Posts Tagged ‘Bubblegum’

1910 Fruitgum Co. Sticks to the Wall of Sound

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the bubblegum group that hit with “Simon Says” and “Indian Giver” also produced one of the greatest Phil Spector tributes of all time, “When We Get Married.” Their last single for Buddah, it barely bubbled under at #118 in 1969, and marked their last chart appearance. But 40+ years later, it still packs an incredible Spectorian wallop thanks to Richie Cordell’s take-no-prisoners production.

MP3 | When We Get Married

1910 Fruitgum Company’s Home Page

Pratt & McClain: Pratt & McClain

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Iconic TV theme and an album of soft-rock nostalgia

Truett Pratt and Jerry McClain were introduced to one another by the producer Michael Omartian, and after some success recording commercial jingles (under the name Brotherly Love) they signed with Reprise. Their real break, though, was being selected in 1976 to record the theme song to Happy Days. Written by successful television composers Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, the theme song replaced the show’s use of Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock,” and promoted with weekly airings, the single peaked at #5. Their only other chart, a cover of “Devil With the Blue Dress,” inched into the Top 100 later in the year. This 1976 album, their second and last, expands on the single’s nostalgia with doo-wop vocals for “Summertime in the City” and “Tonight We’re Going to Fall in Love.” The memories reach back, but the arrangements remain modern with bouncy bass lines, clean guitar sounds and politely soulful sax lines. They try their hand at Billy Joel styled piano ballads, blue-eyed soul, Elton John pop, but nothing that offers up the instantly memorable hooks of the hit single. All that’s missing is the “Happy Days” flip side, “Cruisin’ With the Fonz” (an instrumental version of “Tonight We’re Going to Fall in Love”), that would have made the perfect bonus track. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Donny Most: Donny Most

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

TV’s Ralph Malph steps through the screen and tiptoes onto the record chart

To a large extent, actor Donny Most’s 1976 solo album is the archtypical celebrity cash-in. Though no stranger to music – Most had played in Catskills bands as a teenager – his shot at pop stardom was entirely the product of a staring role on Happy Days and the show’s #1 rating. His label secured performing slots on Dinah, Mike Douglas and American Bandstand, but even Happy Days fever could only push the sugary pop single “All Roads (Lead Back to You)” to #97. After three weeks on the charts, Most’s pop singing career was all but over; and to add insult to injury, Anson Williams’ “Deeply” scored four slots higher, peaking at #93 the following spring. Most was a capable, if not particularly exciting singer, with his voice often doubled to give it heft. The productions are more bubblegum than the rootsy rock ‘n’ roll Ralph Malph might have played in his Happy Days TV band, more Kasnetz-Katz or Gary Lewis than Bill Haley or Chuck Berry. The album mixes originals written or found for Most, alongside covers of Bruce Chanel’s “Hey Baby” and Larry Williams’ “Bony Moronie.” The latter provide a lead-in to one of Most’s post-acting sidelines, touring the oldies circuit with the “Doo Wop Rocks” revival show. This is a nice artifact of the spectacular popularity that surrounded Happy Days in the latter half of the ‘70s, and a pleasant, if not particularly memorable musical spin. Essential’s digital reissue may have been remastered from vinyl, as there seems to be an occasional audio artifact – nothing really distracting, however. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Donny Most’s Home Page

Various Artists: Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Vol. 1

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Expanded reissue of legendary bubblegum compilation

Originally issued by Buddah in 1969, and reissued in expanded form by the UK Cherry Red label in 2010, this historic collection of bubblegum music is now available for domestic digital download through Sony’s Legacy imprint. The fourteen tracks of the original LP were pulled together from the biggest hits of Buddah’s Kasenetz-Katz production team, including the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “Simon Says,” the Ohio Express’ “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and the Lemon Pipers’ “Green Tambourine.” Brilliant melodic hooks, crisp studio productions and child-like lyrics combined to produce songs that were instantly likeable (except, of course, to self-righteous rock fans who’d long-ago lost track of music’s simplest pleasures) and more importantly, memorable. Though aimed at the pre-teen crowd, the songs’ surface-level innocence often harbored erotic and psychedelic allusions that were sufficiently camouflaged to escape AM radio’s gatekeepers.

Though Buddah didn’t corner the bubblegum market (the song of the year for 1969, “Sugar Sugar,” was on Don Kirshner’s Calendar label, for example), their output is easily the largest concentration of the genre’s exemplars. Cherry Red’s (and now Legacy’s) enhanced reissue drops two tunes by the Kasenetz Katz Super Circus (“We Can Work it Out” and “I’m in Love With You”), and adds seven titles, including the 1910 Fruitgum Company’s “Indian Giver” (which post-dated the compilation’s release), Salt Water Taffy’s “Finders Keepers” and the Shadows of Knight’s swampy “Run Run Billy Porter.” This is both a good place to start a bubblegum collection and a terrific spin for those who are already fans. To reach beyond the Buddah stable, try a single disc set like 25 All-Time Greatest Bubblegum Hits, or search out copies of Varese Sarabande’s five-volume Bubblegum Classics series [1 2 3 4 5]. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

Jonny: Jonny

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Teenage Fanclub meets Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s Euros Childs have more melodicism in the tip of their respective pinkies than most musicians create in their entire careers. Paired together for their first full-length collaboration, the results are a brilliantly crafted cocktail of their respective bands, ‘60s British invasion and garage pop, canyon country, ‘70s power pop, pub and light rock, and ‘80s post-punk psychedelia. Like XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear, there’s an element of spot-the-influence here, but the references are more fully digested and fleeting: a vocal harmony that suggests Curt Boettcher, CS&N or America, a melody hook that recalls the Kasnetz-Katz bubblegum factory, a stomping rhythm you’d have heard from Brisnley Schwarz, or an organ riff that lodges the Monkees in your ear.

The opening “Wich is Wich” would have made a terrific theme song to an H.R. Pufnstuf spin-off, and the nearly eleven-minute “Cave Dance” could be, for those who remember that Pufnstuf lived in a cave, both a stoneage dance sensation and a low-key escape from the powers of Witchiepoo. Unsurprisingly, the pair create buoyant, winsome music, but with just enough melancholy and angst to keep the sweetness from dissolving your teeth. Even the album’s first single, “Candyfloss,” crosses its lyrical dream woman in a duet vocal whose Motors-like harmony is laden with discontent. There are a few lesser tunes, but they quickly disappear as you indulge in the yearning of “Circling the Sun” and “I Want to Be Around,” tap your toe to the country-inspired “I’ll Make Her My Best Friend,” and glory in the duo’s irresistible melodies. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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The DeFranco Family: Heartbeat, it’s a Lovebeat / Save the Last Dance for Me

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

Digital reissue of sweet radio pop from the mid-70s

The DeFranco Family – a family act from Ontario, Canada – had several hits and a terrific run in ‘70s teen magazines. The fuss was centered on the super-cute Tony DeFranco, whose 13-year-old voice was complemented by his brothers’ and sisters’ harmony vocals, yielding a sound akin to the Partridge Family fronted by Donny Osmond. What made the records work were lyrics that Tony could croon convincingly to pre-teen girls, bubblegum hooks and sophisticated arrangements by writer/producer Walt Meskell.

The group’s debut album featured their biggest chart hit, “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat,” but also several other pop gems. “I’m With You” has a clever circus beat (apparently supplied played by Wrecking Crew ace, Hal Blaine) and the throwback “Sweet Sweet Loretta” combines banjo, bass, and brass. The album’s second hit, “Abra-Ca-Dabra,” is a terrific piece of bubblegum, but the real sleeper is “Gorilla,” a song so sweet it will give you a toothache. You’ll want to make sure you have some time to yourself as the album closes with Tony’s special message to you, “I Love Everything You Do.” Sigh.

The group’s second (and final) album features their third (and final) hit, a cover of the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me.” It’s the best track on the album, though Tony’s slightly funky take on Dr. John’s “Poor Boy” isn’t bad. Tony’s voice still sounds fresh and young, but the arrangements are heavier, and the delicious bubblegum sounds were exchanged for MOR ballads and overcooked Vegas-styled horn-rock. There’s very little here that stacks up to the hooks of “Heartbeat, It’s a Lovebeat” or “Abra-Ca-Dabra.” Even the love letter to Tony’s pre-teen fans, “I Guess You Already Knew,” hasn’t the craft of similar sentiments from the debut; apparently the DeFranco’s producer/songwriters had only one album of top-notch material. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The DeFranco Family’s Home Page
Tony DeFranco’s Home Page

Ohio Express: Chewy Chewy

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Sweet second album from bubblegum legends

Alongside the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Ohio Express was among the purest expressions of producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz’s bubblegum ethos. “Ohio Express” was used to name several different musical groups, including singles originally recorded by Rare Breed, a touring outfit originally called Sir Timothy & The Royals, and various aggregations of New York studio musicians fronted by the nasal vocals of singer/songwriter Joey Levine. It’s the latter group that hit with Levine’s “Yummy Yummy Yummy” (a song that plays “God Bless America” to the Archies’ national anthem, “Sugar Sugar”), and followed-up with the title track of this 1969 album. Levine would leave the group shortly after the album’s release, and still another edition of the Ohio Express, comprised of future members of 10cc, released the Graham Gouldman-penned “Sausalito (Is the Place to Go).”

Like the best of the bubblegum groups, the Ohio Express fashioned nursery-rhyme lyrics, earworm pop melodies and sharp studio production into music as effervescent as it is devoid of intellectual calories. If you’re looking for scholarly heft, you need to look elsewhere, but if you want two-minutes-thirty-eight that can lift your mood, “Chewy Chewy” is a good bet. In addition to Levine’s originals, the group covered a pair of 1910 Fruitgum Company hits (“1, 2, 3 Red Light” and “Simon Says,” apparently with reused backing tracks), employing Partridge Family-styled harmony vocals and touches of organ. There’s light psych (“Let it Take You”) and Tommy James-styled frat rock (“So Good, So Fine”), and though “Yes Sir” unashamedly borrows from “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” it shows that the hook still had life in it.

Resnick’s ballad “Fun” provides a few minute’s respite from the relentlessly chirpy bubblegum productions, and the odd bits of dialog laid in between several of the cuts suggest the quick-cutting, non-sequitur humor of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. The Chewy Chewy album is available as a two-fer with the group’s eponymous Buddah debut, the latter of which is otherwise out-of-print in the US. If you’re looking for all of the group’s biggest hits in one place, opt for the Best Of, which includes “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” “Down at Lulu’s,” “Chewy Chewy,” “Mercy,” and “Sausalito (Is the Way to Go),” but for the group’s devotees, it’s great to have the album cuts readily available. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

The Cuff Links: Tracy

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

The Archies’ Ron Dante sings sweet bubblegum pop as the Cuff Links

Vocalist Ron Dante is the American version of British studio singer Tony Burrows. Though he didn’t duplicate Burrows’ feat of charting hit singles as the lead singer of four different groups in a single year (Edison Lighthouse, White Plains, Pipkins, Brotherhood of Man, all in 1970), Dante’s singing was nearly as ubiquitous. His first brush with fame came with the novelty single “Leader of the Laundromat,” by the Detergents, and he was widely heard singing the famous “you deserve a break today” jingle for McDonald’s. But his biggest score was as the lead singer of the Archies, minting the single-of-the-year (and the national anthem of the bubblegum world), “Sugar, Sugar.” In parallel with the Archies’ ride on the charts, Dante re-teamed with Detergents’ songwriter-producers Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss and cooked up this album under the Cuff Links banner.

The Cuff Links were, like Tony Burrows’ “bands,” a studio concoction rather than a working group. Dante provided both lead and brilliantly arranged backing voices, and as on the Archies’ records, went uncredited. Though he recorded a solo album in 1970, his first real claim to named fame came a few years later as the producer of many Barry Manilow hit records, and later as an award-winning Broadway producer. His anonymous work with the Detergents, Archies and Cuff Links has been sporadically anthologized and reissued over the years, focusing mostly on the hit singles; this CD release reintroduces the Cuff Links first album back to the market, adding a handful of singles drawn from the group’s still-unissued second album, and several more bonuses.

The album is a by-product of the effervescent single “Tracy,” which became a hit just as the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” started to fade on the charts. The album was recorded quickly to capitalize on the single’s success, but with songs drawn from Vance and Pockriss’ catalog of co-writes, plus a pair of well selected covers, it’s a great deal more solid than the short time in the studio would suggest. Rupert Holmes (who would later hit with “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”) was brought in to arrange the strings, and his simple lines perfectly complement Dante’s overlaid vocals. The bubbly tone of the title track is balanced by wistful tunes, including the moving antiwar sentiments of “All the Young Women,” the Left Banke-styled nostalgia of “I Remember,” and the autumnal lost-love B-side “Where Do You Go?”

The two cover songs are given nice twists, with a catchy organ riff and memorable call-and-response vocals on “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” and an effective Burt Bacharach-styled treatment of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The songs run deeper than comparable bubblegum tunes written expressly for the pre-teen crowd, but their melodies remain hummable, and the lyrics catchy. Like the music that came out of Don Kirshner’s world, the craft here is superb – just listen how the album’s second single, “When Julie Comes Around,” builds masterfully from a tense organ and drum opening into a perfect mix of electric and acoustic guitars and then builds into a joyous melody in parallel with the lyrics turn from loneliness to happiness; the transitions back and forth between desperation and elation are handled just as perfectly as the song finally plays itself out with a smile.

With the single a hit and the album edging onto the charts, the producers assembled a road band, but Dante declined to tour and vocalist Joe Cord took his place. For the self-titled follow-up album, Dante and Cord split the lead vocals. The album’s first three bonus tracks are drawn from the second album’s singles, “Run Sally Run” (in mono), “Robin’s World” and “Thank You Pretty Baby” (also in mono). The first of the three has a hurried tempo, the second is a terrifically relaxed piece of mid-tempo sunshine pop, and the latter a catchy staccato vocal pop production. Of the three remaining bonus tracks (all in mono), “The Kiss,” “All Because of You,” and “Wake Up Judy,” the middle one was the group’s last single on Decca. The other two are unexplained in John Purdue’s otherwise detailed liner notes. If you love sunshine and bubblegum pop, snap this one up before it goes out of print again! [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Ron Dante’s Home Page
The Cuff Links’ Home Page

The Cuff Links touring band:

Tommy James and the Shondells: Gettin’ Together

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

James and company solidify and refine their pop

Capitalizing on the success of the previous year’s pop-oriented I Think We’re Alone Now, Tommy James and the Shondells paired again with producers Bo Gentry and Richie Cordell to cut their second album of 1967. The album cover depicts the group in a field of blossoms, but that’s as close to flower-power that the Shondells came on this album. There are production touches of the era, including the tight segue between the first two tracks, the feedback, fades and false endings of “Happy Day,” and the audio markers closing “Side 1” and opening “Side 2,” but the melodies and lyrics remain teen-pop. The seeds planted here would fully bloom the following year on 1968’s Crimson & Clover.

For now, the band polished the transition from garage and frat rock to production-oriented pop they’d begun earlier in the year. James finds more space to unleash the power of his vocals, the band’s harmonies fit together more tightly, and arranger Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner’s touches add decoration without distracting from the chewy pop-rock center. The title hit opens with a riff copped from the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” but lightened to the tone of a 1910 Fruitgum Company production. James and Shondells’ bassist Mike Vale contribute four originals, including the galloping rocker “Love’s Closin’ in On Me” and the frenzied “You Better Watch Out.”

Though many of the tracks verge on bubblegum, as Ed Osborne’s liner notes point out, the album’s ballads reach to the more sophisticated vocal arrangements and considered tempos of what would become known as West Coast Sunshine Pop. Like their previous album, these sessions were recorded on a 4-track at Allegro Sound, and though most of the instruments are still panned hard left-and-right, the sound is smoother, the band sounds more settled into their surroundings, and the album more cohesive. For many listeners the hit collections Anthology or The Definitive Pop Collection are better places to start, but fans interested in getting past the hits will enjoy finding that the group’s albums are fleshed out with more than the typical singles-band filler.

Collectors’ Choice’s straight-up 12-track reissue clocks in at under 30-minutes, leaving one wishing they’d doubled-up with a second album (or add bonus tracks), as they did for recent reissues of Jackie DeShannon, Waylon Jennings, B.J. Thomas and others. This is one of four albums (also including I Think We’re Alone Now, Travelin’ and James’ third solo release, My Head, My Bed & My Red Guitar) billed as an initial offering from the entire Shondells and Thomas solo catalogs. The six-page booklet includes full-panel reproductions of the album’s front and back covers, and newly struck liner notes by Ed Osborne that add fresh interview material from James himself. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Tommy James and The Shondells’ Home Page

Tommy James and The Shondells: I Think We’re Alone Now

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Rock singles-band transitions to studio pop

Tommy James and The Shondells kicked around their Michigan stomping grounds for several years before finding regional success in 1963 with a cover of Barry & Greenwich’s “Hanky Panky.” By the time the single was rediscovered two years later by a Pittsburgh radio station, the original Shondells had gone their separate ways. James recruited a band to be the new Shondells, and in 1966 toured behind the single, cut a deal with Roulette Records and turned their flop into a chart-topping hit. Line-up changes ensued and the band hooked up with songwriter Richie Cordell who gave them the hit title track of this 1967 release, their third studio album.

Cordell wrote or co-wrote (often with an uncredited Bo Gentry) ten of this album’s dozen songs, filling out the track list with covers of the Riviera’s “California Sun” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Like the title tune, Cordell’s songs tended to pop melodies and adolescent professions of love, creating strong appeal for teens and pre-teens. Cordell later contributed more explicitly to the bubblegum genre with songs for Crazy Elephant and the 1910 Fruitgum Company, but the seeds were sewn here as he helped Tommy James and The Shondells’ transition from garage-styled frat-rockers to studio-produced pop. The album’s second hit, “Mirage,” borrows most of the hooks from “I Think We’re Alone Now,” and they were fetching enough to merit a second visit to the Top 10.

The album’s songs stood in contrast to the psychedelic works of 1967 (Sgt. Pepper’s, Are You Experienced?, Surrealistic Pillow, et al.), but unlike the group’s previous albums, which consisted mostly of material drawn from the label’s publishing catalog, these titles were fresh. Better yet, the band and their arranger, Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner, added some great instrumental touches. Wisner’s strings and horns lift “Trust Each Other in Love” beyond its bubblegum roots, and the ‘50s-styled ballad “What I’d Give to See Your Face Again” is given a terrific twist by the country piano and fuzz-guitar break. There’s a Stax-styled rhythm guitar on “Baby Let Me Down,” and the harmony vocals of “I Like the Way” are topped with a perfect horn-line.

The sound quality of these tracks varies, with most in stereo that suggests 3-track recording (instruments panned left and right and vocals in the middle), despite the 4-track studio. Tracks 1 and 11 are mono, with the latter subtly shifted to one side, moving sloppily towards the center at the 24-second mark, and popping fully into the center at the 35-second mark. The original mono single mixes of “Mirage” and “I Like the Way” can be found on the collection 40 Years: The Complete Singles (1966-2006). For most listeners, the singles collection, or hit anthologies Anthology or The Definitive Pop Collection are better places to start; but starting with this album, the band and its writers and producers had something more to say than would fit on the singles charts.

Collectors’ Choice’s straight-up 12-track reissue clocks in at under 30-minutes, leaving one to wish they’d doubled-up with a second album (or add bonus tracks), as they did for recent reissues of Jackie DeShannon, Waylon Jennings, B.J. Thomas and others. This is one of four albums (also including Gettin’ Together, Travelin’ and James’ third solo release, My Head, My Bed & My Red Guitar) billed as an initial offering from the entire Shondells and Thomas solo catalogs. The six-page booklet includes full-panel reproductions of the album’s front and back covers, and newly struck liner notes by Ed Osborne that add fresh interview material from James himself. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

Tommy James and The Shondells’ Home Page