Fifty Years of Sugar!

Sugar Sugar record

In 1969, a song recorded by a fictional group reached the top of the charts in no fewer than ten (!) countries, including the U.S., the U.K., and Canada. There’s no question that “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies, with lead vocals by Ron Dante and Toni (“I’m gonna make your life so sweet”) Wine, is pleasing to the ear, with a strong bass line and catchy hook; and it would easily be understandable if the single made a respectable showing in the Top Twenty or even the Top Ten. But to sail all the way to the #1 position in not just its country of origin, but around the world? This is a phenomenon that has had musicologists scratching their heads over the years—especially those musicologists who denigrated the tune as mere fluff, pigeonholing it as “bubblegum music,” a term that was used in a negative sense; implying a lack of sophistication or substance, music for kids which could hardly be expected to be embraced by the masses.

Video: “Sugar, Sugar” (original 1969 music video)

The masses proved the critics wrong, in spectacular fashion; and the songwriters, Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, got to cry all the way to the bank as “Sugar, Sugar” climbed the charts, and its popularity spread to such diverse locations as Ireland, Norway, and South Africa. Since its release, the track has been featured in a number of TV shows, movies, and even a few commercials. Recognition of the tune has never waned. Statistically speaking, most people on the planet were probably born since “Sugar, Sugar” first hit the airwaves, yet age seems to play little part in familiarity; start singing “Sugar…” and the chances are good that someone within earshot will respond with, “ah, honey honey.”

Video: “Sugar, Sugar” performed by lead singer Ron Dante (c. 1971)

So why did “Sugar, Sugar” come to enjoy such an amazing run, and why does it continue to be so well-known today? Beauty being in the ear of the beholder, analysis might prove to be an exercise in futility, but there is a possible explanation for the first part of the question. The Sixties were a turbulent time, and by the end of the decade, young people were in full rebellion mode. Kids were tuning in, turning on, and dropping out in larger and larger numbers. Drugs (such as marijuana and LSD) were everywhere and starting to become more prevalent in the media as well, with references finding their (sometimes sneaky) way into the hit songs of the day. With apologies to Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, sex seldom waited for love and marriage any longer, and the music reflected this; lyrics had begun to rhapsodize more about the former than the latter.

Then, of course, there was the Vietnam War and the (sometimes violent) protests against America’s involvement. Anti-war songs—”For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield), “Alice’s Restaurant” (Arlo Guthrie), “Eve of Destruction” (Barry McGuire), “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” (Country Joe and the Fish), and “Fortunate Son” (Creedence Clearwater Revival), to name just a few—had begun showing up on the charts several years previously. The Broadway musical Hair, which both glorified drugs and protested the war, had opened in 1968 and was a huge success, spawning several hit songs. The Beatles recorded their final studio album, Abbey Road; the group would formally disband within the coming year. And even as “Sugar, Sugar” was climbing the charts, Woodstock happened.

As musically pointed out by Bob Dylan—the times they were a-changin’ indeed.

And perhaps this was the secret to Sugar’s success—people were already growing weary with the inundation of loud, hard, “heavy” music (shouted rather than sung); with the news reports of violence and murder; with hippies and drugs and psychedelia and the popularity of casual sex and the death of monogamy (“Make love, not war” was the mantra of the younger generation) along with the proliferation of XXX-rated movies and full nudity in legit theater; and the protests, and the assassinations, and all of the political bullshit that got folks riled up and accomplished little. People yearned for simple entertainment, a return to basics; an uncomplicated love song, with an infectious melody and poetic heart-to-heart lyrics (sung rather than shouted) and a great hook. “Sugar, Sugar” provided this.

Video: Dancers doing their thing during the Top Ten countdown on American Bandstand, with “Sugar, Sugar” in the top position

Originally released in May of ’69, “Sugar” entered the U.S. Billboard Top 40 on August 16 of that year (which was, interestingly enough, the second day of the Woodstock music and art festival, taking place in Bethel, NY) and on September 20 reached the #1 position, where it remained for four weeks. It would go on to become the #1 record on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1969. The track has scarcely been off the airwaves since. Not only has it continued to receive airplay on oldies radio stations, both terrestrial and online, it has shown up in TV shows like The Simpsons, and films such as Bee Movie and Now and Then. The song itself has been recorded by several other artists, including Wilson Pickett, whose version went to #25 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and to #4 on the Billboard R&B chart. Pickett’s recording was heard in the 1997 film The Ice Storm—and also, oddly enough, during the opening credits of the 1990 live-action made-for-television movie Archie: To Riverdale and Back Again.

Video: “Sugar, Sugar” co-composer Andy Kim performing the song, which he recorded under the name Baron Longfellow in the early 1980s

In 2017, the song came full circle, in a sense, when it was featured on the hit TV series Riverdale with a new title (“Candy Girl [Sugar Sugar]”), additional verses with new lyrics, and a rather unusual but ultimately workable new arrangement that combined a modern hip-hop vocal interpretation with music from a high-school marching band. A couple of generations removed from the original, “Sugar, Sugar” has found a new identity and a new, younger audience.

Now, a half-century later, what of the real-life folks who had a hand in making “Sugar, Sugar” the hit that it was? Where are they, and what are they doing these days?

Most of the principals are still with us (although, sadly, music supervisor and record-label owner Don Kirshner passed away in 2011). Lead singer Ron Dante lives in Los Angeles and performs at dozens of venues every year; for the past three years in a row he has appeared with the Happy Together Tour, having opened the show with his own set in 2017 and filled in for Howard Kaylan (sidelined due to medical issues) as lead singer of The Turtles in 2018 and 2019. Songwriter and producer Jeff Barry relocated to California in the early 1970s, resides in the Santa Barbara area, and has been semi-retired for a number of years. Co-composer Andy Kim divides his time between LA and Toronto and continues to perform, record and make personal appearances, mainly in his native Canada; all proceeds from his annual Christmas shows go to charitable organizations. And Toni Wine regularly performs with Tony Orlando as keyboardist and vocalist with Orlando’s backing band, the Lefty Brothers.

Below (left to right): Ron Dante, 2017; Andy Kim, 2008; Toni Wine, 2019

(Click on each photo to enlarge. All photos taken by the blog author.)

Further reading:

Andy Kim Revisits Iconic Pop Hit ‘Sugar Sugar’ on Song’s 50th Anniversary

SPILL Feature: Sugar, Sugar: A Fine Example of 1960’S Pop – A Conversation With Songwriter Andy Kim

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Fifty Years Later, Archie’s (Still) Here!

Archie ad TV Guide 9-14-68

On September 14, 1968, The Archie Show made its Saturday-morning debut on CBS-TV—and life as we know it instantly changed for the better.

This may sound like an exaggeration, but look at the facts: Without The Archie Show, there would be no Archies musical group. And without The Archies, there would be no “Sugar, Sugar.” Not to even mention the other ten singles recorded by the “fictional” group, several of which made the charts in the United States and other countries; and the six albums (five studio, one greatest-hits compilation) released during the same time period. From 1968 through 1971, when the group disbanded, The Archies enjoyed moderate-to-spectacular success on the music charts, with “Sugar, Sugar” going all the way to #1 in the US, the UK, and Canada and the followup single, “Jingle Jangle,” not only reaching the Top Ten in the States but earning the group their second #1 designation in Canada (Montreal native Andy Kim co-wrote both songs) as well as their second gold record. Not bad for a group that neither granted interviews nor made personal appearances.

But all of this was still in the future when The Archie Show had its premiere that Saturday morning fifty years ago, and the principals involved—music supervisor Don Kirshner, producer Jeff Barry, and lead singer Ron Dante on the music side, and Filmation producers Norm Prescott and Lou Scheimer and director Hal Sutherland on the animation side—probably had no way of knowing what lay ahead for either the show or the group. In fact, by the time “Sugar, Sugar” began ascending the charts, The Archie Show had changed formats and become the Archie Comedy Hour. But the original Archie Show was half this length, thirty minutes consisting of two separate storylines with a new dance and song of the week sandwiched in between. It was also the first Saturday-morning cartoon to utilize a laugh track. Voice actors for the series included Dallas McKennon, Jane Webb, John Erwin, and Howard Morris. Toni Wine provided the female vocals for The Archies (most notably on “Sugar, Sugar”) until moving on to other projects in 1970; Donna Marie subsequently got the gig and features prominently on The Archies’ fifth single, “Who’s Your Baby.”

What began as The Archie Show was on the air (in multiple formats and with several different titles) until 1978. Yet the popular animated series now celebrating its golden anniversary was actually not the first medium outside of the comics to present the Archie gang. The radio program Archie Andrews, with Bob Hastings portraying the titular redhead for most of its run, could be heard on the airwaves from 1943 to 1953. In 1964, a pilot for an eponymous live-action television show was filmed but never ordered to series. It was the advent of the animated cartoon and the music group 50 years ago that, directly or indirectly, led to an evolution that would ultimately result in one of the most popular television shows on the air today—the critically acclaimed Riverdale, starring KJ Apa as Archie, Lili Reinhart as Betty Cooper, Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, and Cole Sprouse as Jughead Jones/series narrator. Although there is no “Archies” group per se, there have been several musical performances by the characters including a cheerleading scene which pays homage to the hit that started it all, “Sugar, Sugar.”

It is certainly commendable that the characters first created in 1941 by John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana have not only endured for so many years but have managed to remain relevant in an era of computers, the Internet, cable television, DVR’s, digital music, and smartphones. Yet let us not forget that, to a large extent, the catalyst was a half-hour animated children’s program that debuted in an era of transistor radios, vinyl records, rotary phones, and TV by appointment. The 50th anniversary of the premiere of The Archie Show is definitely a milestone worth celebrating.

 

“Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies: Still sweet after 45 years

Sugar, Sugar - The Archies

It was forty-five years ago today—September 20, 1969—when The Archies‘ “Sugar, Sugar” reached #1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. This was a remarkable feat for a group that had never toured or made personal appearances, mainly because the band was, well, animated. Yet this animated band managed to not only hit the top spot on the charts but to remain there for a solid four weeks, with “Sugar, Sugar” ultimately becoming the #1 song of the year and garnering a gold record from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

“Sugar, Sugar” was actually The Archies’ third single, preceded by “Bang Shang a-Lang” and “Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.-D.O.O.).” Like the latter tune, “Sugar” was composed by producer Jeff Barry and Andy Kim; and, as with all of The Archies’ recordings*, the lead vocals were provided by session singer Ron Dante (who, incidentally, went on to have an enormously successful career as a producer himself, working with Barry Manilow and Cher among others). Ron was kind enough to provide some details of the session, which he modestly referred to as “just another Archies session at RCA Studio C in New York.”

Ron Dante:

Jeff Barry and Andy Kim were working on the Sugar, Sugar track when I arrived to do vocals. Jeff was working with the band to get just the right feel for the song. Andy [played] guitar for the band to show them just the right tempo and pocket. Jeff worked especially long on the bass part with Chuck Rainey and it turned out to be perfect. … My good friend Ron Frangipane played the keyboards.

Of course, with studio time being a precious commodity—running just a minute over could result in being charged for another session—decisions needed to be quick, and allowances had to be made for slight mishaps. Ron continues:

Andy broke his guitar pick and had to use a matchbook instead. That’s the sound of the guitar that everyone loved.

Now that the backing track was laid down, it was time for Ron to begin work on the vocals:

I remember working a little longer than usual on the lead vocal. I had in my mind Donovan’s sound and it worked. I doubled tracked my voice and did a solo one with a harmony in the middle verses.

Singer-songwriter Toni Wine (who currently tours with Tony Orlando as a member of his band) provided female vocals for The Archies for the first two years of the group’s existence. On “Sugar, Sugar,” it’s Toni who sings the line “I’m gonna make your life so sweet.” Her voice was a perfect complement to Ron’s:

Toni Wine and I then did background voices. She had this wonderful street type of sound that blended with my voice so the backgrounds really took off. Jeff did a quick mix as he sat at the board and as usual it sound[ed] like a hit.

Which, of course, it was. “Sugar, Sugar” went on to be covered by many other artists, including Wilson Pickett, Tina Turner, Bob Marley, Jonathan King (under the name Sakkarin), Gladys Knight & The Pips, Micky Dolenz** (in 2012)—and even the song’s co-composer, Canadian singer Andy Kim, who recorded it in the early 1980s under the name Baron Longfellow. The original track by The Archies has not been absent from the airwaves since its 1969 release; it’s an enduring classic that has been featured in several TV shows and films, including The Simpsons, Cake Boss, From the Earth to the Moon, Now and Then, and Bee Movie. It has also been used in commercials and even greeting cards.

That “Sugar, Sugar” enjoyed such enormous success, reaching #1 during the psychedelic era (and a bare month after the festival at Woodstock) is a testament to its awesomeness. Or, putting it another way, good music is good music. The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” had just the right ingredients: A catchy tune, great hook, solid production, wonderful musicianship by studio veterans (in addition to those mentioned by Ron above, musicians on the session included Gary Chester on drums and Dave Appell on guitar), and fantastic vocals. “Sugar, Sugar” has become part of the planet’s DNA; regardless of age, millions of people are familiar with the song and can even sing along. Billboard has listed the Archies’ recording as #73 on its All-Time Top 100 Songs.

Thanks to the collective efforts of music supervisor Don Kirshner (1934-2011), producer Jeff Barry, Ron Dante, Andy Kim, Toni Wine, and a talented group of A-list session musicians, mankind was blessed with an upbeat tune that will endure for generations. Or, putting it another way, the world is a much sweeter place because of the events on a single day in 1969 at RCA’s Studio C.

Notes:

*Ron Dante sang lead on every Archies recording except the 1971 single “Love is Living In You,” for which lead vocals were provided by songwriter Bob Levine; why this track was released as an Archies record remains a mystery to this day. [This note was edited on 11/8/14 to change the name of the singer; it was originally thought that composer Richie Adams sang lead on “Love is Living In You,” but a comment on a YouTube video by Mr. Levine cleared up the confusion!]

**Although the rumor has persisted for years that “Sugar, Sugar” was offered to The Monkees before The Archies,  its songwriters have both refuted this claim: Jeff Barry stated in an interview that he did not remember this being the case, while Andy Kim has said that the song was written specifically with The Archies in mind.

Videos:

The Archies: Official video for “Sugar, Sugar”

Ron Dante: Video from c. 1971, featuring The Archies’ lead singer performing the song in triplicate

Andy Kim: Performing “Sugar, Sugar” as Baron Longfellow in 1983

The Simpsons: Brief clip of Homer Simpson singing along with The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”

A little Halloween fun: “Sugar, Sugar” Babies

Discuss: Has Archie Comics Gone Too Far?

Life With Archie #36

The following is from another one of my blogs (Laura Pinto, Writer and Author). This post can be read in its entirety by clicking on the link below the text. I would love to hear your opinion—what do YOU think? By deciding to kill off the (adult) character of Archie Andrews, has Archie Comics gone too far?

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Most people who haven’t been hiding under a rock for the past couple of days have heard the news about Archie Comics’ plan to kill off its namesake and flagship character, Archie Andrews, in a forthcoming issue of Life With Archie: The Married Life. For those not familiar with the series, Life With Archie: The Married Life, which debuted in 2010, is a comic magazine with two discrete story arcs, both of which take place in the future when the former teenagers from Riverdale are in their twenties. In one, Archie is married to Veronica Lodge; in the other, Betty Cooper is the lucky bride. This phenomenon, which is explained away as parallel universes, had its genesis in Archie #600-605, a six-part “fantasy” storyline which began in October of 2009. (This feature was followed by an epilogue in Archie #606 in which Archie is, once again, a high-school student in the present day.) Life With Archie: The Married Life was first published in August of 2010, with a frequency of ten (10) issues per year.

Read more here:

via Laura Pinto, Writer and Author: Has Archie Comics Gone Too Far?.

Back to the 60s

Laura's Ron Dante Fan Pages

Ron Dante of The Archies

On Sunday, April 22, 2012, Ron Dante will be appearing at BB King Blues Club & Grill in NYC as part of the Back to the ’60s show. Joining Ron will be the 1910 Fruitgum Company and Joey Levine. For info and tix, please click on the link below. This is going to be a great show and fun night!

B.B. King Blues Club & Grill – BACK TO THE ’60s ft. RON DANTE of THE ARCHIES, THE 1910 FRUITGUM COMPANY & JOEY LEVINE – Apr 22, 2012.

 

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New CD Release by Ron Dante

 

Favorites CD by Ron DanteThe newest CD release by Ron Dante of The Archies is now on sale. Favorites, originally released in 2000, is now available in an enhanced version with bonus tracks, including several brand-new, never-before-released cuts. To read all about it, please visit Laura’s Ron Dante Fan Pages where you will find a link to listen to sound samples and order your very own copy.