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.

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

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.

Richard Gotterher and the Art of the Instant Record

Richard Gotterher and the Art of the Instant Record
by Keith Bearden

Almost everyone can name a watershed musical moment in their life.  I’ve heard stories from friends of first becoming sexually aroused listening to Aerosmith’s "Walk This Way," or deciding to drop out of school after hearing the first Stooges record.  The moment that redefined my life and musical tastes was catching the first set of "New Wave" records to come out of New York City in 1977.  They had the exuberance, beat, and sing-along melodies of stuff I had loved on the oldies station, but with an anger, world-weariness and sick humor totally appropriate in the styleless, decadent and lazy years following the ’60s "revolution." It made me fully acknowledge what I had always suspected: I was not "normal," I was not "mellow" and I was not "cool."  I did not fit in and now I had music for and by other people who didn’t fit in either.  It was at this point that music became a therapist, a friend, and a community by proxy in the remaining decade until I was able to bust out of my stunted suburban existence.  

As I studied and memorized the jackets of my favorite vinyl companions over the next few years, I noticed a familiar name popping up in the production credits: Richard Gotterher.  Soon, anything with his name on the back became an automatic purchase, grooves unheard.  Like Phil Spector, anything with Gotterher’s touch mandated at least one listen.

Like many involved with the new wave movement, Gotterher’s roots lie in studio pop bands of the ’60s.  He, along with producing/writing partners Bob Feldman and Jerry Goldstein, created the ruse that was the Strangeloves, posing as three independently wealthy Australian sheep farmers who moonlighted as musicians.  They hoodwinked enough American teens with their phony story, "Aboriginal" drums and cheap Beatle wigs in 1965 to send "I Want Candy" to number 11 on the national charts.  If only for that one song, the Strangeloves are worthy of discussion.  "I Want Candy" is a revelation; a Bo Diddley jungle beat, jazzy guitar line, and massed, aharmonious male vocals sounding like a fraternity bash at its drunken pinnacle—all bathed in enough reverb to make it sound like the first live simulcast from the moon.  

Bow Wow Wow’s 1983 version may be more familiar, but the Strangeloves’ original is the one that gets under your skin.  Two more Top 40 hits followed —"Cara-Lin," later covered by the Fleshtones, and "Night Time," redone by Iggy Pop, the Nomads and even Joe Jackson (as the theme to a Miller beer commercial!).  Like the Shadows of Knight, the Strangeloves pre-dated the term “Bubblegum Rock,” and their heavier sound and seemingly more authentic garage band persona have saved them from being lumped in (and berated) with other studio pop bands of the era.  Of course, the history of rock ‘n’ roll is a history of "fake" studio bands, and many hit songs of numerous "real" groups (Byrds, Beach Boys,) were played partially by for-hire session men (but that is for a whole ‘nother book).

Many persons involved in the 1960s NYC studio pop hit factory later worked with the explosion of ’70s pop/rock talent that fell under the tag of "New Wave."  Buddah Records publicist Marty Thau managed or produced the New York Dolls, the Real Kids, Suicide and the Fleshtones, to name a few.  Tommy James/ Crazy Elephant/ 1910 Fruitgum Company songwriter and musician Ritchie Cordell channeled Joan Jett’s talents into the stuff of ’80s Top 40 success.  But it was Gotterher’s "Instant Records"—his ’70s production company: he recorded LPs in an average of four weeks as opposed to the months or even years common during the era—that clarified the link between new wave and its ’50s/’60s influences like no other.  He helped Blondie sound less like a Soho loft garage band and more like the mutant Girl Group they wanted to be.  His work with Robert Gordon and Link Wray proved to post-Woodstock hipsters that “oldies” could be as valid as the Ramones.  Marshall Crenshaw’s classic debut LP, Pearl Harbor’s woefully underrated solo work, The Go-Go’s’ Beauty and the Beat—all superb pop music that will forever define an era, a genre and the artists that made them.  All the product of Gotterher’s pop sensibilities.  

Still producing records occasionally, Richard Gotterher is currently the CEO of The Orchard ( a web-based independent music distributor.  We met over tea at a noisy cafe near his offices in New York City’s Chinatown.

Keith Bearden: Tell me about your start in the music biz.

Richard Gotterher: I started when I was in high school in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll.  I was a classically trained piano player, and then I discovered the blues.  Listening to Alan Freed, I learned about rhythm and blues and black music.  So I started writing songs, at first copying Jerry Lee Lewis.  At the time it was Elvis and Jerry Lee, and being a piano player, I naturally gravitated to Jerry Lee.  So I wrote a song, when I was 16-years-old, called ‘I’m On Fire,’ which he eventually recorded in the ’60s just before his transition to country music.  One of his last real rock recordings.

I was playing with my own band, and I got some songs published.  One day I ran into two guys outside the office of one of the music publishing houses, Bob Feldman and Jerry Goldstein.  We hit it off and started writing songs together.  Then we started making demos, which were primitive one-track recordings.  And then we said to ourselves, “If we can write and produce demos, we can write and produce records.”

We had basically a string of hits from 1963 to 1966.  First, “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels, which went number one.  We worked on the girl groups for years, and wrote for Freddy Cannon, Dion, Bobby Vee.  Lots of people.  I have a drawer full of almost one hundred 45s that we either wrote or produced, or both.

After ’66, we split up, and then I formed Sire Records with Seymour Stein.  We licensed a lot of European music, had some hits.  We had Climax Blues Band, Renaissance, “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.  I left Sire in the mid-’70s, when the punk thing started happening, when I discovered Blondie, Richard Hell, Robert Gordon, and made a lot of records with those people.

How did the Strangeloves happen?

We had been producing the Angels, and there was a point where they went on strike.  And we had this track for them, this remake of an old Patti Page or Jo Stafford song called “A Little Love (That’s All I Want From You).”  It was done in what was ska for the time; they called it bluebeat.  We changed it and called it “Love Love.”  The girl group thing was sort of fading, and the Beatles were coming in a big way, and the whole British Invasion, so we decided to sing on the track and call ourselves the Strangeloves.  In the middle, Bob recited the lyrics, pretending to be British.  We sold the record to Swan, put on these Beatle wigs and posed with these African drums in a photo, and put out this goofy press release that we were Australian.  With all the British groups around, we figured Australia would be novel.

We get a call from a DJ in Virginia Beach, VA, and he says, “This record is getting a great response down here, if you come down and perform, we can drive it up to number one.”  We said, “Okay.”  We get there, and we went to the airport, got in a small plane that drove down the runway, faking that we had just flew in from Australia.  There was a huge sign saying, “Virginia Beach welcomes Australia’s Strangeloves.”  There were all these screaming kids, holding teddy bears, and throwing jelly beans, cause that’s what they did back then.  When we went to perform, we only had this one song, and we knew we couldn’t just do that.  So we did “Bo Diddley” by Bo Diddley.  And the response was unbelievable!!

So we come back to New York and record it at Atlantic Studios.  Ahmet says he really likes it, but that we should take it to his new label Bang.  We took it to Bert Berns [co-writer of “Twist and Shout,” among many other hits], and he says, “This is great, but Bo Diddley was Bo Diddley, why don’t we re-work it using the same beat?” And the four of us wrote, “I Want Candy.”

There was this wonderful guitar player at the time named Everett Barksdale, who came up with the riff and he was playing off the melody to “Anna,” the hit by Silvano Merano.  We had become pretty knowledgeable about producing at this point.  We kept ping-ponging in the studio —we recorded the drums twice, along with me banging on African drums, and Jerry, Bob and myself were overdubbed singing together four times.  That’s why this record has this overwhelming sound to it.  After we mixed it and mastered it, we added more EQ and reverb, so it has a very processed feel, but at the same time has a real raw vibe to it.  This process occurred over a period of weeks.

We used a lot of tricks, but I was always careful to keep things spontaneous.  The wonderful thing about recording with them was there were moments that you captured, and you tried to go back and get it again and you couldn’t.  When we did “Hang On Sloopy” [Gotterher produced the McCoy’s massive hit], we tried it again —we did the same beat and sound again and it never came together.  It could’ve been something as obtuse as the temperature of the studio or the weight on the drums.  With the digital technology of today there is none of that variable.

Why did the Strangeloves only have one album?

Albums were not the thing back then.  Until the Beatles came along, nobody really bought albums, they bought singles.  Our one LP had three hits on it, but it didn’t make a difference.  Moving on to the ’70s, if you had a hit song you had to have an album because people bought albums.  The market had changed.  That’s one of the reasons radio was more open back in the ’60s to play new and indie records.  People didn’t play album tracks.  They wanted hit 45s.  They were hungry for ’em, and the damn things only lasted two minutes! That’s a lot of demand for product!

When you toured, did people catch on that you were three guys from Brooklyn and the Bronx?

No, never.  We had our fake Australian accents, and that was enough.

Do you have a philosophy as a producer?

I learned from listening to records by Leiber-Stoller and Phil Spector.  The song has to always be your center, your focal point.  If you create an environment that enhances the song, that’s the job of the producer.  You have to listen to the song first.  I came from being a songwriter.  What I like to think I bring to a recording is a clarity of thought.

A lot of bands make really stinky records when they stop working with you.  Holly & the Italians made an amazing debut with you, and their second LP is unlistenable.  Nobody likes the Go-Go’s’ third record.  Marshall Crenshaw’s career never recovered from Steve Lillywhite doing Field Day.  How much involvement do you have with young, untried bands?  What changes did you make when you worked with Blondie for example?

They didn’t need a lot of changes, really, just structural channeling.  What I like to try to do with a band is work with their deficits, as well as their assets.  To me, it didn’t matter if you didn’t play that well —I found a way of getting it out of you.  A lot of producers would say, “You have to do this perfectly —if you can’t do it, I’ll find someone else who can.”  I always figured, “Hey, Clem Burke isn’t the greatest drummer in the world, but something he’s doing is unique, and fits in with the uniqueness of the band.  And it’s my job to bring that to listeners.”  There were things about Blondie that were amazing from the beginning —their sense of humor, their attitude.  I wasn’t as concerned with their ability to execute everything.  What I wanted to do was capture the feeling and enthusiasm of what they were about, and just focus it in a way that was palatable to mass audiences.  Because they were considered weird back then.  There was nothing remotely like it on radio.  I wanted to bring out the qualities they had.  Professionalism is not as important to me as it was to radio programmers of the time, perhaps.

Those first two records were not very popular in the US, but they were incredibly popular overseas.  Then of course Mike Chapman worked with them and focused more on the discipline part of producing them, and they exploded with “Heart of Glass.”

Blondie sounded like Blondie when they were with you.  Chapman’s hand was a lot heavier than yours was.  That’s the difference between you and producers like Phil Spector and Giorgio Moroder —you don’t mold bands in your image.  The records you produce don’t all sound alike.  They have a pop aesthetic, but–

There is a thread that goes through it.  I’m more interested in the emotion of the song.  The sound should be appropriate for emotion of the song.

What were your challenges working with the Go-Go’s? They were part of the L.A. punk scene and sounded pretty ragged.  How much teaching did you have to do?

A lot.  The Go-Go’s at their first rehearsal just said, “Just tell us what you want us to do.  We want to be successful.”  The funny part about that record was when it came out, [IRS Records president] Miles Copeland called me up, and he was just livid!  “You ruined my group!  I gave you this great punk band and listen to this bubblegum shit!”  He was talking about “Our Lips Are Sealed,” which I thought was just amazing.  The band themselves weren’t there for the mix, and when they heard it, they didn’t talk to me for a good six months.  They cried.  They thought it didn’t sound like them.  It wasn’t grungy and disorganized.  To me, it captured their identity perfectly.  Then they came to love it and we did a second album.

Your sixties work was mostly session musicians.  Did you have any studio groups during the new wave era?

No.  We brought in a different drummer for Holly & the Italians, and we occasionally had someone do sax, or Paul Schaffer doing keyboards.

Joey Levine from the Ohio Express was asked to produce some new wave records, but found the whole scene “too freaky.”  Did you have any hesitations about it?

No.  I went down to CBGBs early on.  Marty Thau was really into the change that was going on, and he took me.  I signed Robert Gordon, Richard Hell, Blondie, all to production contracts and got them with record labels.  No one else would have them at the time.

One of the great things about new wave was that it was a real New York scene.

Yes!  New York was the only thing going.  New York started it and England and the rest of the U.S. followed.  Unless you count rap, it was the last big New York thing.  We started that, too.

Did you see a lot of parallels between your sixties music and the new wave bands you were producing?

Most definitely.  The people who were really doing it in the early days of punk, completely bypassed the early ’70s.  They were really into ’50s rockabilly, girl groups and of course the British invasion.  To them, rock ‘n’ roll stopped in 1969 and began again in 1976.

There is an argument that bands who aren’t really bands—that are studio musicians, or created by producers, managers or records companies—are inherently invalid because they are “manufactured.”  How do you feel about that?

Well, that’s certainly invalid if you’re talking about pop music.  That idea eliminates a huge portion of what’s happening, yesterday and today.  The purpose of making a record is so people will enjoy it, it gives them pleasure and a unique experience.  I mean that’s it.  It doesn’t matter for me.  I don’t listen to today’s studio groups like the Backstreet Boys and the like.  It just seems contrived.  It has a factory-produced feel.  I consider the stuff we did in the sixties to be much freeer and more organic.

The Yummies

The Yummies, interview with Les Fradkin
by David Smay

The Yummies (AKA Les Fradkin) had a regional hit in October 1970 called "Hippie Lady," a single on Sunflower Records. Hundreds of bubblegum one-shots ricocheted off the charts without doing any lasting damage. Here we get the inside scoop on how one such act, the Yummies, came to be.

David Smay: How did you first get signed to MGM? Did you submit a demo tape? Were you a studio singer/musician that they thought they could spin into a solo act?

Les Fradkin: I was brought over to MGM by Randy Edelman, another songwriter who I befriended at April-Blackwood Music (CBS), where I was already signed as a staff writer. He bolted over to MGM where the "grass looked greener" and suggested that if I was looking for a solo deal (which I was), to give them a try (which I did). My "demo" consisted of a live audition with my acoustic 12-string guitar for Eddie Deane and Wally Schuster (Leo Feist Music) who signed me to a long-term production and songwriter agreement. They thought they could spin me into a solo act due to my involvement with Edison Lighthouse, where I had never had the opportunity to contribute as a writer. Plus I had the endorsement of John Hammond Sr. from my tenure at CBS and I guess that meant something in those days.

DS: Who produced the sessions for the Yummies? Who wrote the songs?  Who played on the sessions?

LF: The sessions were produced by myself, Eddie Deane and Steve Katz (our engineer). The sessions took place at Sound Exchange Studios in NYC in the early fall 1970. This situation evolved because I was already signed to Sunflower/MGM Records as a solo artist ("Fearless Fradkin") and I was keen to prove myself as a producer to the powers that were. So, brazenly, I asked for the shot. They said, "do something on your own and, if we like it, we’ll buy the master!" I already had a single out as Fearless Fradkin (SUN #101: "Song Of A Thousand Voices" b/w "You Can Cry If You Want To"). This record was given a Billboard Top 60 pick and superficially sounded like the Brotherhood of Man type style. The song was successful on the MOR charts (#12) but never made it higher than #87 US. BUT… Mirielle Mathieu recorded it for Philips and had a massive hit with it in 1971 where it hit #1 and sold really well.  I talked endlessly about this possible independent production project to Steve Katz.  He was very supportive of the idea to do a bubblegum record, since it was still quite popular on the charts at that time. So we went to the record shop and bought every bubblegum record we could lay our hands on and proceeded to "dissect" the "formula." His boss Bob Morgan (who produced Bobby Vinton and owned the studio) was given a piece of the deal to get the time booked. I basically wrote both songs with a little help from Eddie Deane on lyrics. Steve and Bob were given co-credit although they really had nothing to do with the writing. More political perks, I guess.  Since we didn’t want to spend much money out of pocket, I played all the instruments on both sides of the record. We "borrowed" a Farfisa organ (an important sound to use) and I played acoustic and electric guitars, bass AND drums to a click so I could keep accurate time. Eddie and Bob helped with endless handclap overdubs.  I sang all the lead vocals. Eddie and I did the backgrounds.  The single that we originally planned was "Patty Cake." We even cut an acetate with the B-side consisting of the A-Side played backwards! They said, "we want a real B-side!" Back we went. Out came "Hippie Lady"–a kind of "Bo Diddley" bubblegum piece. To our surprise, they like that side even more than "Patty Cake." So "Hippie Lady" became the A-side of Sunflower #103. It was released October 1970.

DS: Did the Yummies ever make any live performances, or were they only a studio creation?

LF: The Yummies were intended, at first, as just another studio group. But the record hit in a couple of regions, which necessitated our "employing" some of my friends to assist in a couple of TV spots to lip-sync it.

After The Yummies, Les continued to record for MGM, though his solo album was never released. As a producer he worked on an unreleased Left Banke album for Bell in 1972, and birthed (Lester Bangs’ favorites) the Godz’ two albums for ESP.  In the late ‘70s, Les joined the original cast of Beatlemania, left to write jingles and compose for soap operas, only to return to Beatlemania for the entire nineties.  Today, Les is again working as a producer.