10:54 a.m. - February 22, 2007
I inherited a lot of albums from them, and my sister and I used to listen to WLS in Chicago together (when WLS played the hot sounds), so at an early age I got a great grounding.
Oh, sure, my first single was “Incense and Peppermints” but I learned all about the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, the Beach Boys, and others at the feet of my siblings.
I played the heck out of the records that I inherited.
But I have a confession to make. One of the records I played the heck out of was…
The Best Of The Ohio Express.
Yes, that’s right. The Ohio Express – purveyors of “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” and other disposable pop nuggets. They were an infamous ‘bubblegum’ group.
And you know, bubblegum music isn’t as bad or as corny as you think it is.
Every generation has its bubblegum music. Basically, it’s music that appeals to tweens and pre-teens, mostly, and features upbeat, catchy choruses and melodies. Many times, the songs revolved around simple phrases, nursery rhymes, food and candy or all three.
I’ve been reading a great book Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth and yes, it’s mostly for bubblegum zealots who care about the Kasenetz / Katz circle of bands and such things, but it’s fascinating to read about them, and Jeff Barry, Don Kirshner (who is very much Phil Spector-esque with his weirdness now) and other purveyors of classic bubblegum.
For the most part, bubblegum bands were pre-fab bands that used studio musicians, outside writers, and the performers were basically secondary to the sound, as in, “heck, we could get a cartoon group or a bunch of chimps to make this a hit if we really wanted to”. And you know, they did, with the Archies, the Sugar Bears and Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution.
Early Jackson Five records definitely were bubblegum (“ABC), same with the Osmonds (“One Bad Apple”, “Yo-Yo”). Obviously, the Partridge Family was right there, along with Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett. Some bands tried to break out of their bubblegum phase, like Sweet. I mean, “Little Willy” was definitely bubblegum – not so much “Love Is Like Oxygen”.
The Monkees? Their first two records, for sure, before Mike Nesmith blew the lid off of the hit machine. Even after that, some of the stuff Davy Jones sung was definitely in that realm, like “Daydream Believer”.
The pre-fab boy bands, like Menudo, New Edition (“Candy Girl” is prime bubblegum!), NKOTB, going on into the Backstreet Boys and the rest of that ilk are definitely bubblegum. The same goes for Tiffany, Paula Abdul, and Debbie Gibson, all bubblegum when they started out (or finished).
Yes, I realize that Debbie Gibson wrote and recorded her own stuff, but really, she was the auteur, and she could have definitely passed along those songs to other pop-tarts and still made a mint as a teenage svengali.
Don’t forget Hanson, the Spice Girls, or Britney Spears, either.
See, no generation is immune to bubblegum. And we always like the stuff we liked as tweens and pre-teens and think the rest is hackneyed garbage. (OK, some, I dig, like “Candy Girl” and “Mmmm Bop”, but the Spice Girls? Pass. Well, except for Sporty and Scary.)
Most of the time, bubblegum music is pretty much harmless fun. I mean, what the heck does “Mmm Bop” mean, anyway. “I Think I Love You” is pretty much right down the middle with its aim, same with “ABC”.
Tommy James wrote “I Think We’re Alone Now”, which definitely not as innocent as others, seems to play right into the hearts of a tween girl to be alone with the cute boy.
(BTW – Tommy James is an underrated songwriter for this market. Now, he didn’t write “Hanky Panky”, but he did write “Sugar On Sunday” by the Clique, “Tighter, Tighter” by Alive and Kicking, and of course his great solo hits “Draggin’ The Line” and “Three Times In Love” plus “Mony Mony”. He had co-writers, of course, but back then they usually worked as teams to get the song just right.)
The groups, especially early on, were quite disposable. In fact, a lot of the British bubblegum featured the same person (Tony Burrows) singing lead. He’s on “My Baby Loves Love” by White Plains and “Love Grows” by Edison Lighthouse. When they hit, they had to ‘recruit’ a band to tour.
Joey Levine is THE voice of the Ohio Express, but the touring Ohio Express recorded a few album cuts and had to learn the hits after they were released so they could tour. Later, the band 10cc cut one of the last Ohio Express singles (“Sausalito”) which gave them an start in the UK. Ron Dante was the voice of Archie Andrews, and also the voice of the Cuff Links, who had a great hit in “Tracy” back in 1969.
The 1910 Fruitgum Company, who definitely stayed in one mode with “Simon Says”, “1-2-3 Red Light”, “Indian Giver”, “Goody Goody Gumdrops” and “May I Take A Giant Step”, had only one member stay with them, the lead singer Mark Gutkowski.
Albums? They didn’t care about albums! They didn’t care about B-sides, either. They just wanted DJs to play the single, and the kids to buy it. The royalties would roll right in, since the producers and writers got a big cut, and the groups were basically studio musicians anyway.
Needless to say, I ate that stuff up when I was a kid, and to this day, it still brings a joy to my soul. That’s why I’m looking for “Quick Joey Small” by the Kasenetz / Katz Singing Orchestra, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” by Crazy Elephant, and “You Are The One” by the Sugar Bears.
But you know, bubblegum music, especially the early songs by the Lemon Pipers, Ohio Express and the Archies had its other side as well. The music, of course, was always bright and catchy, and the intended market never got some of the allusions and entendres, but they were there.
Trust me. Those songwriters knew what they were doing.
Earlier, I expounded upon ”Sweeter Than Sugar”, a minor hit for the Ohio Express, and wondered about the words “doin’ me fine”, etc.
Well, just you wait.
Of course, we need to start with “Yummy Yummy Yummy”, because the hook is “I’ve got love in my tummy”.
Um, what would THAT be, anyway? To a kid, it sounds great. Everyone loves candy. But really…think about it.
How about “Chewy Chewy”
Always got a mouthful of such sweet things to say
Everytime you love me it's a real sugar treat
Baby a living box of candy wrapped up so very fine
Ooh I love to kiss her
Oh little Chewy
The Archies, of all bands, had a couple of songs with allusions like that. For one “Sugar Sugar” implores the girl to “pour a little sugar on it, baby.”
Then there are these words from “Bang Shang A Lang”:
I walked right up and say how do you do, do, do
Then there is “Jingle Jangle”:
So darlin' don't be weepy
Is Archie a sexual predator? I always thought Reggie was more in line for that. I mean, Reggie has to deal with the sloppy seconds from Archie anyway.
(BTW – Archie – you know better. Choose Betty, because Veronica has issues. Trust me. Just ask Midge.)
But I think the funniest ‘lyrics’ of this type are from a song by the Lemon Pipers, “Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade)”.
Take a trip on my pogo stick
That almost hit the top 40, you know.
Do you not think those songwriters knew what the heck they were doing?? How insidious! I mean, the adults thought it was just garbage anyway, the teens didn’t listen, either. And the tweens and pre-teens didn’t know any connotation about bouncing on a pogo stick except bouncing on a pogo stick.
But what is on his hand, anyway?