When Ghost Groups Ruled

Contrary to the title, this post isn’t about paranormal entities.   It’s about a phenomenon alright, but one that occurred in the music industry in the mid to late 60′s and early 70′s.  

Now, all the rock purists in my audience will scoff at the contents of this post and claim they’re way too cool or too hip to know a single thing about the subject matter, but I know they’re lying.   They might not know what a “ghost group” is exactly, but they know their music.

You see, a ghost group is one that was put together simply for creating music in the studio and in the world of  Bubblegum Rock, this describes just about every group that ever produced a 45..   Many rock/pop groups were put together by old friends or cousins who met in someone garage or “rumpus room” to play.   With a little luck and practice they could become The Beach Boys.  But for the most part, that rarely happened and during this particular point in musical history, ghost groups filled the bill.  They were quick and easy and musically efficient for the task at hand and most of it was creating Bubblegum music.   As for the popularity of this genre, well, I don’t care what you say, Bubblegum for all it’s flaws, is the audio equivalent of a meal consisting of  nothing but comfort food.   You might not eat macaroni and cheese and meat loaf every day, but when you do, it takes you back to a time when you were safe, cared for and all warm and loved.  

Mom.

Home and hearth.  

Childhood.

Well, Bubblegum music can do that too and it takes you back to those simple times when being entertained came in the form of a transistor radio and blaring from its tiny speaker was a staticky AM station and maybe, the song,  “Sugar, Sugar” from The Archies.

Ah yes.   The Archies.  

In theory, this was a one of those so called garage bands, founded by Riverside High School chums, Archie Andrews, Reggie Mantle and Jughead Jones.  Their antics were chronicled in the Archie comics and then later on an animated TV series on CBS every Saturday morning, The Archie Show.    

Then, Danny got Rubin to sell their songs and it really came together when Betty and Veronica sang along. 

THE BAND ROSTER:

  • Archie: lead vocals/ lead guitar
  • Reggie: rhythm guitar / bass guitar
  • Jughead: drums
  • Betty: tambourine / percussion / guitar
  • Veronica: organ / keyboard
  • Hot Dog: the group’s mascot dog /at-large conductor

In 1969, The Archies had a top-selling song which could be bought as  45 rpm in record stores and could be found on the back of several Post cereal boxes, providing you could cut it out without screwing up and then  flatten it out enough to play on a turntable.   I found a few hours under a dictionary  against a flat surface always did the trick.

Here’s their saccharin rife, “Sugar, Sugar”. 

I hope your pancreas can handle it.

.

By the way, my video viewing partner commented, “The animated bitches in this video don’t got no rhythm!!”

And yes, they do not.

I was ten when this song first assaulted the airwaves.   I didn’t care much for it then, though admittedly, it still is as it was 42 years ago–a catchy little tune.   I mean, even if you love Zeppelin or The Flaming Lips, it’s got a beat that while monotonous, IS catchy.    I can remember debating  with my friends, whether it was Betty or Veronica who sang the ballsier, more bluesy, “I’m gonna make love so sweet!!”, the second time its warbled.    Listen at 2:21 for reference.

Reviews for the song, Sugar, Sugar were mixed.   Some reviewers simply didn’t understand that this was “gateway music” geared at young kids who were ‘cerelaizing’ their way into harder, more complex rock and roll.  And then there were other reviewers who completely got it and uh…..like me, took The Archies seriously.

From Jarred, “The Subway Times”  (circa August, 1969)

….  Archie excels as lead singer,  somehow managing to kep it all together while he cavorts a la Riverdance, sidestepping over to the kissing booth without ever missing a beat.   And then there’s Jughead.   He sits primly at the drums as if he wishes there were a speaker-stack between him and the audience. Mostly he restricts himself to a light and springy cymbal buzz sparingly nudged by snare-drum off-beats. But there’s plenty of on-the-fly interaction in the oddly structured front line. Add in Reggie Mantle’s severe licks as bass player and you have perhaps the greatest rhythm sections in music at that time.    These dudes definitely layed it down, thus building the foundation for Archie’s searing riffs and Veronica’s stellar keyboard work……but sadly, unlike the rest of the band members, Reggie was overshadowed by the talented rock overlords of the time, such as John Entwistle, John Paul Jones, Jack Bruce and others.    And frankly, that’s a damn shame… 

The reality of course, was there was no group.    There was no Archie;  no Veronica and certainly, no anthropomorphic pooch named Hotdog who could walk as a bi-ped or conduct the group with Leonard Bernsteinian precision.

The Archie’s beginnings were humble.    In 1968, Filmation Studios were producing a Saturday morning cartoon called The Archie Show.   The focus of the show would be on the fictional Archies musical group, in that each episode would feature two ten-minute story/adventure segments bracketing a brief musical interlude, a ‘dance of the week.’   That meant  music would be an integral part of the animated series.

Filmation hired producer Don Kirshner to oversee the creation of the fictional band’s music. Hhe’d previously been the executive producer for The Monkees TV show, and before that he attainced a great deal of success through his music publishing label, Aldon, which included such legendary songwriters as Carole King and Neil Sedaka and Jeff Barry who persuaded Kirshner to take one of his client’s songs for the Monkees to perform.   And that  move made  “I’m A Believer” by Neil Diamond became one of the biggest-selling hits of the decade. When Kirshner got The Archies gig, he remembered Barry and brought him on board. 

Ron Dante--Before the painful suppression of Bubblegum Rockdom

Enter Ron Dante.  He was a young vocalist with plenty of commercial success, with groups and doing the singing for many commercials on TV and radio.    He could sing his way into your heart to make you jones for a Big mac or some Crispy Critters cereal, but he longed to break into ‘real’ music. After auditioning for Kirshner and Barry, Dante got the job as lead and background vocalist for the Archies.    I should also say  that in 1969, Dante recorded an album under the group name of The Cuff Links.  He hit the U.S. Top Ten with the single “Tracy,” at the same time that “Sugar, Sugar” occupied the top of the chart. Dante was anonymous on both tracks.

Dante, Barry, and Andy Kim (of Rock Me Gently fame)  all wrote songs for The Archies.  Most of the vocals were simply handled by Dante alone, with a few various other vocalists brought in now and then to beef up particular arrangements. To provide the female voices in the cartoon band (such as Betty and Veronica’s parts),   Toni Wine, a former staff writer with Kirshner’s music label, was brought in.  (And by the way, it was actually Toni who sang the ballsy, bluesy “I’m gonna make love so sweet!!” the second time, though I would have laid odds it was Veronica!!!).   Session musicians took care of the rest.

The Archie Show debuted on September 14th, 1968, and was an immediate hit with young fans; the show captured the spirit of squeaky cleen teens engaged in good clean fun who could sing and dance as much as their animators allowed them to.   A soundtrack album was went on sale and group’s first single, “Bang-Shang-A-Lang,” climbed to Billboard’s #22. 

Sugar, Sugar was released as a single a few months later.  And it went through the roof and became a smash hit single all over the world. It topped the charts in the U.S., England, Germany, Japan, and other countries, and would eventually sell over ten million copies and be chosen the Record of the Year for 1969 by the RIAA.

That’s when Archie-mania took the world by storm.  The  Archies merchandise flooded department store shelves, producing lunch boxes, figurines, record players…dolls…stickers…posters.  

The Archies responded to their newfound popularity with a new single, “Jingle Jangle,” but as one might expect, the success was short-lived.   The main reason?  The Archies weren’t a real group, so their fans could never see them perform live anywhere and live performances, such as concerts and mall venues were a vital part of PR machine,  especially since even in the late 60′s,  your typical kid had the attention span of  a scab.   They needed to see their fave rave groups in the flesh.

Now, there were a few groups who claimed to be the ‘real’ Archies, but lawsuits took  care of that.  And then to make matters worse,  the Partridge Family premiered on ABC shortly after Sugar, Sugar was released.   And while the Partridges as a group weren’t any more real than The Archies,  the members did have pulses and lead singer and teen heart-throb, David Cassidy was ver real and very popular and had become the subject of every prepubescent  wet dream on the planet.  

Now,  The Archies and the Patridge Family weren’t the only Bubblegummers making a vast living in One Hit Wonderville, which became synonymous with Bubblegum music.  There’s the 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express, the Osmond Brothers, the early Jackson 5, The Monkees, Bobby Sherman, Josie and the Pussycats,  and a host of others.   Some were ghost groups, others were real…for the most part. 

As for the talented Ron Dante, he cashed in all his checks as the lead singer for The Archies still deposits all the residuals from ASCAP and BMI that come in regularly.  While Bubblegum as we knew it died a not so sweet death, a new version of it arrived in the mid 70′s…in the form of soft rock.  Dante wisely capitalized on that, too.  He became the producer for  most of  Barry Manilow’s songs and often sang backup on many of his albums.  We also have Dante to thank for Paul Shaffer’s incredible career.  As producer, he hired the talented keyboard player for his very first professional gig as a studio musician–playing electric keyboard on Manilow’s 1978 hit, “Even Now”.

Yeah,  I know what you’re thinking.  Bubblegum music was/is so vapid.   Stupid even.    Yes, it was uncomplicated music about innocent love that we believed could last forever in those scant few years we had that included unmitigated innocence–before life happened and made us all so jaded.  The lyrics were simple, everything rhymed.  It was music that was easy to produce, a breeze to market and could make a quick buck for the brain trusts behind it.   

And it’s hardly dead.   I  find the stuff from Justin Beiber, Selena Gomez,  Brittney, Miley Cyrus person, The Jonas Brothers and even Madonna and Lady Gaga to be right on par with Bubblegum Music, just a bit more updated style-wise.  It’s certainly glossier.

But  I really don’t know that music.  I can only address the old school stuff;  that which was from yesteryear.  My era as a kid.  All I can say is that for many, Bubblegum music was, as I said earlier,  a stepping stone of sorts, that allowed youngsters entre into another stage of their of lives.  It was transitional music.  I know it allowed me to go from kids’ tunes that I  listened to after winding up a stuffed animal to underground FM Adult Oriented Rock stations on my Kenwood stereo.    I won’t ever trash the genre–at least, not in earnest–because for one thing, I have very pleasant memories of listening to this crap on my AM radio by my bed at a time when pleasant things in my life were in short supply.    From fifth grade through a  part of eighth grade, I forged an emotionally survivable existence around these tunes and for that, I won’t apologize.

So there.

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3 comments on “When Ghost Groups Ruled

  1. Ron says:

    Wonderful blog.
    Thanks for posting it.
    Remember “Everything’s Archie” always.
    RD

  2. John Carpenter says:

    Archies here. Betty’s here, Veronica too. Reggies here. And there’s Jughead and Hotdog too, so everythings Archie. Come on let’s go to the Archie show

  3. Greg says:

    Who else but Veronica could have sang that line. I knew it the minute I heard it. I also remember those records on the back of the cereal boxes. I didn’t need one though. I sheepishly admit that I actually had the entire Archies album. The 33 LP. I can’t even remember how we got it much less why.

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