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.

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.

Kasenetz-Katz and Their Super-Duper Rock & Roll Kavalcade

Kasenetz-Katz and Their Super-Duper Rock & Roll Kavalcade
by James Porter

Of all the revered record producers with a hitmaking streak and an identifiable sound, the Kasenetz-Katz duo has to be among the most underrated. Garage freaks worship at the altar of Ed Cobb (Standells, Chocolate Watchband), Ken Nelson (Buck Owens, Wanda Jackson) is a big name with the retro-country set, the outer-space sonatas of Joe Meek (Blue Men, Tornadoes) have a strong cult, and Phil Spector is probably the only non-performing producer who has his own section in record stores. But even though Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz produced their share of radio-active hits in ’68-’69, most rock historians regard them as a footnote. In The New Book Of Rock Lists by Dave Marsh and James Bernard, producers as diverse as Lee

Joey Levine induction

Joey Levine inducted by Kim Cooper:

In bubblegum music, as in all great art, it’s the deviations from the norm that are most fascinating. Joey Levine of the Ohio Express is bubblegum royalty, and in the whole kinderpop canon, there’s no one else like him. It’s a thrill to present his Bubblegum Achievement Award tonight.

As a songwriter (working with his Third Rail band mate Artie Resnick), Joey gave the genre its most iconic double entendre food metaphor in “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and also its hardest rocker in “Quick Joey Small.” His unmistakable singing voice, that exquisitely snotty schoolyard sneer, leant a hint of punk menace to an otherwise vanilla scene–so to those who were paying attention, it wasn’t much of a shock when a bubblegum-punk crossover was achieved by the Ramones.

Bubblegum is supposed to be about studio bands where the producers pulled the strings. But even at 17, Joey was savvy enough to understand the dynamic, make the most of his opportunities and get out before bitterness set in.

If you want to have some fun later, you can go on the internet and visit the ASCAP and BMI websites. Look up “Joey Levine.” On BMI, you’ll find 247 crazy rock and roll titles, among them the magnificent “Chew Chewy,” “Down At Lulu’s,” “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’,” and “Try It,” not to mention “Dammi Dammi L’Amor,” which I’m pretty sure is “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” en espanol, though it might be a loose translation of “Yummy Yummy Yummy.”

Over on ASCAP, the Other Joey Levine holds court. Because in his twenties, the Bubblegum King took on a new mantle, that of Jingle King. And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense: any great bubblegum song, when boiled down to its super sweet and sticky essence, could just as easily be an advertisement. “Sometimes you feel like a nut”

Will the Real Ohio Express Please Stand Up?

Will the Real Ohio Express Please Stand Up?
by Becky Ebenkamp

Dean Kastran and Joey Levine never performed side by side on a stage, nor have they ever recorded a song together. Yet simultaneously throughout the late 1960s, both were members of same band, and each could claim some responsibility for its success: Dean as the face, a good-looking kid in a Midwestern rock group lured into a contract by the Super K Productions team, photographed for record covers and then shanghaied into a life of nonstop touring. And Joey as the studio whiz kid, songwriter, and famous, distinctive voice of

Best of the Ohio Express liner notes

Click to purchase The Best Of Ohio Express


The Ohio Express are the quintessential non-animated American bubblegum band but if their story weren’t so well documented, you’d swear it was a tall tale dreamed up by a drunken record collector.

It’s hard to talk about “The Ohio Express” without confusion, because the name refers both to a touring band based in Ohio, and a studio concoction out of New York City. While both Ohio Expresses contributed to the group’s albums, the East Coast version had most of the hits and were responsible for their signature sound. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The story begins with a perfectly good mid-American high school garage band, popular at teen dances and occasionally pegged to open for national acts like the Turtles. That was Sir Timothy & the Royals, the pride of Mansfield, Ohio. The leader was Tim Corwin (drums), and the Royals were Dale Powers (lead guitar), Doug Grassel (rhythm guitar), Jim Pfahler (organ) and Dean Kastran (bass).

Sir Tim and the boys might have ended up with a song or two on a Pebbles comp had producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz not shown up one day circa 1967, inspired by the Music Explosion’s success with “Little Bit Of Soul” to check out another promising Ohio combo. The underage band was quickly signed to a production contract, and rechristened the Ohio Express, because the producers felt their name sounded too English.

Kasenetz and Katz were fast moving pros whose specialty was making hit records and licensing them to labels. They picked up the Royals because they heard something lucrative in their sound-but who knew how long it might take these kids to write a hit of their own? K&K happened to already have a great song, not so loosely based on “Louie Louie,” that had been a minor hit when released by the Rare Breed on the Attack label. That group reportedly didn’t want to be musical puppets, and declined to work further with K&K. So “Beg, Borrow & Steal” was re-pressed with the Ohio Express name on the label, and it hit the top 40. This opened the door for more Ohio Express releases, but didn’t bode well for any hopes of creative autonomy the band may have had.

With the group headquartered 500 miles from New York, even with frequent visits Tim’s boys never got a chance to be fully in the loop. Their producers searched out songs for the Ohio Express; if it wasn’t convenient for the group to record them, studio musicians would instead. It was around this time that K&K decided to rework the banned Standells single “Try It” as an Ohio Express song. This fairly innocent anthem to sexual experimentation was penned by “Under the Boardwalk” writer Artie Resnick and 17-year-old Joey Levine, who played together with Resnick’s wife Kris in a group called the Third Rail. The Ohio Express liked the song, but the rush to release it meant the single only had Dale Powers singing lead over a session track.

When “Try It” charted in February 1968, Levine and Resnick were asked if they had a follow up in mind. Levine offered “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” which Jay & the Techniques had rejected because it sounded too juvenile. Not a problem for a Super K band! A demo was recorded with Jimmy Calvert’s group, K &K’s house band. Levine sang a dummy lead, only intended to sell the song. Neil Bogart loved his nasal whine, and decreed that he should be the permanent voice of the Ohio Express’ singles. To Levine’s surprised dismay, it was this demo version that showed up on the radio soon after, and climbed to #4 on the charts.

Joey Levine’s promotion to sometime lead vocalist created a conundrum for the touring band. Obviously the successful young songwriter wasn’t about to relocate to Mansfield to join the group. So the five band members took turns trying to sing in Levine’s distinctively bilious style, and Dean Kastran’s pipes provided the nearest approximation. Henceforth the Ohio Express found themselves in the unenviable position of having to learn their own hit records from the recordings.

The first Ohio Express album, Beg Borrow & Steal, was released on the Cameo/ Parkway label, where Neil Bogart worked as A&R man. Soon Bogart entered into a partnership with K&K, bringing them and the Ohio Express over to the new Buddah label, which would soon be known universally as bubblegum central. The first album blended folky garage, soul and frat-rock songs, some from the pens of band members Jim Pfahler and Tim Corwin. The more poppy material came from established writers. A full accounting is hard to come by, but the underproduced originals were probably recorded by the touring band, and the rest by the session team. The cover had a photo of the band surrounded by views of their psychedelic tour van, emblazoned with self-conscious countercultural slogans like “You Have Just been Passed By A Happening.”

The Ohio Express, album #1 for Buddah, opened with the organ- and bass-heavy kiddie pop sound of “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” but it also featured some strong band originals, ranging in style from punky garage to psychedelic pop. But by the Chewy Chewy album the Ohio band was nowhere to be seen. On this and Mercy (both released in 1969), lead vocals and between-song patter were almost exclusively handled by Joey Levine, with material written by Levine and other Super K staffers.

“Mercy” proved to be the last Ohio Express hit. Not only was the bubblegum fad’s popularity waning, but the pressure was taking a toll on both Joey Levine and the touring band. Organ player-and one-time main songwriter-Jim Pfahler had been missing shows. A band argument in the van on the way to a Cincinnati gig with the Lemon Pipers deteriorated until Pfahler hopped out with the keys. Tim Corwin hot-wired the engine and they ditched Pfahler. But there were more problems in store for the group. Turning on the radio, they heard for the first time “their” new single, “Chewy Chewy.” Humiliated by fans calling for the song they couldn’t play, Dean Kastran and Dale Powers quit soon after.

Meanwhile, Joey Levine was exhausted from his frenetic schedule as the Ohio Express’ writer, arranger, lead singer and engineer, and irked that he wasn’t making more money. He and Artie Resnick accepted an offer from MGM’s Mike Curb, and relocated to L.A.

In the absense of all the interested parties K&K tried to keep the Ohio Express name alive, releasing several more singles with a revolving crew of musicians. Replacement keyboard player Buddy Bengert sang lead on “Pinch Me,” while the countryish “Sausalito” was recorded in England by the group that would become 10cc, led by songwriter Graham Gouldman. In 1970, the name was quietly retired.

Today Joey Levine is a successful writer of advertising jingles. His work includes the very bubblegummy Almond Joy theme “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut,” “Just For the Fun Of It [Diet Coke],” “Sitting on a Ritz [Cracker]” and dozens more. Out on the road, drummer Tim Corwin continues to tour with a version of the Ohio Express that occasionally includes rhythm guitarist Doug Grassel. And on oldies radio, the Ohio Express still chugs along, sending kids of all ages into paroxysms of glee at their obscenely catchy riffs, snotty vocals and hilarious double entendres.

Thanks to Carl Cafarelli, Becky Ebenkamp, Bill Pitzonka and James Porter