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My earliest memory of hearing a song playing on the radio isn't anything even remotely cool. I recall being in a park one sunny day in 1969 when I was just five and hearing "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies playing. It goes without saying I loved it and even today when I hear the song I am transported back to an altogether more innocent time in my life.
"Sugar Sugar" is perhaps the most famous song from the bubblegum pop genre, a genre much derided at the time, probably because it was aimed fairly and squarely at children. Few of the acts who had hits with bubblegum pop songs had hit albums although there are always exceptions to the rule.
The genre was probably at its peak between 1967 and 1972, originating as it did in America. It lasted in the UK for a little longer with some of the acts who jumped on the glam bandwagon in the early 70s having hits with songs which were decidedly aimed at a pre-teen market but by the time the decade had passed its halfway point the genre was finished.
There's a brilliant quote from the critic Lester Bangs who claimed "bubblegum is the basic sound of rock'n' roll - minus the rage, fear, violence and anomie that runs from Johnny Burnette to Sid Vicious". That makes bubblegum perfect pop music for pre-teen kids and it goes without saying that bubblegum pop, along with my father's John Denver and Glen Campbell albums, is the soundtrack of my childhood.
When I saw "Sugar Sugar - The Birth of Bubblegum Pop" in HMV recently I couldn't resist buying it. Over the course of three CDs there are 70 songs which take me back in time far more efficiently than any time machine could. The title is a bit of a misnomer however, as this set doesn't just encompass the birth of bubblegum - instead it runs from the early 60s right up to the year of punk itself, 1977.
I have found some truly wonderful examples of bubblegum pop on this album but there are other tracks which I have to question why they made the cut.
Of the true bubblegum the standout tracks include "Sugar Sugar", the appeal of which lies in how simplistic it is both lyrically and musically. The song originated on the cartoon series "The Archie Show" and the lead vocals are performed by Ron Dante who later went on to great success producing for Barry Manilow throughout the 1970s.
Much of the bubblegum music was created in the studio using top session musicians and singers so it goes without saying that Edison Lighthouse, featuring the voice of Tony Burrows, feature on here with "Love Grows (Where my Rosemary Goes). Burrows has gone down as something of a legend in the world of pop music and once appeared on "Top of the Pops" in three different acts in the same week - which allegedly got him banned from the show by the executive producer.
Burrows and Dante both have perfect male voices for singing bubblegum pop - there's a sweet tenor tone to their vocals but there's nothing even remotely threatening about their voices. Dante also features singing "Tracy" by the Cufflinks; and Burrows re-appears on "My Baby Loves Lovin'" by White Plains - both of which were studio bound creations. Both of these songs are happy, uptempo pop songs which contain hooks you will struggle to get out of your head.
The genre is also perfectly represented by "Dizzy" from Tommy Roe, "The Pushbike Song" by the Mixtures and Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye", with only the Steam track containing anything even vaguely negative in the lyrics. By and large the lyrical content of bubblegum pop focuses purely on a chaste form of love, the kind I read about in "Jackie" magazine when I was a child really.
Much of the music from the late 1960s and very early 1970s isn't stuff I recall from my childhood, originating as it did in America. My parents didn't listen to pop music much when I was a child and "Top of the Pops" didn't become a permanent must see TV show in our house until I was about 7 so I missed a lot of these songs first time round. This meant Lou Christie's "I'm Gonna Make You Mine" was new to me until I heard it on Radio 2 not too long ago, and my recollections of "Hitchin' a Ride" by Vanity Fair from childhood are very hazy. Both songs are as insidiously catchy as any true bubblegum song but Christie's is better thanks to some truly slick vocals from him.
It's worth noting at this juncture that what makes bubblegum pop stand out from much of the studio generated pop music in the charts today is the organic nature of the music. All these songs are played by a band without any help from computers and there's no sampling either. The musicianship on almost every track on this album is incredibly high as a result. Blend this in with vocals which are almost without exception incredibly strong, never mind particularly tight harmonies and you may not be quite so dismissive of the genre.
I do have to question the inclusion of some of the songs on this album however and if the compilers had stuck purely to the bubblegum genre then I suspect this would be a double CD as opposed to a triple one. The inclusion of "Waterloo" by Abba and "Crocodile Rock" by Elton John makes sense insofar as both are pretty simple little pop songs which I can say without a shadow of a doubt I loved as a child but neither performer could ever be dismissed as a bubblegum act.
Similarly I think the best representation of the Sweet doing bubblegum pop was in "Funny Funny" which doesn't feature here, replaced instead with "Little Willy" and "Coco", which are undoubtedly bubblegum but not as obviously so as "Funny Funny". Even less bubblegum is "Mony Mony" by Tommy James and the Shendells, which is delivered in true rock style, unlike their version of "I Think We're Alone Now" which is a far better bubblegum song. "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" by Paul Revere and the Raiders is equally hard rocking and I never had the band Christie down as bubblegum. The tracks "Yellow River" and "San Bernadino" are pleasant pop ditties but display a bit more complexity than your typical bubblegum songs.
Finally there are some northern soul tracks included which have mysteriously been added and while I am not really complaining about being able to listen to "Groovin With Mr Bloe" by Mr Bloe - a house band at DJM records who also played with Elton John - and "Blame it on the Pony Express" by Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon, these songs are stomping floor fillers as opposed to bubblegum pop.
The 1970s are very well represented here, with the UK glam bubblegum music so popular in the early part of the decade particularly evident. The best examples from this period are "Son of My Father" by Chicory Tip, a song which was one of the first hits to use a synthesiser so prominently and was Giorgio Moroder's first hit, "Tiger Feet" by Mud - a song that still appeals to children today, and "Sugar Baby Love" by the Rubettes. I loved the Rubettes as a child and having recently rediscovered their music have learned that rather than being yet another pretty boy group of the era, they were all very proficient session musicians themselves.
"Sugar Baby Love" is perhaps one of the best examples of bubblegum - certainly the title is a brilliant example of how something sweet is combined with matters of the heart to give what is perhaps the most perfect bubblegum song title of all. Once again the song was created in the studio and it was only after the song was turned down by other acts (including Showaddywaddy) that the studio musicians who performed on the demo version were given the opportunity to form a group and release the song.
"Sugar Baby Love" seems, with hindsight, to perhaps have represented the end of bubblegum pop and certainly there's not much post 1974 on this album, with the exception of the New Edition - a band not to be confused with Bobby Brown's old group - who feature with "Get a Little Sand Between Your Toes". This 1977 song will probably only be remembered by people of a certain age who watched "Seaside Special" every summer on the BBC.
The compilers seem to have adopted a rather random approach to things too, with no apparent rhyme nor reason to how they have decided upon the running order of this set. The songs aren't in chronological order, and American bubblegum is mixed up with British songs. There are other inclusions which I find impossible to understand, including "Penny Arcade" by Roy Orbison and while I love "Captain of Your Ship" by the wonderfully named Reparata & the Delrons it would be more at home on a compilation album featuring songs from the Shangri La's and the Chiffons.
As an introduction to some pretty classic - if at times simplistic and banal - pop music "Sugar Sugar" cannot really be beat and the set also works really well at presenting nostalgia to people - actually let's be honest here - women - of a certain age. If you like strong melodies, tight harmonies and a world where love comes easily, then this album will definitely make you smile.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Archies - Sugar Sugar
2 Edison Lighthouse - Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)
3 The Foundations - Build Me Up Buttercup
4 Marmalade - Ob
5 The Monkees - Iâ??m A Believer
6 Tommy James & The Shondells - Mony Mony
7 Steam - Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye
8 Bay City Rollers - Shang
9 The Jackson 5 - I Want You Back
10 The Osmonds - One Bad Apple
11 The Mixtures - The Pushbike Song
12 Tommy Roe - Dizzy
13 Mungo Jerry - In The Summertime
14 The Sweet - Co
15 Christie - Yellow River
16 Blue Mink - Good Morning Freedom
17 Middle Of The Road - Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum
18 Melanie Brand - New Key
19 Manfred Mann - My Name Is Jack
20 Sonny & Cher - I Got You Babe
21 Los Bravos - Black Is Black
22 Lou Christie - I'm Gonna Make You Mine
23 Vanity Fare - Hitchinâ?? A Ride
24 Clodagh Rodgers - Come Back And Shake Me
25 White Plains - My Baby Loves Lovinâ??
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Abba - Waterloo
2 Elton John - Crocodile Rock
3 The Crystals - Da Doo Ron Ron
4 The Rubettes - Sugar Baby Love
5 The Wombles - Remember Youâ??re A Womble
6 Mud - Tiger Feet
7 The Sweet - Little Willy
8 Bay City Rollers - Saturday Night
9 Kenny The Bump
10 Barry Blue - Dancinâ?? (On a Saturday Night)
11 Middle Of The Road - Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep
12 Tony Orlando & Dawn - Knock Three Times
13 The New Edition - Get A Little Sand Between Your Toes
14 Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon - Blame it on the Pony
15 Mr Bloe - Groovin' With Mr Bloe
16 Chicory Tip - Son Of My Father
17 Alvin Stardust - My Co Ca Choo
18 Christie - San Bernadino
19 Reunion - Life Is A Rock (But The Radio Rolled Me)
20 Blue Mink - The Banner Man
21 Butterscotch - Don't You Know (She Said Hello)â
22 Peter Shelley - Gee Baby
23 The Fortunes - Storm In A Teacup
24 Paper Lace - Billy, Don't Be A Hero
Disc #3 Tracklisting
1 Ohio Express - Yummy Yummy Yummy
2 1910 Fruitgum Company - Simon Says
3 The Lemon Pipers - Green Tambourine
4 Crazy Elephant - Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'
5 The Tremeloes - Even The Bad Times Are Good
6 Amen Corner - Bend Me Shape Me
7 John Fred & His Playboy Band - Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)
8 The McCoys - Hang On Sloopy
9 Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - Sherry
10 The Cuff Links - Tracy
11 Leapy Lee - Little Arrows
12 Lulu - The Boat That I Row
13 The Seekers - Georgy Girl
14 Roy Orbison - Penny Arcade
15 Reparata & The Delrons - Captain Of Your Ship
16 Keith - 98.6
17 Kasenetz - Katz Singing Orchestral Circus
18 The Music Explosion - A Little Bit O' Soul
19 The Lovinâ?? Spoonful - Do You Believe In Magic
20 Paul Revere & The Raiders - I'm Not Your Stepping Stone
21 Love Affair - Everlasting Love