuendo laden lyrics of pre-packaged POP! music, of music that doesn’t care whether it’s your soul or yourfeet that it reaches, as long as you buy the single, not tomention the hastily packaged album, comic, cartoonseries, cereal box, teen magazines and lunch boxes that accompany it.
We get a great (and fascinating) history of bubblegum’s early days, its roots in Spector-pop and the Brill Building, Tamla, The Beatles and Stones. Of the scamsters and moguls (the brilliant effrontery of Kirschner), the producers and writers,(Jeff Barry, Andy Kim,Kasenatz-Katz,Boyce & Hart,Gary Usher, Richard Gottehrer) the performers and session players (Ron Dante, Jerry Levine, Toni Wine),and the hapless rock bands humping the brand name round on tour whilst their spanking new ultra pop singles were produced in a studio miles away. (The story of Ohio Express first hearing ‘Chewy Chewy’ on a car radio on tour is worth the cover price itself) And this of course before being unceremoniously replaced by cartoon or TV bands with no need of payment, pampering or artistic pandering: anyone for Lancelot Link & The Evolution Revolution?. The Banana Splits?
As well as the many great pieces on the likes of the Cowsills, 1910 Fruitgum Company, Paul Revere & The Raiders, Tommy James & The Shondells, The Shadows Of Knight and many more, the collections real strength is in its analyses of bubblegum theory : What defines Bubblegum. Producers? Pre-Packaging? Marketing? The appearance of outside players and writers? When does a band either become, or stop being Bubblegum? If the critical rules of authentic/inauthentic remain, then where do we stand with the Animals, Manfred Mann, the Yardbirds, or Them, all of whom fall at some time into one bubblegum category or another. It’s where the boundaries become blurred that it gets really interesting. With a starting point of a list that amongst others namechecks The Archies, The Ramones, The Spice Girls, The Bay City Rollers, The Brady Bunch, Abba, Bow Wow Wow and Bananarama, what comes across most strongly is how incestuous the links are between ‘pop’ music and it’s critically lauded counter culture cousins, co-dependent on each other for their inspiration. Punk, garage, psychedelia, glam, new wave and bubblegum are all intrinsically intertwined. And as for pre-packaging svengali’s, what do we make of Malcolm McLaren?
Mostly what this book achieves is to redress the balance of anti-plastic pop theory,and gives us a joyous and enthralling ride through some of the more brilliant and bizarre elements of popular culture. And if it helps to redefine the finding of quality pop music in some places where we are led to believe not to expect it, then all the better.I’m out looking for Hanna-Barbera soundtracks. But what this collection is really about is the sheer joy of pop! and all that goes with it. Devour this fabulous book, then get out your copies of ‘Goody Goody Gumdrops’, ‘Baby Now That I’ve Found You’, ‘ABC’, ‘Candy Girl’, ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’, ‘Mmm-Bop’, ‘C’est La Vie’ ,’Shake’, ‘Wannabe’, ‘Blockbuster’ and get naked!
Pour A Little Sugar On Me. And give my love to The Daisy Bang.