Monday, January 30, 2012

It's a Family Affair

Bubblegum Pop: Part 4
For our final post of this month's Bubblegum Pop Series, we're featuring groups that were made up of family members. While this blog may be "The '60s Beat," we will be venturing into a bit of the '70s with these next groups since the peak of bubblegum definitely carried over into that decade.
Previously featured during Motown Week, The Jackson 5 consisted of five brothers who became one of the biggest pop-music acts of the 1970s, and were one of the very few in recording history to have their first four major label singles reach #1 on the Billboard chart. These early singles mixed the traditional "Motown Sound" with lyrics that appealed to teenagers, thus dubbed "bubblegum soul." Although the Jacksons' could play their own instruments, they were not allowed to play on their recordings and, like many bubblegum groups, studio musicians were used (which obviously led frustration later in their career). After "Jacksonmania" swept America, the group also became a franchise (another aspect of bubblegum), in which Motown sold Jackson 5-related memorabilia, and even authorized a Saturday morning cartoon called The Jackson 5ive. Recorded in late 1969, "ABC" was first heard on American Bandstand in February of 1970, going on to score #1 on the Billboard chart while knocking The Beatles' "Let It Be" out of that position.

From 1968 to 1972, another extremely popular family act was The Cowsills, a singing group including five brothers, their younger sister, and their mother. Known for their tight harmonies and the ability to sing and play instruments at a young age, The Cowsills had excellent pitch accuracy, creating that unique sound common among sibling singing groups (like The Beach Boys and of course, The Jackson 5). Scoring more than a couple million-selling singles, this family was featured on several TV shows and were one of the most favorite groups on the American concert circuit with hundreds of performances during their peak. In 1969, they were approached by Screen Gems to star as themselves on a TV sitcom, but when they were told that their mother would be replaced by actress Shirley Jones, the deal was off. However, I think you know what that show became instead (see next group). Here's a rare YouTube video of The Cowsills performing the very bubbly "What Is Happy," the B-side of their hit "Hair" (unfortunately, the sound is poor quality and out of sync).

So when The Cowsills were a no-go for the tube, Screen Gems went on to hire Shirley Jones' real-life step-son, David Cassidy, to join her and the cast of the TV show that became The Partridge Family. Airing in the fall of '70, this family sitcom was about a widowed mother and her five children who set out on a musical career. During its four-season run, the show was promoted by the eight albums released by the family, however, none of the cast members actually played on the recordings and those good 'ol studio musicians known as the "Wrecking Crew" were used. Cassidy was originally supposed to lip sync with the rest of the cast, however, after proving to the music producer that he really could sing, he joined the studio ensemble as lead singer, with Jones singing background vocals. In addition to an animated spin-off, the show's merchandise took off and Cassidy became a teen idol, successfully touring as a solo act. Released as their first single at the same time as the show's debut, "I Think I Love You" hit #1 in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, selling over 5 millions copies, and made the group the third fictional band to have a #1 hit (after The Chipmunks and The Archies). Radio DJs had difficulty "hitting the post" with this song (the art of talking up to the point when the lyrics begin) because of the unusual, vocal "ba-bah-bah" line in the intro.

We'll conclude this post with our final, family music group, The Osmonds, whose long and varied career went from singing barbershop quartets as young children in the late 1950s to becoming teen-music idols in the '70s, eventually selling over 102 million records. From Ogden, Utah, the group initially started out with four talented brothers who became regular performers on the Adam Williams' Show from 1962 through 1969, with younger brother Donny joining them in the mid-'60s. Because of their tireless rehearsing and professionalism, they were nicknamed the "one-take Osmonds." Wanting to shed their variety-show image, the five brothers decided to become a performing pop band around 1970, and with their clean-cut look, talent (they played all their own instruments), and energetic pop sound, they had successful US tours, and even a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon series. With a similar "bubblegum soul" sound like The Jackson 5, The Osmonds' first single, "One Bad Apple," reached #1 in early 1971, staying there for five weeks, and even hit #6 on the R&B chart. Originally written for The Jackson's (who chose to record "ABC" instead), this tune features Merrill on lead vocals with little Donny as "co-lead," singing the chorus.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I Think We're Alone Now

Bubblegum Pop: Part 3
While the music of Tommy James & the Shondells spans a wide variety from garage rock to psychedelic rock, some of their tunes have been retrospectively labeled as an early form of the bubblegum sound. Released in 1967, "I Think We're Alone Now" was one of Tommy James' most successful recordings, reaching #4 on the US charts during a 12-week stay, and was later named "the bubblegum apotheosis" by some rock critics. Like several of James' records, this was a picture-perfect production masterpiece and a great pop tune with a heart-beat bass line (basically a template for bubblegum pop). Apparently because the bass player that didn't show up to the recording session, James improvised that bass line on guitar himself. This classic, good-timing tune has been covered several times by other artists (a staple for my dad's garage band in the '60s!), including a #1 hit version by Tiffany in the '80s.

The prolific songwriting duo of Boyce & Hart had a talent for writing upbeat, hit songs (later called "sunshine pop") that made for the perfect segue into bubblegum pop. After working for Screen Gems and creating the sound of The Monkees, Tommy and Bobby set out together on their own recording adventure, producing three albums with Top-40 hits including "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight" (previously featured here), "Out And About," and "Alice Long (You're Still My Favorite Girlfriend)." Written, produced, and performed by the duo, "Alice Long" reached #16 on the Cash Box chart and #27 on the Billboard chart in 1968. In this Monkees-like musical romp, these guys look like they're having a great time in this promo video they filmed featuring "Alice Long."

Speaking of The Monkees, there is actually some debate online as to whether they were really a bubblegum group (one such hilarious debate here). Yes, these guys were initially a prefabricated band, manufactured to sell records of hit songwriters (the perfect prototype for bubblegum pop), just like the studio-assembled music by Super K Productions from a few posts ago. Before the group staged a coup and took control over their own musical output (this altering their sound), they definitely had some hook-filled pop tunes with that touch of bubblegum, particularly tunes with Davy Jones' vocals. Amongst a very extensive catalog including power pop, psychedelic rock, country rock, garage rock, and even Broadway rock, this Neil Diamond-penned number, "A little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," was actually released against The Monkees' wishes (they had planned on releasing "All of Your Toys" here, the now legendary single-that-never-was), yet it did manage to reach #1 on the Cash Box chart and #2 on the Billboard chart in March of '67. In this musical sequence from their TV show, The Monkees are apparently trying to sabotage the movie career of a pompous singer, played by Bobby Sherman (before he hit teen idol status the following year)!

So next up, of course it's American singer and actor Bobby Sherman, who's not pompous at all but among the most kind-hearted and charitable of stars. Being the first performer to star in three different TV series before the age of 30, Sherman began his entertainment career as a regular cast member/house singer for ABC's Shindig! in the mid-'60s (which I'm thoroughly impressed with his cover performance of The Zombies' "She's Not There," featured on the show here), but he didn't become a breakout star and teenage heart-throb until 1968 when he starred in Here Come the Brides. Besides a successful recording career that earned him seven gold singles, one platinum single, and five gold albums, he found another calling in life in the mid-'70s, becoming a certified EMT (emergency medical technician), and since the '90s, he has served as a medical training officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, instructing thousands of police officers in first aid and CPR (what a guy!). Here's a performance of Sherman's first million-selling single, "Little Woman," which peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts in 1969.

Well, since our final Bubblegum post scheduled for next week is only featuring family groups, I better toss one last group to complete this post. Another studio concoction created by Super K Productions, Crazy Elephant was a short-lived American bubblegum pop band in the late-'60s. Known as a transatlantic one-hit wonder, their 1969 single "Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'" made it to #12 on both the US and UK charts, however, their follow-up singles failed to chart. Allegedly, Cash Box magazine promoted the band as being a group of Welsh coal miners (huh?). Like other Super K-created bands, a touring group was later formed for promotional purposes. With random but fitting footage of the Hullabaloo house dancers, here's an audiophile showing off his original 45 of this fun, bubblegum standard.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Farewell

Today, the music world lost another beauty, the legendary voice of American singer Etta James. Beginning her career in the mid-1950s, her musical style evolved over the decades, covering many genres including blues, R&B, rock and roll, soul, gospel, and jazz. Influential in bridging the gap between rhythm and blues and rock and roll, she earned six Grammy Awards and 17 Blues Music Awards, and is ranked #22 of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. In early 1961, James' soul/blues single "At Last" reached #2 on the R&B, even crossing over into the pop charts, hitting #47, and has since become her signature song. James was suffering from leukemia and passed away at Riverside Community Hospital in California, just five days away from her 74th birthday. Farewell to another great one.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Manufactured Sound

Bubblegum: Part 2

One of the most convenient ways to promote the manufactured sound of bubblegum music was through Saturday morning TV shows and cartoons. Produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1968, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was a TV program that featured both live action and animated segments, hosted by a bubblegum rock group of comedic animals characters. The show's songs were provided by studio professionals, and released an album titled We're the Banana Splits in '68 with the show's theme actually breaking into the Billboard chart. Goofy animals aside, this song ("Wait Till Tomorrow") isn't half-bad with its harpsichord intro, but even more interesting is this great footage of late-'60s San Francisco!

Remember the British pop music group The Flower Pot Men from our Flower Power Series last summer? In 1969, with studio vocalist Tony Burrows (you know, that guy who also sang "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" with Edison Lighthouse), The Flower Pot Men evolved into another studio creation called White Plains. The group released several hits songs including their top-selling single "My Baby Loves Lovin'," which was record in October of 1969 and reached #13 on the US charts in early 1970. In this performance on Top of the Pops, the song's co-writer, Roger Greenaway, is lip-syncing the lead vocals, while original lead singer Burrows was also featured in this same episode, singing lead with Edison Lighthouse and Brotherhood of Man (another umbrella title for the frequently-changing line-up of session singers).

Next up, we have another studio pop group, The Cuff Links, who had a #9 hit with "Tracy" in the fall of 1969. This song's rich harmonized vocals were provided entirely by Ron Dante, another session vocalist who had just recorded lead vocals for The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" a few months prior. Dante recorded all the vocal parts for "Tracy" in a matter of hours, and promised the song's writers, Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, that he would record an entire Cuff Links album if the song was a hit. Sure enough, this tune spent 12 weeks in the U.S chart, earning a gold disc after selling over one million records, and Dante recorded The Cuff Links' first album (the lead and background vocals) in about a day and half. A seven-member touring band was assembled (without Dante) and were likely lip-syncing over Dante's original vocals in this performance.
And speaking of Ron Dante and the fictional band The Archies, we all know that "Sugar Sugar" (featured here) was one of the biggest hits of the bubblegum pop genre. Created by Monkees' producer Don Kirshner in 1968, The Archie Show was a Saturday morning cartoon series featuring a teenage garage band; definitely another great vehicle for the production of bubblegum songs. One distribution mode for The Archies' music was actually cereal boxes, in which an embossed cardboard record in the back of the box could be cut out and played on a turntable (like on this Post brand cereal box). Before "Sugar Sugar," their first single, "Bang-Shang-A-Lang," reached #22 in 1968, and is featured in this episode below along with the "Dance of the Week" (conveniently called The Bubblegum). Ron Dante is pictured above with singer Donna Marie who recorded the female vocal parts for the animated group.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bubblegum Pop

Bubblegum: Part 1
Appealing to pre-teens and teenagers, Bubblegum Pop was basically a studio creation of anti-hippie music in 1960s featuring short, catchy, and upbeat jingles. While (some critics say) bubblegum influenced the punk rock genre of the late '70s and is still a label for pop artists today, the classic era of bubblegum peaked from 1967 through 1972. Sharing the same overriding simplicity with garage rock acts of the time, the genre was mostly a 'singles' phenomenon, created on the assumption that teenagers were more likely to afford singles rather than a whole album. If you think you know bubblegum and would rather check out for the next month, please stick around; it may become a secret guilty pleasure.

American pop music singer-songwriter Tommy Roe possibly had the most bubblegum hits during that era. After gaining international fame with the #1 hit "Sheila" in 1962 (his first single), Roe continued to release several Top-10 hits throughout the decade. In 1969, earned his third gold disc award with his transatlantic chart-topper "Dizzy," which reached #1 in the US, UK, and Canada. Released that February, this worldwide hit sold over two million copies by mid-April. Written by Roe with Freddy Weller, "Dizzy" is known for its multiple key changes (eleven total!), giving it a dizzying effect (well, at least, for the musicians playing it). A featured performance on a short-lived TV series called The Music Scene, here's some groovy, bubblegum goodness.

Mainly active from 1967 through 1970, Ohio Express was a manufactured, musical recording unit created by Super K Productions and its head producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz (who coined the term 'bubblegum music'). Using several different musicians and acts to release their music (as well as a separate touring group), their best known songs were recorded by studio musicians out of New York. In 1968, this musical "concoction" finally had a breakthrough with the international hit "Yummy Yummy Yummy," reaching #4 in the US, #5 in the UK, #7 in Australia, and #1 in Canada. Two months after its release, it sold over one million copies and was granted a gold disc in June of 1968. However, in later years, the song has become more of a cheesy staple, listed as #8 of the top 10 songs with silly lyrics (in Time Magazine, 2011).

Originating in New Jersey in 1965, Jeckell & the Hydes joined the Super K Production team in '67 and were renamed 1910 Fruitgum Company (apparently guitarist Frank Jeckell came up with the name after finding a candy wrapper in his attic). After their first successful single of "Simon Says," they went on to have a string of bubblegum hits including "1, 2, 3, Red Light" in 1968. Charting the highest in Canada hitting #1, it also reaching #5 in the US, #3 in New Zealand, and #7 in Australia, earning a gold disc in September. The group also toured in the late '60s, opening for major bands like The Beach Boys. The group disbanded by 1969, but their signature bubblegum sound continues to bring back memories for those youngsters of the era.

The first song to be credited as a bubblegum chart-topper was actually by a psychedelic pop band from Ohio, The Lemon Pipers. Joining Buddah Records (the same label as Ohio Express and 1910 Fruitgum Company) in 1967, this rock group changed their sound in order to keep their job with the label, thus releasing "Green Tambourine" at the end of that year and hitting #1 in the US by February 1968. With the worldwide success of this psychedelic bubblegum song (already featured way back during Psychedelic Week), the band felt pressured to by the label stay in the bubblegum genre, dubbing their songs "funny-money music." From their second album in 1968, they released another psychedelic bubblegum single "Jelly Jungle (Of Orange Marmalade)," which only managed #51 on the charts, although it used similar studio effects like "Green Tambourine," including the tape echo (audio delay) applied to the end of the word "marmalade." It's actually pretty cool stuff, but unfortunately, the band left the record label in 1969 and later dissolved. Here's a clip of a promo video featuring the fascinating "Jelly Jungle."

Check back next week for more unwrapping of classic Bubblegum Pop!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hello World

Happy New Year!!
We're starting bright and early (12:01am PST) with a post of "Hello" songs to greet 2012!
First introduced here during the British Invasion Series, The Tremeloes are the other "beat" band from Liverpool, who were heavily influenced by Buddy Holly & TheCrickets. Like The Beatles, each member of the group was a strong singer, and they combined rock and roll with several other styles of music. Having a successful career in their native UK with nine Top-20 hits, their songs were more popular among young music fans and their parents rather than rock music fans. Released in 1969, "Hello World" is a fun one that reached #14 on the UK charts, featured in this live performance from 1970 (including "My Little Lady" and "Here Comes My Baby").
So I just recently discovered this San Francisco group (thanks again, Uncle Bill!), and I can't believe I'd been missing out on this delightful music. Sopwith Camel is one of the first "psychedelic" rock bands to get a recording contract with a national record label, however, their "old-timey" sound was more reminiscent of the early songs of The Lovin' Spoonful rather than typical psychedelia. From their first album (and only album from the '60s), the vaudevillian "Hello Hello" became the first hit single to emerge from the San Francisco rock scene, reaching #26 on the US pop charts in January 1967 and #9 in Canada. Playing vintage rock in a wintery setting, here's the only footage I've seen of these guys from this era.
This next classic 'Hello' song is brought to you by The Doors from their 1968 album Waiting for the Sun. Released as a single that June, "Hello, I love You" reached #1 in the U.S. where it sold over a million copies, and hit #1 in Canada. It was also the group's first big hit in the UK, hitting #15 on the chart. While some skeptics believed the song's musical structure was stolen from The Kinks' "All the Day and All of the Night", which does have a similar riff, Doors guitarist Robby Krieger (who wrote this song with all three band mates) said the song's vibe was taken from Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love. Here's some great footage of a rockin' psychedelic classic.
And of course, it's only appropriate to end this post with "Hello, Goodbye" by The Beatles. Released in November of 1967, this Paul McCartney tune scored #1 on the charts in the US, UK, France, and Norway, and was the Christmas #1 (UK) of that year. Directed by McCartney, three promotional films were produced, but they were not allowed to air on the BBC because of Musician's Union strict rules about mimed performances, however, one was featured on The Ed Sullivan Show in the US. Wearing their infamous "Sgt. Pepper" uniforms, here's the fun, pop rock song that is basically about "everything and nothing" at the same (as explained by McCartney upon the song's release).

And on that note, Happy New Year, Farewell to 2011, and Hello 2012!