My Piece of Bubblegum
I'll leave the chronological history of the classic Bubblegum Music era to others but I do want to give you some personal thoughts on this sticky subject:
The first two singles I ever possessed were bought for me by my parents in 1967. My favorite of the two was the double A-Side Beatle's 45: I Am The Walrus b/w Hello Goodbye. Walrus was the "Psychedelic Beatles" with a strange ambulance driven open and a Shakespeare-quoting ending. It remains my favorite song of all time. Hello was the "Bubblegum Beatles" with simple lyrics and a sticky melody. Although The Beatles were hardly Bubblegum, Hello Goodbye was as close as they got and I loved it. The other single was The Monkee's Daydream Believer. This was not Bubblegum or Psychedelic: it was crap. But, I played the B-Side, Goin' Down, which was the first Bubblegum-Rap song. But, still, I didn't know what Bubblegum was until I heard -- in what seemed to be in rapid succession -- Green Tambourine by The Lemon Pipers, Little Green Bag by The George Baker Selection, and Yummy, Yummy Yummy by The Ohio Express.
I was nine-years-old and I was hooked!
Bubblegum music came about for a number of reasons. Young AM radio listeners like myself were turned off by protest folk and rock music and psychedelic music that was influenced by substances we'd never tried (nine-year-olds didn't sell and use drugs in those days). Our experiences revolved around TV and minor explorations with the opposite sex. Bubblegum music filled that limited area of interest by combining simple children's music borrowed from schoolyard games and nursery rhymes and silly, barely concealed lyrics about sex.
So, the classic era of Bubblegum music was from 1967-1970. It wasn't hard to pick out a Bubblegum song back then. It was danceable and upbeat with high production values, the lyrics were disposable and repetitive, few instrumental solos and short overall in length. It was the antithesis of war protest folk songs in spirit and intent. Make everyone feel good by taking them back to their childhood instead of reminding us that we are grownups with grownup matters to attend to.
The major players in the Bubblegum music scene had the same roots as the Psychedelic players. Garage groups mixed with session musicians brought together by "Super" talent agents and record company suits. Remember, this was still long before groups were required to record nothing but their own songs and musician credits on liner notes was looked upon as wasting paper.
The most successful group leading the Bubblegum parade was The Ohio Express. They were The Beatles of Bubblegum to the 1910 Fruitgum Co.'s Rolling Stones. The Lemon Pipers were big as well but they hated being called "Bubblegum." Fact was, many of these groups had pre-punk leanings and sessioning on Bubblegum hits merely paid the rent. These groups weren't long lasting but they had a good run.
Different groups even shared the same writers. Like The Temptations and The Four Tops, producer-writer teams would work on a "hit" for The Ohio Express and then one for The 1910 Fruitgum Company. Joey Levine alone wrote for Ohio Express, Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, Crazy Elephant, and The Music Explosion.
Some, like The Beatles, had their own cartoon shows. The Bay City Rollers and The Monkees -- very much alive and well -- were cartooned and The Archies and The Banana Splits existed solely as cartoon characters. Why deal with the anthropomorphism of real animals/people when you can create fake characters who couldn't command large contracts and demand to play on their own records? In the case of The Splits, management could have teams of the suited characters "play" in different parts of the country at the same time -- something the Monkees couldn't do. One criticism of Bubblegum Music was that it was all about money. This is a valid point. If a group could not produce a hit quickly, they were dropped. There was no such concept as nurturing a group. Imagine the fate of the Ohio Express: they were signed based on their talents as a garage band, told that Joey Levine would sing all the hits and they would be replaced as musicians on most recordings and that their material would only occasionally sprinkle albums that had their name and pictures on the cover.
In contrast, the Beatles, Stones, Who, Doors, etc. practiced their songs hundreds of times before committing them to vinyl. There's something to be admired about a group of Bubblegum musicians who had to record a song they've never heard of in a two-hour session and have it sound fun and spontaneous and make damn sure it will be a hit or they won't be invited back. (I should note that Hello, I Love You by The Doors is as Bubblegum as you get!).
Even though a number of the men behind Bubblegum moved into Disco, it was New Wave, beginning in 1977, that carried the juicy pack of gum. The Cars, Go Go's, Blondie, Men Without Hats, and Bow Wow Wow sounded, at times, too much like Bubblegum to be ignored. Although they all disappeared after a few hits, there is a resurgence of this era's music today thanks in no small part to VH-1.
Bubblegum music was looked down on by "accepted" acts but recently a few well respected groups have acknowledged a loving of all that bubbles. The Ramones have admitted that they wanted to be a Bubblegum group and have covered Indian Giver and Little Bit O' Soul. REM played I Enjoy Being A Boy (In Love With You) live before they became "Shiny Happy People." (Another contemporary group -- featuring yours truly -- actually committed a cover of this juicy piece to tape as Rank Amateurs and disappeared soon thereafter. Coincidence?). Even XTC started a Bubblegum concept/tribute album (a la their Dukes of Stratosphear for psychedelic music) to be released under the name the Captain Cooks in the early 90's until bad management popped that bubble.
It's easy now, as it was easy then, to put down Bubblegum music. But, how can you dismiss music that was dance oriented and fun? Even today, I guarantee that you can put on any number of Bubblegum classics at your next party and your guests will cheer up instantly (I'm available to DJ and pass out bubblegum!).
When I tell people I'm a big Bubblegum Music fan, I take a lot of ribbing. I've found that people in general and the media has had selective problems with prefab groups or sidemen musicians. Certainly you remember the Milli Vanilli debacle. Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan were frontmen to a "Super" producer and session singers deemed too ugly for MTV. People certainly loved the music when it came out accompanied by slick videos featuring two good looking young men. But when it was revealed that they sang not a single note on their hits and lip-synched in concert as well, the media went for their throats. The result was a self-serving record return policy by the record company, a black-listing of two earnest young men and the ultimate suicide of Rob. This whole episode only proved to me that most "music lovers" are sheep; they'll take what they are given and will act as they are told. To my way of thinking, Milli Vanilli was a gigantic middle finger thrust at MTV and middle America. It was a sincere act of Punk -- The Sex Pistols would be proud. Of course, the press and the adoring public have no problem with David Crosby drugging and drinking the life out of his liver only to get a transplant faster than you can say "Star Treatment." Or with a fat (not phat) record company bankrolling Puff Daddy's rip-off tour across the history of classic rock songs. George Harrison wrote a guitar love song for himself and he couldn't play the notes he wrote so The Beatles had to call Eric Clapton to fill-in. He wasn't credited on any of those inner sleeves and posters. I tried to return my White Album but to no avail. OK, I'm dripping with sarcasm here but heed my warning: It's about the music folks!
The best way to understand what I'm writing about is to buy some Bubblegum, slap it on your player, crank it up and dance. And chew, chew, chew, until you can chew no more . . .
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