“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

R.I.P. Bob Crewe, The ‘Fifth Season’

Bob Crewe

The world lost one of the true giants of the music industry when the legendary Bob Crewe passed away on September 11, 2014, at the age of 83. Although he was best known for his work with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, especially in the years since the musical Jersey Boys made its debut on the Broadway stage, Crewe had an extensive career as a singer, composer and producer spanning several decades.

Often referred to as the Fifth Season, Crewe was a true Jersey boy, born in Newark on November 12, 1930 and raised primarily in Belleville. A partnership formed in the early 1950s with Frank Slay, Jr. resulted in a record label, XYZ; and, ultimately, a national Top Ten hit with “Silhouettes” by The Rays. The song was written by the Crewe/Slay team and the record produced by Crewe. “Silhouettes” was covered by The Diamonds and later remade by Herman’s Hermits with whom the song again garnered Top Ten status, in 1965.

Crewe and Slay subsequently began working with Swan Records, where they co-wrote an infectious ditty called “La Dee Dah” (whose lyrics referenced other popular song titles of the era, a trend which seems to have been more or less in vogue at the time) for the duo Billy and Lillie; the song peaked at #9 on the charts. Additionally, the Crewe/Slay team added a couple of recordings by Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon to their list of successes, beginning with “Tallahassee Lassie” for which the pair wrote additional lyrics and revamped the arrangement. The result was yet another Top Ten hit on Crewe’s resume.

It was about this time when the Philly-based Swan Records signed a new young singer named Eddie Rambeau. “I met him [Bob Crewe] when I was working for Frank Slay in Philadelphia and Bob and Frank decided to rejoin forces,” Ed Rambeau says, referring to the merging of Crewe’s publishing company with Slay’s. Crewe became a songwriting partner of Rambeau’s as well, ultimately co-composing roughly a hundred songs by Rambeau’s estimation. One of these, “Navy Blue,” written by Crewe and Rambeau along with Bud Rehak, became a national Top Ten hit for Diane Renay in 1964. Subsequently, Rambeau adds, “I moved to New York and began working at the Bob Crewe organization along with Frank.”

Before “Navy Blue,” however, Crewe had begun the association with which he would be forever remembered, composing (with Bob Gaudio) and producing the song “Sherry” for a group called The Four Seasons. This record, which went all the way to the top of the charts in 1962, was the beginning of a collaboration which produced a number of hits for Frankie Valli and the group, among them “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” and others forever immortalized on record and in the stage play and movie Jersey Boys.

 

Frankie Valli and Bob Crewe

In 1965, Crewe founded DynoVoice records, and its first release was “Concrete and Clay” by Eddie Rambeau. Crewe had brought a demo of the song back to the States after a visit to the UK; the voices on the demo were those of the song’s composers, Tommy Moeller and Brian Parker. Crewe had Rambeau record the song for the new label; the recording was produced and arranged by Charles Calello, who would go on to replace Nick Massi in The Four Seasons later that same year. A week after Rambeau’s version of “Concrete” was released, a second version, by its songwriters and their group, Unit 4 + 2, hit the streets and the airwaves. Despite this, DynoVoice’s inaugural release managed to make it to the U.S. Top Forty. Rambeau followed this up with his second single for the label, “My Name is Mud,” which like “Navy Blue” was composed by Rambeau with Crewe and Rehak.

During the 1960s and early ’70s, before and during his tenure as lead vocalist for The Archies and The Cuff Links, Ron Dante was an A-list session singer in New York City. Dante notes: “Bob was an incredible person. Really talented and visionary about pop music. I used to do backgrounds for him in the sixties. He would call at all hours of the day and night [asking me to] bring some singers over to a studio he was working in. Sometimes the sessions would start just before midnight and we’d work until the wee hours. Bob was a great man. I was so impressed with his musical skills.”

Over the years, much has been written about Bob Crewe’s incredible career and his many successes in the music world as songwriter, producer and recording artist, which in addition to his body of work with The Four Seasons and the other recordings mentioned in the previous paragraphs also included hits like “A Lover’s Concerto” (The Toys, 1965); “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” (The Walker Brothers, 1966; originally recorded by The Four Seasons); “Music to Watch Girls By” (The Bob Crewe Generation, 1967); “Jean” and “Good Morning Starshine” (Oliver, 1969); “Lady Marmalade” (Labelle, 1974); and “Get Dancin'” (Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes, 1974). Rather than duplicating everything here, I recommend visiting Bob Crewe’s Wikipedia page, which includes a partial list of his hits over the years, and a second page on Wikipedia which lists songs written by him.

I also heartily recommend listening to the audio interview conducted by deejay Ronnie Allen a few years ago. Ronnie, who worked for Casey Kasem’s organization during a 15-year period from the early ’70s to the late ’80s as a researcher for the American Top Forty program, has for the past several years recorded interviews with a number of the music industry’s major players for the Jersey Girls Sing website

Here, word for word, is what Ronnie Allen has to say about his interview with Bob Crewe:

I first communicated with Bob in 2003 when he was my surprise live phone-in guest on a radio show that I did with Diane Renay. Five years later we did an 80-minute radio interview show for the Jersey Girls Sing website in which we focused on his amazing career. Laura asked my permission to share it with you and I said “you absolutely have it!”

If Bob had produced and written songs for the 4 Seasons and nobody else, his enduring place in pop music history would still be firmly established. But he also produced and/or wrote so many hits for other artists including the Rays, Billy and Lillie, Freddy Cannon, Diane Renay, Mitch Ryder, Lesley Gore, Oliver, Kenny Notan, LaBelle and even the outrageous Monti Rock III (AKA Disco Tex)!

In this radio show from January 2008, Bob’s stories about the artists and the hits are as fascinating and entertaining as the hits themselves. The unbelievable success of the 4-Seasons-based show Jersey Boys, the hottest ticket on Broadway and wherever else it is playing, is icing on this man’s proverbial cake; he wrote many of the hit songs from that show. And now there is additional icing as he is one of the main characters in the recently-released Jersey Boys film and of course his songs are prominently featured there as well.

Bob was an incredible talent and, just as important, a true gentleman with an engaging sense of humor.

It was truly an honor to do this show with him as a tribute to his prolific body of work.

And thanks again, Laura, for agreeing to share it with your very large number of followers.

The Bob Crewe Interview, by Ronnie Allen (January 2008):

A truly incredible career, the likes of which might be equaled but will probably never be surpassed. Bob Crewe was truly one in a million.

Sadly, Crewe was visiting his brother Dan’s home a few years ago when he suffered a fall down a flight of stairs, from which he never fully recovered. Crewe passed away at a care facility in Scarborough, Maine, on September 11, 2014. He was 83 years old.

Ron Dante, who was known as “Ronnie” during his demo- and session-singer heyday, remembers Bob Crewe with fondness—and also shares a surprising anecdote: “Personally,” Ron says, “he [Crewe] was so impressive as a human being. A true gentleman and kind taskmaster for the singers. He was the reason I changed my name from Ronnie to Ron. He did my numbers and said I would have much more success with [fewer] letters.”

As for Ed Rambeau, he has this to say about his friend and mentor:

“Bob was a really fun-loving guy and one of the most memorable things I remember about him is that when we went to see a movie, he always fell asleep in the movie theater. We usually went in a group and the person sitting next to him always had to keep nudging him awake … especially when he began snoring. However, as a talent, no one compared. He had an ear for a hit song like nobody else in the business. He was also quite a remarkable painter and that’s primarily what he was concentrating on before the accident when he fell down a flight of stairs at his brother’s house at around age 80. Since that fall, he was never the same. Although he’s gone, his music and art will live on forever. So to Bob Crewe I say, ‘It’s never goodbye, it’s just so long for awhile.'”

 

Videos and social media tributes from Jersey Boys movie cast members and others:

Bob Crewe performing “Water Boy” on the Jack Spector show, 1959:

“The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore)” — the Walker Brothers:

“Lady Marmalade” — Labelle

Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio in the movie adaptation of Jersey Boys, 2014):

Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi):

Mike Doyle (Bob Crewe):

 

Frankie Valli:

Neil Sedaka:

Jersey Boys:

 

Links:

The Bob Crewe Foundation
Bob Crewe Obituary and Guestbook on Legacy.com

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?

~~~~~~

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?.

Don Kirshner took popular music to new heights

Don Kirshner, Ron Dante and Toni Wine, 1963

Goldmine article on recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Don Kirshner.

(Excerpt)
I’ve heard all the arguments related to the inclusion of the late Don Kirshner, who received the Rock Hall’s Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2012. He wasn’t a singer. He wasn’t a musician. He was the guy who supervised the music for “The Monkees” TV show and created The Archies, for crying out loud. To those who object to his inclusion, these achievements are not considered “real” rock and roll. But to many, Don Kirshner was the man with the golden ear. He was the Don Draper of the music world, heading Aldon Music with his partner, Al Nevins, in New York’s famed Brill Building. The Aldon publishing offices employed a stable of talented songwriting teams: Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield; Carole King and Jerry Goffin; Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller; Burt Bacharach and Hal David; Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman; and Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. At the height of Aldon’s productivity, 18 writers were on the staff, which included the likes of Neil Diamond and Jack Keller. Collectively, this one-of-a-kind talent factory was the soundtrack for much of the late 1950s through the late 1960s.

Continue reading:

Don Kirshner took popular music to new heights | Goldmine Magazine.

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.