Sixties Music and Records          

Bubblegum Music

by David Galassie

Bubblegum music as a subset of pop came to light in the mid to late 1960s. Spawned by the infectious, bouncy melodies of pop precursors like The Lovin' Spoonful, Tommy Roe, and Paul Revere and the Raiders, the genre came into its own with the biggest bubblegum groups of all - The Ohio Express and The 1910 Fruitgum Company. 

Two Long Island record producers, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz (K&K) worked for Neil Bogart's record label, Buddah Records

The legend goes that they chewed bubblegum all the time and, while recording some songs they felt would be perfect for the teen and pre-teen set, supposedly one turned to the other one day and said, "This is like bubblegum music." 

The connection made a lot of sense and Neil Bogart jumped on this new label. Soon, "bubblegum" became shorthand for the sweet, up-tempo numbers K&K were targeting, rife with nursery rhymes and other childlike associations. 

However, one unfortunate association with that term was that music eventually became synonymous with manufactured groups. Despite the negativity of this idea, popular music had a long history of using session singers and made-up bands to market songs. 

Novelty hits especially were often marketed that way and groups like Alvin and the Chipmunks, for example, were simply exercises in studio editing, using the new convention of audio tape to speed up the vocals. In many cases, getting the songs recorded were all that mattered; presenting them would be a problem to be dealt with later. 

As bubblegum music became more and more accepted by the younger kids, it became a staple of Saturday morning television. Remember The Banana Splits? A pseudo-musical group, they were a bunch of actors in fuzzy costumes who mimed to pre-recorded vocals. 

At the height of their popularity, four or five different Banana Split troupes were out on tour, canvassing the country with no audience the wiser. And it was only a matter of time before cartoons did the same thing. The Archies, who had undoubtedly the biggest bubblegum hit of all with "Sugar, Sugar," were brought to you courtesy of Don Kirshner, former music supervisor for The Monkees. 

Vocals were handled by Ron Dante (who later sang lead for The Cuff-Links' "Tracy", another session group), Toni Wine, and Andy Kim, who enjoyed some teen-age heartthrob years himself, a là Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy. But before we get too far, let's go back to the beginning.

The 1910 Fruitgum Company, originally known as Jeckell and the Hydes, signed with Buddah Records as a rock band along the lives of Vanilla Fudge in 1967. K&K gave them a song called "Simon Says" which the group, at that time, was able to make their own by arranging it in the style of "Wooly Bully." Later, they'd have a lot less freedom. 

In early 1968, it became a huge hit and the band found itself making the rounds of American Bandstand and other dance shows and even toured for a time with the Beach Boys

Hot on the heels of "Simon Says" was their second hit, "1-2-3 Red Light." But soon afterwards, some band members became uneasy with the whole bubblegum, pre-teen orientation the band was expected to embody and left the group. Of course, K&K had no trouble finding replacements and other hits followed- "Goody Goody Gumdrops," "Indian Giver," and "Special Delivery." 

Shortly after the 1910 Fruitgum Company signed, K&K scored another coup with the addition of The Ohio Express. Originally known as Sir Timothy and the Royals, the band was a major regional favorite around their home base of Mansfield, Ohio. 

Changing their name to Rare Breed, this garage band charted a hit called "Beg, Borrow, and Steal," in 1966 on Cameo Records. The next year, after Cameo went bankrupt, they signed with Buddah and K&K 's influence permeated the group. Joey Levine, a singer/songwriter employed at Buddah and with "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" in his pocket, was thrust upon the group and became its lead singer. 

The song made it to number 5 in 1968. Other hits followed- "Sausalito," "Down at Lulu's," and another big-seller, "Chewy, Chewy." All were sung by Joey Levine. By the time he relinquished control to the original lead singer in 1969, bubblegum was on the wane. And by 1971-72, the groups had disbanded and bubblegum, as a distinct genre was no more. 

K&K moved into the '70s by signing nostalgic act, Sha-Na-Na, Melanie (Lay Down {Candles in the Rain}), The Five Stairsteps (Ooh Child), Christie (Yellow River), and Brewer & Shipley (One Toke Over the Line). 

By the end of the decade, with the rise of disco, The Trammps (Disco Inferno), Andrea True (More, More, More), and The Addrisi Brothers (Slow Dancin' Don't Turn Me On) were its main focus. In time, Buddah Records spawned Casablanca Records, a big label during disco's influx and eventually both were sold to the big conglomerate, BMG. 

Bubblegum didn't die with the end of the 1960s; instead, it lived on at various times with the Partridge Family and the Brady Bunch in the early '70s and later with the DeFranco Family and the Bay City Rollers. 

Even Joey Levine made a comeback of sorts when he fronted the studio group, Reunion (Life Is a Rock, but the Radio Rolled Me) in 1974. In the 1980s, there was Rick Springfield, Debbie Gibson, and Tiffany

Some will even argue that the pre-fab groups we've seen lately in the '90s and '00s- The Spice Girls and boy bands (N' Sync, Backstreet Boys)- were a form of bubblegum too. 

Regardless of its end, bubblegum music with its bouncy melodies, nursery rhyme lyrics, and playground-oriented themes helped define the era. It was a fun and harmless period in America's musical history for many of the kids of the '60s. 

For some of the bands, on the other hand, who caught themselves riding a runaway success train that compromised their musical roots...well, that story might be better left told by them. But from this vantage point, it had to have been quite a bumpy ride.

About the author: David Galassie is a human resources specialist in Columbia, South Carolina. In his free time, he pursues popular culture- comic books, animation art, movies, and music. A frequent contributor to Rewind the Fifties, he chronicles the more notable acts of the 1960s as well as many obscure bands and one hit wonders. 

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