Gummer songs still sing many years later
By Jennifer Harper
October 2, 2005
They call it the right to chews.They are the poparazzi, the gummers, and they speak of something called the gum effect.
As in bubble gum, the music.
It is still stuck to America, possibly more popular than it was around 1969 when "Sugar, Sugar," "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" and "Chewy, Chewy" gummed up the works for all the sacred rockers like the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
The nation never quite got over the Archies, Ohio Express, Tommy Roe, the 1910 Fruitgum Company, Andy Kim and other artistes who sang of adorable romance in multiple flavors.
The Archies are playing Vegas. Both Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruitgum Company are reunited and touring.
It's International Bubblegum Music Month, and the Bubblegum Achievement Awards will be presented Friday in Los Angeles, underwritten by -- Who else? -- but Topps, makers of Bazooka Bubble Gum.
There's a bubble-gum movie, an orchestral arrangement, a podcast and several jillion Internet sites.
There's a swell but somewhat hair-raising album of bubble-gum cover songs recorded by headbangers and other assorted performers in the name of, uh, art -- not to mention serious bubble-gum compilations, including one from Time-Life.
To date, 14 books have explored bubble-gum music as phenomenon, and yes, the academes have descended, one august source noting: "The defining characteristics of bubblegum pop music include catchy or hummable melodies, simplistic three-chord structure and repetitive 'riffs' or hooks."
The genre has its roots, the source posited, in "pre-rock novelty songs such as 'Abba Dabba Honeymoon' and 'The Hut-Sut Song.'?"
Yes, of course. "The Hut-Sut Song."
Invariably, historians gallop on, citing bubble-gum influence upon everyone from Gene Simmons to Britney Spears.
But Ron Dante knows best.
He was -- and is -- the lead singer of the Archies, whose "Sugar, Sugar" was the nation's No. 1 song 36 years ago, triumphing over such industrial-strength rock classics as the Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman."
The tune, and Mr. Dante's distinctive voice, have since surfaced in countless commercial jingles, movies and TV shows over the years. And surely proof positive of its spot in the cultural pantheon, "Sugar, Sugar" also can be had as a ring tone for cellular phones.
Bubble gum is handy on a resume. Mr. Dante himself became producer for Barry Manilow, Cher, Ray Charles, John Denver and others; he has won two Tony Awards, and -- curiously enough -- was publisher of the rooty-tooty Paris Review for two years. Oh, yes, he was also the lead singer back in the day for the Cuff Links, of "Tracy" fame.
The inimitable Mr. Dante is a gracious fellow, a kindly and learned fellow -- but still game to stand before a packed, screaming, frantic Las Vegas audience singing:
Ah, sugar. Ah, honey, honey. You are my candy girl ...
(Author's note: Now is the time for all therapists, past-life counselors and motivational speakers to take notes or turn on their recording devices.)
Why does all this still -- and now we employ a word that even readers of the Nation will be comfortable with -- resonate with America?
Mr. Dante may have been knee-deep in a literary publication for a while, but he is also a recipient at this year's Bubblegum Achievement Awards, along with novelty tune maven Dr. Demento and Joey Levine of the Ohio Express.
So. Why do so many crave a sugar fix? Easy. On a planet cluttered with annoying media caterwaul and sundry strife, we still need this kind of music.
"I guess there is something about the positive type of songs we did then, and the sound of the tracks that people just loved and continue to hold on to," Mr. Dante said recently from Los Angeles.
"The songs were sweet and innocent and talked about love and fun things," he continued. "There must be something in bubble-gum music that brings out a smile and a good memory. I know it does for me."
Mr. Dante has a new CD coming out shortly, and he continues to tour. He is currently working with a California orchestra on monumental arrangements of "Sugar, Sugar" and "Tracy." Both tunes made the Top 5 at the same time in 1969, with Mr. Dante discreetly singing lead in both of them.
"Yes, there are a lot of 35-year-old women named 'Tracy' out there because of that song," he mused, adding that a martini-lounge swing version or perhaps a nice string quartet version of his hits would not be out of the question.
"Never say never," Mr. Dante added.
Jennifer Harper covers media, modern life, politics and assorted bombast for The Washington Times' National Desk. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202/636-3085.