You can get a pretty good clue to the fluffy, undemanding nature of bubblegum music by just looking at the names of some of the groups featured on a bubblegum retrospective just released by Varese Sarabande Records. They include Crazy Elephant, the Fun and Games, the Banana Splits, the 1910 Fruitgum Co., Salt Water Taffy and the Archies.
Or you can just listen to the opening 10 seconds of the album for a sample of what may have been the defining record of the pop confection movement of the late '60s and early '70s.
The word "bubblegum" was a catchy marketing term to describe a sound aimed at preteens--music that had a good-natured, nursery-rhyme, sing-along feel to it. The album's liner notes describe it gleefully as "chewy chunks of supersweetened pop . . . diabolically crafted for maximum impact on AM radio."
"Yummy, yummy, yummy, I got love in my tummy," declares the Ohio Express' Joey Levine in "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy," a single that reached No. 4 on the nation's pop charts in 1968.
The track--from Buddah Records, which prided itself as the home of bubblegum--and such other blockbuster hits as the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" sound as disposable today as they did the first time around.
But some of the other selections on "25 All-Time Greatest Bubblegum Hits" provide some unexpected pleasures--enticing records that rose above the genre's formula limitations.
In the best of all this music, you hear a light, infectious, uplifting sound that surely influenced ABBA, the Swedish quartet that ultimately mastered the bubblegum sound and appealed to pop fans of all ages. The collection was produced and conceived by Cary E. Mansfield and Bill Pitzonka.
*** Various artists, "25 All-Time Greatest Bubblegum Hits," Varese Sarabande.
Here's a look at some of the defining tracks in the retrospective:
The Ohio Express' "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" (Reached No. 4 on the pop charts in 1968). This track may open the album, but it was far from the first bubblegum hit of the rock era. The search goes back to Brian Hyland's "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini" from 1960--if not beyond. The only interesting thing about the record is how much lead singer Joey Levine's nasal vocal reminds you of Eminem.
The Monkees' "I'm a Believer" (No. 1, 1967). I'm not sure this record really qualifies as bubblegum. The Monkees were sheer fun, but they made some extraordinary singles, the best of which reflected the exuberance of the early Beatles at a time when the Beatles had moved into more experimental and ambitious musical territory. The song--written by Neil Diamond--holds up so well that Diamond still turns to it on occasion in his concerts.
Dawn's "Knock Three Times" (No. 1, 1970). This may be lightweight pop, but the single has much more in common with the tradition of New York R&B-pop (think Ben E. King's recording of "Spanish Harlem") than the Ohio Express. It's a pop tart, much like Melanie's "Brand New Key," that is hard to resist.
Josie & the Pussycats' "Every Beat of My Heart" (Didn't reach the Hot 100 charts, 1971). The Pussycats were an animated, all-girl group put together by Hanna-Barbara. The single is an inviting mixture of Phil Spector's legendary "girl-group" sound and the Southern, horn-accented heat of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" period. The lead singer, Patrice Holloway, is the sister of Motown hit maker Brenda Holloway. The big question here is why this record wasn't a hit? Maybe it was too good for the bubblegum market.
Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart's "Alice Long (You're Still My Favorite Girlfriend)." (No. 27, 1968). As writers and producers, Boyce and Hart helped shape the musical design of the early Monkees, and they build upon that sound in their own recording--adding some of the soulful pop-rock currents also favored at the time by Memphis' legendary Box Tops.
The Sweet's "Funny, Funny" (Didn't reach the Hot 100 Charts, 1971). This British pop-rock quartet, which later scored with such pop-rock hits as "Ballroom Blitz" and "Fox on the Run," made a pretty flat attempt at bubblegum pop with a record that seems patterned after "Sugar, Sugar."
Captain Groovy and His Bubblegum Army's "Capt. Groovy and His Bubblegum Army" (Didn't reach the Hot 100 charts, 1969). An attempt at a bubblegum equivalent of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Bad idea.
The Rock & Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Co.'s "Bubble Gum Music" (No. 74, 1969). The aim here was to use Beach Boys harmony to energize a bubblegum takeoff on Chuck Berry's '50s salute to "Rock & Roll Music." It's better than you'd think, mostly because it was so shameless. Most unexpected line: "Well, the Grateful Dead just leave me cold/And Herbie Alpert makes me feel too old."
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).