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

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.

 

Aretha Franklin has died at 76

Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, died Thursday at her Detroit home, the Associated Press reports, surrounded by family and friends. She had been battling various undisclosed illnesses for years, and, in recent weeks, was receiving hospice care. Franklin was 76.

Read more: Aretha Franklin, iconic Queen of Soul, has died at 76

Videos:

Aretha Franklin performing the Otis Redding classic “Respect” (1967):

During the tribute to singer/songwriter Carole King at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors, Ms. Franklin brought down the house with her live performance of King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (composed in 1967 with King’s then-husband Gerry Goffin and Atlantic Records veep Jerry Wexler). Watch King’s surprised reaction as Franklin begins playing the piano; and notice how President Barack Obama is moved to tears just a few bars into the song.

Celebrity tributes to the Queen of Soul:

“Sometimes all you need is to hear the voice of Aretha Franklin to know there is a God.” ~ Andy Kim

“[Aretha Franklin] was one of those people who opened her mouth and out came brilliance.” ~ James Taylor

Aretha Louise Franklin
March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018

Gone, but never to be forgotten. R.I.P.

 

Michael Nesmith Rushed to Hospital, Monkees Tour Canceled

Michael Nesmith, the guitarist for The Monkees, was rushed to the hospital before he took the stage in Pennsylvania Thursday afternoon.

Sources told TMZ Nesmith collapsed during a soundcheck at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pennsylvania. The 75-year-old was conscious, but was rushed to the hospital.

Read more: The Monkees Guitarist Michael Nesmith Rushed to Hospital, Tour Canceled

UPDATE (23 June 2018)—Michael Nesmith did not collapse at a soundcheck as previously reported by the website TMZ. See links below for the latest reports.

Further reading:

The Monkees Cancel Remaining Tour Dates Due to Michael Nesmith Illness (Billboard)

The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith Suffers ‘Minor Health Issue’ Forcing the Iconic Band to Cancel Its Last 4 Tour Dates (People)

Happy Together Tour 2018

Happy Together 2018

For many folks who love the great music of the 1960s, the Happy Together Tour has been a welcomed and gleefully anticipated annual concert event since 2010. Originally begun in 1984, the 2018 Happy Together Tour launches on June 7 in Jacksonville, Florida; and, as always, will feature The Turtles as headliners, along with other hitmakers from the ’60s-early ’70s era. This year, however, there’s a Turtle twist: Instead of Flo and Eddie, concertgoers will be treated to Flo and Ronnie! As The Turtles announced in January, Howard Kaylan (“Eddie”) is sitting out the tour this year due to a medical issue, and Ron Dante, best known as lead singer for The Archies, will be filling his spot on stage alongside Mark Volman.

“It’s a great honor to be asked by Mark and Howard to fill in this summer,” Ron shares. “I’m really looking forward to this tour especially as I get to sing all those classic Turtles songs. Can’t wait for the opening song to begin playing … I’ll be singing the Turtles songs true to the original records.”

In addition to The Turtles, this year’s lineup is as follows:

Chuck Negron formerly of Three Dog Night
Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
The Association
Mark Lindsay, former Lead Singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders
The Cowsills

This year’s Happy Together Tour encompasses some four dozen dates. Below is a list of the first stops on the tour:

June 7 – Jacksonville, FL, Florida Theatre
June 8 – Biloxi, MI, IP Casino Resort & Spa
June 9 – Montgomery, AL, Montgomery Performing Arts Center
June 10 – Clearwater, FL, Ruth Eckerd Hall
June 13 – Greensburg, PA, Palace Theatre
June 14 – Tarrytown, NY, Tarrytown Music Hall
June 15 – New Brunswick, NJ, State Theatre
June 16 – Lynn, MA, Lynn Auditorium
June 17 – Northampton, MA, Calvin Theatre
June 19 – Englewood, NJ, Bergen Performing Arts Center

The complete itinerary is included in the article below (or you can check out the artists’ websites).

The Turtles’ Howard Kaylan sitting out 2018 Happy Together Tour; trek’s full lineup and itinerary revealed

Also see:

Mark Volman excited about upcoming ‘Happy Together’ tour with The Turtles, but without Flo & Eddie

 

Brian Wilson to Have Back Surgery, Postpone May Concerts

Sending healing thoughts and good vibrations to Brian Wilson, who is preparing to go under the knife to relieve ongoing back pain. Unfortunately, the forthcoming surgery means that Brian has to postpone his concerts for the month of May.

Let’s all keep Brian in our thoughts and prayers, and remain optimistic that he is back on stage very soon!

Interview with Eddie Brigati of The Rascals – StageBuddy.com

From StageBuddy.com:

We spoke to legendary musician Eddie Brigati, of The Rascals, about what his rock songs mean now he’s in a “balladeer” era, his thoughts on the music industry and his shows at The Cutting Room where he performs beloved songs from his catalogue and Broadway showtunes.

Read here: Interview with Eddie Brigati of The Rascals – StageBuddy.com