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.

 

Andy Kim To Be Inducted Into Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame

It's Decided

Andy Kim Announces 11th Annual Christmas Show, Is 2016 Inductee to Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame

The past couple of weeks have been busy but very exciting ones for Andy Kim. The Montreal-born singer has just wrapped up a tour of western Canada and is about to start gearing up for his next scheduled appearance, the 11th annual Andy Kim Christmas Show (December 9 at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto). On Thursday, October 29, Kim found time to sit down with Jeremy Dodge on CTV Morning Live in Saskatoon to discuss his storied career in music. In addition, Canadian Music Week has announced Andy Kim as 2016 inductee to the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame—a honor truly deserved.


Edit: 22 Nov 2015

Lineup for the 11th annual Andy Kim Christmas Show (9 Dec 2015) has been announced. Artists include:

  • Tom Cochrane
    Barenaked Ladies
    Cowboy Junkies’ Michael and Margo Timmins
    The Trews
    Ron Sexsmith
    Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning
    Honeymoon Suite
    Kardinal Offishall
    Finger Eleven
    Tom Wilson
    Tomi Swick

In addition, the event is going to be live streamed on the Internet. All proceeds from the show will be donated to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Foundation Gifts of Light.


Edit: 28 Nov 2015

The Andy Kim Christmas Show will also take place in Montreal at the Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre on 12 December 2015. Lineup will include Ron Sexsmith, Kevin Drew, Sam Roberts Band, Brendan Canning, and Amy Millan among others. Click on one of the links above for ticket info.


Kim got his start as a teenager in the famed Brill Building in New York City, meeting songwriter-producer Jeff Barry and recording a number of singles and albums for Barry’s own Steed Records label, including “How’d We Ever Get This Way,” “Shoot ‘Em Up, Baby” (which Kim recently re-recorded for his newest studio album, It’s Decided) and “So Good Together,” as well as remakes of the Ronettes hits “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You,” both Barry with Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector and the latter of which earned Kim his first gold record in 1969. That same year, the Andy Kim/Jeff Barry-composed “Sugar, Sugar” was released by The Archies and went on to reach #1 on the charts and become RIAA Record of the Year; it too went gold as did the band’s followup single, “Jingle Jangle,” also penned by the Barry/Kim team. In 1974, with Jeff Barry having dissolved Steed Records, Kim recorded the self-penned “Rock Me Gently” and released it on his own label, Ice Records. The success of the single in Canada led Capitol Records to sign him to a recording contract and release the record here in the States where it soared to the top of the charts and added another gold record to Kim’s collection.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Kim recorded under the name Baron Longfellow (a moniker bestowed upon him by his manager at the time, the late Gordon Mills) before reverting back to Andy Kim in the new millennium. In 2010, Kim’s first studio album in 20 years, Happen Again, was released; earlier this year, 2015, Kim released It’s Decided, produced by Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and released on Drew’s Arts & Crafts label. A short documentary of the same name was filmed in Manhattan during Kim and Drew’s sojourn to the city last March to perform one of the album’s cuts, “Sister OK,” on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Click to read the announcement from Canadian Music Week

Read more about the 2016 Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame induction.

Andy Kim – It’s Decided (Short Documentary):

“Rock Me Gently” (live) – Andy Kim, 1974

“Sugar, Sugar” (live) – Baron Longfellow (aka Andy Kim), 1983

“Shoot ‘Em Up Baby” – Andy Kim (2015 version)

It’s Decided: Andy Kim Releases New Album

Andy Kim

Montreal native Andy Kim, who shot to fame in the late 1960s-early 70s with tunes such as “Baby, I Love You” (singer), “Sugar, Sugar” (composer), and “Rock Me Gently” (both), has just finalized work on his newest album. Written and produced with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, It’s Decided is scheduled to hit the streets in February 2015.

While just a teenager, Kim joined forces with legendary Brill Building songwriter and producer Jeff Barry. Signed to Barry’s label, Steed Records, Kim was a steady presence on the charts for several years, beginning in 1968 with his first Steed single, “How’d We Ever Get This Way.” More hits followed—remakes of The Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You” (which earned Kim his first gold record) and “Be My Baby,” and originals such as “So Good Together,” “Rainbow Ride,” and “Shoot ‘Em Up, Baby.” The latter has been re-recorded for Kim’s newest album, with a fantastic new arrangement; you can listen to this glorious new version by accessing the player below.

During his years with Barry, Kim collaborated with his producer and mentor on several tunes to be recorded not just by Kim but by other artists as well. One of these, “Sugar, Sugar,” by The Archies (studio singers Ron Dante and Toni Wine), sailed to the top of the charts, earning a gold record and becoming the RIAA Record of the Year for 1969. The band’s follow-up single, “Jingle Jangle,” also composed by the Barry/Kim team, didn’t do too badly either, hitting the Top Ten and garnering a second gold disc for the group. In 1974, Kim earned a second gold disc as a recording artist with the self-penned classic “Rock Me Gently.” After the success of this single and an eponymous LP released on Capitol Records, Kim laid low for a few years before re-emerging in 1980 under the name Baron Longfellow; “Amour,” his first single under his new moniker, enjoyed chart success in his native Canada.

Having returned to using the name Andy Kim in the 1990s, the singer teamed up with Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson for the single “I Forgot to Mention” in 2004. Kim’s first album in 20 years, Happen Again, was released in 2010. Now, in conjunction with Kevin Drew and Arts & Crafts Productions, Kim is presenting his newest collection of contemporary music—which, if the track samples are any indication (and they are), promises to appeal to old and new fans alike. The beauty of Kim’s voice remains unchanged; time has not altered its clarity, strength, or captivating nuances. It’s Decided is available on Amazon.com as an MP3 album (release date 24 February 2015); preorder now and enjoy an immediate download of “Shoot ‘Em Up, Baby.”

See also: Andy Kim artist page on Oldies Connection

Edit (26 January 2015): “Longest Time” by Andy Kim, from the forthcoming album It’s Decided

“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

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.

Andy Kim is Happening Again (CD review)

Andy Kim - Happen Again

Imagine, just for a moment, that you are Andy Kim.
 
Make believe that you are a singer/songwriter who left your native Montreal as a teenager in the mid-60s, traveling to New York City where you met your musical idol, Jeff Barry; teamed up with him to record several Top 40 hits (“How’d We Ever Get This Way,” “Baby, I Love You,” “Be My Baby”) for his record label and to write a song that would sell in the millions, and become Record of the Year for 1969 (“Sugar, Sugar”); and composed, produced, recorded and released what would become your signature song and an international hit in 1974 (“Rock Me Gently”).  Pretend that your songs and recordings endure to this day, continually being discovered by new generations of fans.  And imagine that there’s probably not an hour that goes by when at least one of your songs isn’t playing somewhere in the world.
 
Now – if you were Andy Kim, what would you do to top all that?
 
Here’s a little secret …

(To finish reading my review of singer-songwriter Andy Kim’s new CD, Happen Again, please click on the link to visit my Andy Kim Fan Page.)