The Partridge Family + The Manson Family = The Poppy Family

by Kim Cooper

The sixties ended with bloodbaths at Cielo Drive and Altamont, and as 1970 slouched into view there was no reason to think that the giddy bubblegum genre had one last great wad in its maw. But up in the wilds of Vancouver, B.C., a young married couple was forging a new style of bubblepop, suffused with a blast of stale dark air that was utterly redolent of the times.
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From our present vantage it seems obvious that all that folk-rock-protest crap was just an entertaining shuck, and the only songwriters who were really tapped into the esprit des temps were Boyce and Hart, Bo Gentry, Kasenetz and Katz, Neil Diamond and the like. Bubblegum hid its insight into politics and human behavior in a midst of infantile fancy, but in the end it’s songs like the Archies’ “Hot Dog” and “Love Beads and Meditation” by the Lemon Pipers (that’s the one that goes “the tangled mass of membranes that used to be me/ is a memory”) that continue to speak to the youth of today, while few still breathe who can tell Zager from Evans. It’s no accident that this music was only appreciated by eight year olds when it came out, because little kids had tons more on the ball than their boo-huffin’ older siblings, not to mention the critics, who were too busy praising Dylan’s new direction(s) to notice all the great music on Saturday morning TV. But I digress.

Terry and Susan Jacks recorded two albums for London Records as the Poppy Family before Terry’s lumberjack obsessions made Susan decide to hit to road running while she still had her health and looks. And despite her indisputable talent (imagine a Karen Carpenter who really meant it), it must have been her looks that got Mrs. Jacks noticed, especially when contrasted with the weirdos in her band. Terry resembled a misguided genetic experiment fusing a komodo dragon with one of the Campbell’s Soup kids, and had been a walking bad hair day for years. The session hacks who masqueraded as band members looked stranger still. Satwant Singh could have been the model for Apu, the Kwik-Mart manager on “The Simpsons,” right up to the turban that added six inches to his height. And Craig Mccaw seems to have been a stoned lumberjack like Terry, although his coke-bottle glasses and white boy ‘fro gave him the look of a White Panther sympathizer. Against this nebbishy cross-section, Susan stood out like a goddess. She had a compact, curvy figure that she liked to drape in skintight red jumpsuits, nicely offsetting the bubble of platinum hair that grazed her shoulders. With her sexy smile and feline eyes, she was your basic Vegas-style knockout. She must have caused quite a stir up there in the woods, and it was only a matter of time before she caught the attention of lecherous label execs throughout the lower 48.

The debut album, Which Way You Goin’, Billy?, is a haunting brace of menacing melodies, featuring eleven atmospheric classics and one hilariously misguided dog. From the opening number, the broken-hearted bus-ride opus “That’s Where I Went Wrong,” there’s a dizzying air of mystery and hopelessness, with Terry’s impressive studio work adding to the general sense of doom. Terry’s songs have a knack for never resolving the troubled situations they describe, trailing off into washes of eerie noise instead. Despite the brilliance and difficulty of the album, the title song (a pathetic tale of abandoned womanhood) was a big hit

Slik and the Quick

by P. Edwin Letcher

1976 was a weird, transitional period in the music world. Just a few years earlier, “glamour” had changed the look and sound of your average pop band. Androgyny and flamboyance reigned supreme as the yardstick for rebellious rocker behavior. In a few more years, the landscape would be ever more segregated into practically warlike zones populated by punks, progressives, dinosaurs, etc. For a while, though, there were plenty of bands that came up with an individualistic fashion statement and embraced the vision of being a wholesome pop band that could develop their own sound, write some well-crafted material, get a few breaks and become the next Beatles… or at least the next Lovin’ Spoonful.

Two such outfits, Los Angeles’ The Quick and Britain’s Slik, had a lot more in common than just names that rhyme. It seems to me that both groups must have been exposed to the happy-go-lucky sounds of the 1910 Fruitgum Co., Ohio Express, the Archies and all the other kid-friendly groups as part of their musical upbringing. Both bands debuted on a major label and had a crack production team behind them. The Quick put out exactly one album, Mondo Deco on Mercury, which was produced by Kim Fowley and Earle Mankey, a couple of rock veterans who were on the prowl for a marketable new wrinkle. Slik also released one album, a self titled affair on Arista, under the guiding hands of Phil Coulter and Bill Martin, another pair in search of the next big thing. Both bands opted for hair cuts that were a little shorter and much more stylish than their hippie predecessors, and dressed as a unit in a modified preppie mode. The Quick chose black and white, satiny togs for the cover of their lone album, with two members decked out in mock sailor duds. I believe Slik borrowed fairly heavily from The Bay City Rollers for their general vibe, but lifted their hair styles from ’50s teen idols, and found some baseball players’ uniforms to pirate for their photo shoot.

The Quick featured a lead vocalist, Danny Wilde, who went on to front Great Buildings and then the Rembrandts, whose Friends theme song, “I’ll Be There For You,” has been a tremendous success. Slik had a lead vocalist, Midge Ure, who went on to bigger and better in Ultravox, Visage and as a solo artist. Of the two ensembles, I prefer The Quick. They are bouncier, wrote most of their own infectious, glucose-rich material, and did a masterful job turning the Beatles’ “It Won’t Be Long” and the 4 Seasons’ “Rag Doll” into peppy pop confections that out-cute the originals by far. Though couched in youthful angst, their tunes, “No No Girl,” “Hillary” and “Hi Lo,” are ooey gooey, good time fun. Slik had a somewhat slower paced, power ballad approach, fell back on their producers for much of their songwriting and tried to turn the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved” into a plodding, heavy-handed brooder. But some of Slik’s songs, like “Bom, Bom,” “Requiem” and “The Kid’s a Punk,” would have worked well as background fluff for some Saturday morning animated puppy band.
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I purchased both albums, when they were “hot, new commodities,” while I was going through a phase in which I was actively looking for something “different.” In retrospect, the Quick sound a bit like the Ohio Express or Tommy Roe crossed with the Dickies. (Hmmm, I wonder if Leonard Graves Phillips and crew got any of their inspiration from the adrenalized, helium-happy antics of Danny Wilde and his buds?) While the Quick are shown chowing down on ice cream, bananas and other sweet treats on the cover of their album, Slik sounds more like the Banana Splits. Like the Monkees, the Jaggerz and various others, Slik probably thought they were pretty street tough, but at least half of their material would appeal to Turtles fans. It’s a shame they didn’t have a heavy member with an Anglo Afro. Both bands would likely have abhorred being labeled bubblegum boppers when they were trying to carve out a niche for themselves but, dagnabit, they both smack of over produced, schmaltzy, teen dance fever.

Candy Flavored Lipgloss: Glam & Gum

by David Smay

Pity the American child of the seventies, denied the spectacle of Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops, the Sweet lip-syncing on The Old Grey Whistle Test, and completely ignorant of Supersonic. The flashiest, trashiest, popcultiest of all rock genres, glam rock sparked more epiphanies on the telly than it ever did on Radio London. But television

The Bay City Rollers

by Carl Cafarelli

Teen idols seem to have a built-in obsolescence, virtually guaranteeing a short career for any artist whose primary appeal is to a fickle preteen female market. For the self-consciously hip, the teen idol tag carries a stigma beyond easy redemption, and the artists who cater to this market risk being forever branded as uncool.

In this context, no band was less cool in the ’70s than the Bay City Rollers, whose management went so far as to tout this harmless Scottish quintet as the

Strawberry Studios

by Dave Thompson

Late in 1969, Kasenetz-Katz approached English songsmith Graham Gouldman with the offer of working for them. Gouldman was, after all, one of Britain’s most accomplished hitmakers, the name behind a string of hits by the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, Herman’s Hermits, the Hollies… even Cher had recorded a Graham Gouldman number.

Over the last couple of years, though, Gouldman’s pen had fallen on hard times. His own attempts to break into the bubblegum market, first through the Graham Gouldman Orchestra’s lightweight versions of his own greatest hits, then via one-time chart heroes the Mindbenders, had signally failed to take off; and with the bulk of Gouldman’s income being plowed into the studios he was opening with fellow ‘bender Eric Stewart, Kasenetz-Katz’s offer came just at the right time.
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In return for a generous advance, the deal didn

British Bubblegum: the Works of Tony Macaulay, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway

by Derrick Bostrom

While most folks associate bubblegum music with American pop of the late ‘60s, quite a few of the genre’s most charming songs actually came from England.  And, like their U.S.  counterparts, many of these songs were recorded by bands that never existed.  Part of the fun of being a bubblegum fan, in fact, is discovering how the same people appeared on so many different records.  British singer Tony Burrows, for instance, sang on hits by four different fake bands in one year (Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” White Plains’ “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” the Brotherhood of Man ‘s “United We Stand” and the Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding”).  Burrows’ dubious accomplishment has won him a fan following, but many of the men who worked with him are also beginning to achieve cult status.

The records of Tony Macaulay, the writer/producer of Edison Lighthouse’s “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” and Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, the team responsible for White Plains’ “My Baby Loves Lovin,” stand out particularly, evoking the high-gloss ersatz quality of British bubblegum at its finest.  Sounding at once completely unique and yet exactly like everyone else, contemporary yet commonplace, producers like Macaulay and Cook/Greenaway filled a badly-needed niche for radio programmers tired of the likes of Sinatra and Mantovani, yet not ready for Hendrix and Joplin.

Unlike most American bubblegum, the British variant owed less to garage rock than to more traditional show-biz products.  “Manufactured” artists under the tight control of their record labels were the norm.  Government controlled British radio didn’t even open up to rock until 1967, and this was only in response to the insurgence of "pirate" stations broadcasting from ships in international waters.  And even then, they preferred softer-edged, poppier sounds to the guitar groups spawned in the wake of the Beatles, still considered by some to be a fluke of little lasting consequence.

Tony Macaulay of Pye Records was one of the first wave of producers to benefit from the rise of BBC’s rock station, Radio One.  Macaulay (born Anthony Instone) worked as a song plugger for Essex Publishing in the early ‘60s.  By mid-decade, he had moved to Pye Records as a staff producer, where he was teamed with the Foundations.  Unenthusiastic about the project, Macaulay and arranger John MacLeod presented the group with an unused song they had written two years earlier.  

“Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” became Macaulay’s first hit, reaching the number one position in the U.K. and selling over 3 million copies worldwide.  It took months to reach the charts, however, taking off in the fall of 1967 only after Radio One added the record to its playlists.  The Foundations enjoyed a string of hits with Macaulay at the helm, including the proto-bubblegum “Build Me Up Buttercup” (co-written with Michael D’Abo).  All of them owed an obvious debt to The Motown Sound, particularly that of the Four Tops.  Ironically, in an interview from the period, Macaulay claimed, “We have managed to find a groove for the Foundations which is, we like to think, unique, and will continue to be developed and copied by other bands for a long time in the future.” Unfortunately for the Foundations, the band was forced to copy their sound all by themselves when Macaulay left Pye Records in 1969.  They struggled along for a couple more years before they disbanded.

During his tenure at Pye, Macaulay also worked with Long John Baldry.  A pivotal figure in the ‘60s British blues scene, by 1967 Baldry apparently hungered for mainstream acceptance.  Macaulay and MacLeod concocted a series of recordings for him very much in the Tom Jones mold.  “Let the Heartaches Begin” was Macaulay’s second U.K.  \chart topper.  Among their other notable records, the team also produced “Mexico (Underneath the Sun In)”, which was chosen as the official theme of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

In addition to his duties at Pye as a staff producer, Macaulay also wrote for Herman’s Hermits (“I Can Take or Leave Your Lovin’”) and Jefferson (“Baby Take Me In Your Arms”) with John MacLeod.  He also began to collaborate with Geoff Stephens (the guiding light behind the New Vaudeville Band’s “Winchester Cathedral” in 1965).  Together, they wrote Scott Walker’s “Lights of Cincinnati” and the Hollies’ “Sorry Suzanne”.

In early 1968, Macaulay began working with Pinkerton’s (Assorted) Colours.  He produced two singles for them, the Macaulay/MacLeod original “There’s Nobody I’d Sooner Love” and a cover of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman,” but neither record did much business.  The following year, the group, renamed The Flying Machine, released Macaulay and Stephens’ “Smile a Little Smile For Me.”  Though it initially flopped in Britain, the single took off in the U.S.  The LP that followed was a rush-job that relied heavily on studio musicians, helping fuel the impression that the Flying Machine didn’t actually exist.  Adding to the confusion, a long-defunct band also named Flying Machine (featuring a young James Taylor) seized the opportunity to release some of their early recordings.

In the meantime, Macaulay left Pye for Bell Records.  When the Flying Machine refused to follow him (choosing instead to honor their existing Pye contract), their collaboration ended and Macaulay found other artists to bestow his gifts upon.  One of these was Tony Burrows, a singer who’d been working with another up-and-coming production team, Cook and Greenaway.

Burrows first worked with Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook in the Kestrels, a singing group that mostly provided vocal backgrounds for other artists in the recording studio.  Though they never managed to score a hit of their own, they opened many tours with the Beatles, and hold the distinction of having taught the Fab Four how to bow in unison.  Cook and Greenaway struck up a songwriting partnership, and soon afterward they scored their first hit with “You’ve Got Your Troubles” for the Fortunes.  After the Kestrels disbanded, the two Rogers scored a hit of their own, a George Martin produced cover of the Beatles’ “Michelle,” under the names David and Jonathan.

The Cook/Greenaway songwriting partnership continued with Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “Green Grass” and “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistlin’ Jack Smith.  “Batman” was actually recorded by the Mike Sammes Singers, but Decca Records decided to release it under a pseudonym.  After the record charted, a singer was quickly hired to portray Jack.  Cook and Greenaway also wrote material for Roger Cook’s group, Blue Mink (“Melting Pot”), and supplied Coca-Cola with the famous “It’s the Real Thing” jingle.

Meanwhile, Tony Burrows had joined John Carter and Ken Lewis’ Ivy League, later following them when they quit that group to form a studio project called the Flower Pot Men.  They scored one hit, “Let’s Go to San Francisco,” then disbanded shortly afterward.  Their record label, Decca, wanted to release a handful of unreleased Flower Pot Men tracks under the name White Plains, so they hired Cook and Greenaway to prepare an album.  Burrows signed on to supply lead vocals, and soon the group hit in 1970 with the Cook/Greenaway composition “My Baby Loves Lovin’.”

Burrows then teamed up with Tony Macaulay on the ultimate British bubblegum record, and perhaps the defining song of a generation, “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”.  Macaulay and Barry Mason (who’d written “Delilah” for Tom Jones) wrote “Rosemary” in just under an hour, but Macaulay was certain it would be a hit.  So apparently was Burrows, who petitioned to have it released as a solo single under his own name.  Macaulay instead concocted a fake group, Edison Lighthouse, hiring different musicians to act as the touring band.  

Burrows agreed to do the television promotions, however, and soon he found himself appearing on the BBC’s Top of The Pops as not one but three of his four fake groups on the same night.  After the show’s producers discovered what was going on, they asked that Burrows not appear on the program again.  This informal blacklist helped stall his solo career.  He released two dynamite Macaulay penned/produced discs shortly thereafter, “Melanie Makes Me Smile” and “Every Little Move She Makes,” but neither record met with much success.  Burrows eventually went back to his studio work, reaching the Top 10 only once more, on 1974’s “Beach Baby” by yet another fake band, John Carter’s First Class.

Meanwhile, Macaulay supplied material for Pickettywitch, a group put together by John MacLeod to support singer Polly Brown.  They had a Top 10 hit with Macaulay and MacLeod’s “That Same Old Feeling,” a tune that more than a half dozen groups had released unsuccessfully, including the Foundations, the Flying Machine and the Fortunes.  They released several charting follow-ups, including Macaulay and MacLeod’s “Sad Old Kinda Movie,” before Polly Brown left the group for a solo career.

Macaulay also returned to his Motown style in 1970, with Johnny Johnson & the Bandwagon’s “Blame it on the Pony Express” (a Top 10 record in England, though Bobby Sherman got the hit in the U.S.), and “Something Old, Something New” by the Fantasticks in 1971.  Both songs were collaborations with Cook and Greenaway, as was 1971’s hit for the Fortunes, “Here Comes that Rainy Day Feeling Again,” and the Hollies’ “Gasoline Alley Bred.”

But much of Macaulay’s attention in the early ‘70s was diverted by a legal dispute with his publishers that dragged on in the courts for years.  He finally won his case on appeal in 1974, in a landmark decision which encouraged other artists (Elton John among them) to challenge the terms of their contracts.  By the time of his court victory, Macaulay had begun to write for musical theater.  He collaborated with playwright Ken Hill on Is Your Doctor Really Necessary? in 1973 and on Gentlemen Prefer Anything the following year.

While Macaulay took his lumps in court, Cook and Greenaway meanwhile, reached their zenith.  They were named Songwriters of the Year for both 1970 and 1971 by the British Songwriters Guild.  Their hits from the period included “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” for the Hollies and “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” for the New Seekers (originally another jingle for Coca-Cola).  In 1972, Roger Cook released the first of a series of solo albums, with songs like “Eating Peaches in the Sun” and “I’ll Bet Jesus was a Lonely Man” and began to steer a course completely unrelated to his pop work with Greenaway.

By mid-decade in fact, the partnership was all but over.  One of their last hits together was Carol Douglas’ “Doctor’s Orders,” which was originally written for the British singer Sunny.  They sold their publishing company, Cookaway Music, and Roger Cook moved to Nashville.  He began to contribute songs to country artists like Crystal Gayle (“Talking in Your Sleep”) and Don Williams (“I Believe in You,” “Love is On a Roll”).   In 1997, Cook was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Greenaway continued working with pop artists like David Dundas (“Jeans On”) and Our Kids (“You Just Might See Me Cry”).  He collaborated with Tony Macaulay on a series of hits with the Drifters (“You’re More Than a Number in My Little Red Book,” “Down on the Beach Tonight,” “Kissin’ in the Back Row of the Movies”) and wrote “It’s Like We Never Said Goodbye” for Crystal Gayle.  But increasingly, he became more involved in administration, serving as president of Britain’s Performing Rights Society.  In 1995, he was named Senior Vice President, International, of ASCAP.

For Macaulay, the mid-’70s found him writing for middle-of-the-road artists like Elvis (“If I Get Home on Christmas Day,” “Love Me, Love the Life I Lead”), Tom Jones (“Letter to Lucille”), Andy Williams (“Home Lovin’ Man”) and the Fifth Dimension (“Last Night I Couldn’t Get to Sleep at All”).  In 1976, he wrote and produced his best-known MOR hit, David Soul’s “Don’t Give Up On Us,” which reached #1 in both the U.S.  and the U.K.  Two follow-up singles written and produced by Macaulay, “Silver Lady” and “Going In With Both Eyes Open,” also topped the U.K. charts.

Also in 1976, Macaulay and Greenaway collaborated with Adam West on something called “The Story of Batman”.  But by the late 70s, the hits were becoming few and far between.  The Marmalade scored one with Macaulay’s “Falling Apart at the Seams,” as did Duane Eddy with “Play Me Like you Play Your Guitar.” In 1977, Macaulay produced an album for Saturday morning television stars the Hudson Brothers.  Though it garnered no hits, it did represent a passing of the torch of sorts, as Mark Hudson went on to work with the sticky sweet midwestern combo, Hanson.

Macaulay wound up the decade writing and producing tracks for Gladys Knight & the Pips, and his ballad “Can’t We Just Sit Down and Talk it Over” appeared on an album by Donna Summer, but by the end of the ‘70s, he had all but abandoned popular music for theater and film composition.  He scored only one pop hit during the entire decade, “Alibis” by Sergio Mendes.  His major musical project of the ‘80s was the theatrical production Windy City, which played over 300 performances in 1982.

Nowadays, Macaulay no longer makes his living as a songwriter, but the music world hasn’t forgotten him.  In 1995, singer Alison Krauss took a version of “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” to the top of the country charts, and “Build Me Up Buttercup” was featured prominently in the hit film There’s Something About Mary.  His productions are readily available through reissue labels like Rhino (their Have a Nice Day series), Varèse Sarabande (the essential Bubblegum Classics CDs, one of which is entirely devoted to Tony Burrows), and Britain’s Castle Music’s Sequel imprint (a two-CD set of Pinkertons/ Flying Machine).

As the ‘60s and ‘70 recede further and further from view, interest in the kind of pop music produced by Macaulay and Cook/Greenaway continues to grow.  What was once dismissed as purely disposable hackwork takes on a greater luster with the continuing passage of time, finally emerging as indisputable pop classics.  Songs like “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and “Smile A Little Smile For Me,” aside from their obvious kitsch appeal, can bring back memories and feelings that the more accepted “classic hits” are powerless to evoke.  Like all great bubblegum, these records need not merely be rescued from the ash can of obscurity, they deserve room on the top shelf with the greatest hits of all time.

Thanks to: Sonia Bovio, Ian Gilchrist, Steve Hammonds, Bruce Kimmel, Cary Mansfield, Bill Pitzonka, Gordon Pogoda, Al Cunniff, Tom Troccoli, Gregg Turkington

Chewing the Bubblegum with Joey Levine

interview by Keith Bearden from WFMU’s LCD issue #22

If you’ve listened to the radio or watched TV semi-regularly over the past 30 years, you’ve surely heard the work of Joey Levine. He was one of the main songwriters behind the Bubblegum Rock movement of the late 60’s, and his nasally, teen-sounding voice was perfect for rockin’ hits by The Ohio Express (“Chewy, Chewy,” “Yummy, Yummy”) and The Katsentz-Katz Super Circus (“Quick Joey Small”). Fans of the Nuggets LP will know him as the leader of The Third Rail (“Run, Run, Run”), a more “adult” version of the studio musician “bands” that Joey staffed under Buddha Records producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz. And who over the age of 30 doesn’t remember being delighted/horrified by Reunion’s “Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)?” Or getting the munchies listening to the immortal “Trust The Gorton’s Fisher-man” jingle for Gorton’s Breaded Fish Sticks? Once again, the work of the busy Levine.

While the Bubblegum Rock movement has been critically lambasted for 30 years, its importance is undeniable. At a time in the 60’s when Merseybeat and garage bands had broken up or turned hippie, pre-fab studio groups like The Monkees, The Archies, The 1910 Fruitgum Company (“Simon Says”) and The Ohio Express created many beautifully crafted songs, carrying the torch of pure, simple pop/rock into the 70’s, where it was picked up by bands like The Raspberries, The Shoes and The Rubinoos, or in the UK got dressed up by The Sweet and other glam rockers. Later, punk bands like Funhouse, Slaughter & The Dogs and Joan Jett all paid a debt to their three-chord Bubblegum forebearers by covering some of Levine’s handiwork.

Getting involved in commercial jingles in the 70’s, native New Yorker Levine still works in the field, and currently heads up three music companies, Crushing Music, Crushing Underground and Levine & Company.
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LCD: What’s your background as a musician?

LEVINE: My dad Elli Levine was a band leader in the Army and a jazz pianist under the name Elden Lewis, and my mother Marion Kingsley was a singer who had her own radio show in NYC when she was 16 years old. My uncle Alan Stanton was a record producer at Columbia and A&M. I took piano and guitar, and did the whole teenage band kind of things. My first band was Joey Vine & The Grapes, I was in The Pastels, playing country clubs and synagogues and sweet 16 parties…

LCD: How did you get involved with the whole NYC Bubblegum rock scene?

LEVINE: I had been working in music publishing for a couple years over at TM Music, writing songs after school, where I met a songwriter named Artie Resnick, who had written ‘Under The Boardwalk.’ We really collaborated well, and were getting success off of some demos we were cutting. Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz had heard a song I wrote called ‘Try It’ that The Standells had a kinda mini-hit underground thing that people were digging on, and then they recorded it with The Ohio Express after ‘Beg Borrow & Steal.’ They called me and said, ‘We’ve been hearing your demos and this and that and we think you can write some of this teenybopper music,’ and then Artie & I wrote ‘Yummy Yummy.’

LCD: How old were you when this was all happening

LEVINE: Just about 17.

LCD: Wow. How was it working for Katsentz/Katz? Was it a hit factory or did you have a lot of creative freedom?

LEVINE: Well, it was a factory in that there were a couple of different bands that we used-a lot of times it would be the same band-and we had a day to record and a day to do overdubs and mix. Also, when Jeff and Jerry thought a song was a hit and it didn’t fly, they’d have other bands record it again, slightly different. They’d have The Ohio Express do it, then The Shadows of Knight, then The Fruitgum Company, on and on. So you’d work all week, and in-between you’d write more songs.

LCD: Were the Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Company real bands? Did they tour?

LEVINE: They were all real bands, but I sang on a lot of their records. Neil Bogart [Buddha Records President and the man who later gave the world KISS & Donna Summer] heard my demo of ‘Yummy Yummy’ and said ‘Have this guy sing on the records.’

LCD: That’s why on the Ohio Express albums you have the hits with you singing and then the other tracks sound like bad Procol Harum rip-offs.

LEVINE: Yeah. When the bands would tour I’d stay in New York and these guys would schlep out around the country singing my songs, though they didn’t sound like me.

LCD: What are your memories of those days?

LEVINE: It was great. I had Top 10 records, my voice was all over the radio, but nobody knew who I was unless I wanted them to. The best kind of fame. It got me into a lot more parties at school, for sure.

LCD: Studio songwriters produced some of the best pop songs of the 60’s. Name some songs you and Artie Resnick wrote from back then.

LEVINE: Oh, God, so many. Besides all The Ohio Express stuff, we wrote some stuff for The 1910 Fruitgum Company, me and Bobbie Blum and Bo Gentry and Richie Cordell. ‘Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’,’ Tommy James stuff like ‘Mony Mony,’ ‘Montego Bay,’ lots of stuff. You lost track you worked so much, and a lot of times we co-wrote and never gave each other credit. I also wrote stuff for Gene Pitney with Doc Pomus.

LCD: A lot of people interpret songs like “Yummy Yummy” and “Chewy Chewy” as being slyly sexual. Was that your intent?

LEVINE: Absolutely. We were told to write these innocent songs, keep it young and poppy, but we were all in our late teens so we wanted to slide some double entendres past ’em if we could. Eating was our big thing.

LCD: The Ramones have mentioned numerous times that they started out wanting to sound like The Ohio Express. How does it feel to be a godfather of Punk?

LEVINE: [Buddha Records publicist/New York Dolls manager] Marty Thau was producing some punk bands back in the 70’s, and he said ‘You should produce this stuff-all these guys mention your records.’ To tell you the truth, even though in the 60s we were all in our own funky state, meeting these bands-I just couldn’t deal. It was too weird for me.

LCD: Why do you think critics trash the whole bubblegum scene?

LEVINE: Well, the music’s a little contrite. It was just played for fun, and it was a period of time that was very serious. People were looking for big, heavy themes-drugs, war, revolution – and it looked very thin under those criteria. Bubblegum to me was making fun of all that. Basically it was like, ‘We get the serious issues – so why not smile and dance and goof around?’

LCD: Tell me about Third Rail.

LEVINE: The Third Rail I did before I was in The Ohio Express. I was 16 or 17. It was me, Artie and Kris Resnick, some of the earliest songs we wrote that we recorded together just as songwriters. Very political, more all over the map musically. Teddy Cooper over at Epic heard the stuff we were recording and said, ‘Let’s do an album.’ It just got re-released on CD in Britain.

LCD: The internet says you co-wrote stuff with Jim Carroll. Huh?

LEVINE: That’s my friend Jim Carroll. Not the Basketball Diaries junkie poet guy.

LCD: OK. (sigh) Tell me about “Life is a Rock but the Radio Rolled Me”?

LEVINE: That song is imitated a lot I think, by people like REM, with ‘The End of The World’ and Billy Joel with ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire.’ Not directly, but a lot of songs are based on people’s memory of our song. Some guy called me and said [affects dunderhead accent]’I think that’s the first rap record!’ And I said, ‘I don’t know about that.’ And he said, ‘Well, before that you had country rap, and story raps, but just rhythmic rhyming of words flowing together, that was the first!’ So I said, ‘Look, I’m the father of bubblegum-don’t make me the father of rap. Somebody will put me on a hit list.’

LCD: You work exclusively in commercials now. Do you miss writing songs about love as opposed to tampons or fish sticks?

LEVINE: I have never written a song about tampons.


LEVINE: The jingle thing is just cleaner, more honest. You write the song, you record it, people hear it, less politics, less rip-offs, the pay is good. No muss, no fuss. I still wrote songs. I write songs for my wife or my kids, but now it’s all fun. No headaches and ulcers wondering about having a hit or not.

LCD: What are some of your commercial songwriting credits?

LEVINE: ‘Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut’ for Peter Paul/Mounds, (singing) ‘Oh, What A Feeling to Drive-TOY-OTA!,’ ‘Can’t Beat The Feeling’ for Coca-Cola, ‘The Softer Side of Sears,’ Diet Coke, ‘Just For The Taste of It’…

LCD: God. People will carry those jingles with them to their graves. With your pop songs and TV, how does it feel to be so deep in the public consciousness?

LEVINE: Ah, I feel good about it. I feel lucky to be able to do what I do for so long.

LCD: Tell me something people might not guess about Joey Levine?

LEVINE: I always thought of myself as a soul singer.