279. The Archies – Sugar Sugar (1969)

The penultimate number 1 of the 60s sat pretty in the top spot for close to two whole months, and only narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 spot. Before delving deeper into the slick pop of Sugar Sugar by the cartoon band, the Archies, what else was happening in the UK?

Three weeks into its run, regular colour TV broadcasts, began on both BBC One and ITV on 15 November. The very next day saw the BBC One debut of much-loved children’s stop-motion animated TV series Clangers.

The day after, in a move that had a far-reaching effect on the British press, The Sun newspaper, previously a left-wing broadsheet, was relaunched as a right-wing tabloid. Despite falling circulation, it remains influential and one of the most popular newspapers in the country.

On 25 November, John Lennon returned his MBE in protest against the British involvement in Biafra, as well as supporting the US in Vietnam. The Beatles as cuddly establishment moptops seemed a long time ago.

As a cold late November turned into a mild early December, Sugar Sugar held firm. On 10 December it was announced that organic chemist Derek Barton had jointly won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with the Norwegian Odd Hassel. Barclays Bank purchased Martins Bank on 15 December, and three days later, the abolition of the death penalty was made permanent by Parliament. Whether our new government will bring it back, only time will tell.

Also that day, the sixth James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was released. This was the first and last to feature George Lazenby, after Sean Connery had quit the role.

Artists like the Beatles and Bob Dylan had made self-penned songs fashionable, and for most of the 60s, it was they and others of their ilk that often reached the top spot. But as the pop audience matured and moved on to buying albums, the gap was starting to be filled by bubblegum pop – squeaky-clean commercial songs, like Dizzy, made to order by hit-making teams, much like in the 50s, and given to singers such as Tommy Roe.

It would be a lie to say this type of thing had ever really gone away though. Motown aped the production-line of the car factories of its hometown Detroit, and the Monkees were a pop phenomenon whose songs were mostly written and recorded by other musicians, until they broke free. And it was Don Kirshner, the man that had been dumped by the Monkees, that came up with the idea of turning a comic into a band in 1968. From his point of view, it was a no-brainer. All had been going well until the Monkees got too big for their boots – why not start over, only this time, why not remove all pretence that the band is real? And why not use cartoon characters that already had a huge audience to give the project a head start? After all, it had worked in the 50s – Alvin and the Chipmunks had been and still are very successful.

Kirshner was hired by CBS in late 1967 to be musical supervisor on their new Saturday morning cartoon series The Archie Show. Based on popular characters from The Archie Comics, which began in 1941, it followed the adventures of a bunch of all-American teenage friends from Riverdale High School that had formed a band. 17-year-old Archie Andrews was the central figure, lead singer and rhythm guitarist. His best friend Jughead Jones was their drummer, with wisecracking Reggie Mantle on bass. But unusually, this wasn’t just a boy’s own setup, very unusual for that time. Rich girl Veronica Lodge also sang and played keyboards, and tomboy Betty Cooper was lead guitarist and percussionist. Girl power!

The show had a 17-episode run, premiering in the US in September 1968 until January 1969. Kirshner’s job was to hire the songwriters and musicians for the songs the Archies would be performing. He wasted no time in hiring Jeff Barry to co-produce with him. Barry, together with Ellie Greenwich, was responsible for some of the biggest pop hits of the decade, including Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me and Do Wah Diddy Diddy, a number 1 for Manfred Mann in 1964. He had co-written Tell Laura I Love Her with Ben Raleigh, which had been a UK number 1 for Ricky Valance in 1960, and worked with Kirshner on the Monkees’ hits, including producing their UK chart-topper I’m a Believer.

For their eponymous debut album, the Archies music was performed by singer Ron Dante, drummer Gary Chester, guitarist Dave Appell, bassist Joey Macho (great name) and keyboardist Ron Frangipane (even better name). Kirshner had wanted Kenny Karen to be the vocalist, but Barry liked Dante, who had been the singer novelty parody band the Detergents. He was also in the rock group the Cuff Links.

The first single released, Bang-Shang-A-Lang (sounds like a Bay City Rollers song title) did okay, reaching number 22 on the Billboard chart in the US, so the project continued.

For the sessions for second album, Everything’s Archie, Kirshner left Barry to produce alone. Among the material was a song by Barry and Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Kim. Sugar Sugar was catchy as hell, and encapsulated bubblegum pop totally. It was all wide-eyed innocence, as sweet as the title suggested and contained hook upon hook. Kim also plated guitar and joined Dante on the vocals, and Toni Wine performed the female voices. Wine was a songwriter too, and had co-written A Groovy Kind of Love with Carole Bayer Sager for the Mindbenders. Joining them and the line-up of the debut album was guitarist Sal DiTroia and Ray Stevens provided the all-important handclaps.

Sugar Sugar was so strong, they decided to release it before the LP was completed. Allegedly, because previous single Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y-.D.O.O.) hadn’t performed well, Kirshner decided not to reveal the identity of the band behind Sugar Sugar when DJs got their hands on it in May 1969. Whether this is true or not, it was some time before it became really big. It eventually climbed to the top in the US that September, and the UK a month later.

I totally get the reasons for Sugar Sugar‘s enduring popularity, for all the reasons I’ve given above, and more – mostly the infectious keyboard interjections in the chorus, obviously. It has all the ingredients needed for a pop song. But it’s never done much for me. Even as a child, I found it a bit too sickly-sweet and cloying. I found the lyrics silly and the ‘band’ irritating, having never actually seen the cartoon, just the clips compiled to make a music video.

As an adult, it’s all a bit too cynical and professional for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, I no longer feel, as I did in my 20s, that music is only any good if the artist is ‘4 Real’, but try as I might, Sugar Sugar mostly leaves me cold. The ‘Pour your sugar on me, honey’ line is quite good though, and sung with some much-needed passion.

Sugar Sugar was the best-selling song of 1969 and stayed at number 1 for eight weeks – a feat that was last achieved by the Shadows with Wonderful Land in 1962. I can only assume the TV show was being shown in the UK at the time and doing well too, otherwise, why would it perform even better here than in the US? Whatever the reasons, it was a sign of things to come in the following decade, as bubblegum pop continued to sell hugely, and innocent acts like the Osmonds entrancing children. The idea of cartoon bands surfaces in the charts from time to time – Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, for example.

Filmation continued to produce various Archies TV shows until 1978, but the musical project had ground to a halt before then. Nothing matched Sugar Sugar, and after follow-up Jingle Jangle (not featuring Jimmy Savile), the band’s success tailed off sharply. Fourth album Sunshine in 1970 (which has great sun-drenched, slightly sinister artwork that wouldn’t look out of place on a Boards of Canada release) was the last to feature Jeff Barry and Andy Kim properly, and was more grown-up than previous releases. 1971’s This Is Love was the final regular release.

Barry became interested in writing music for film and television afterwards, and Kim had a solo hit in 1974 with Rock Me Gently. After a short-lived solo career, Dante moved into production and did very well at it, producing hits for Barry Manilow. In 2008 he returned to the Riverdale teens, singing on The Archies Christmas Album. Kirshner continued to work in music for TV shows. He died of heart failure in 2011, aged 76.

Archie Comics continued to be mined, with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch proving to be the other most popular character. Archie Andrews was killed off in 2014, shot in the stomach while saving the life of his friend, Senator Kevin Keller. Riverdale was renamed Archie Andrews High School in his honour. 2017 saw the debut of TV drama series Riverdale, which turned the premise of the characters on its head, with the lives of Archie and co proving much darker than the original comic-strip could ever have been.

And while we’re on the subject of ‘dark’, if Sugar Sugar had lasted at number 1 a further week, it would have been Christmas number 1 and the final chart-topper of the decade. However, it was pipped by another hugely popular children’s song, now sadly infamous thanks to the singer.

Can you tell what it is yet?

Written by: Andy Kim & Jeff Barry

Producer: Jeff Barry

Weeks at number 1: 8 (25 October-19 December) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Scottish actor Gerard Butler – 13 November
Rock drummer Michael Lee – 19 November
Politician Sajid Javid – 5 December
TV presenter Richard Hammond – 19 December

Deaths:

Bandleader Ted Heath – 18 November
Princess Alice of Battenburg – 5 December

186. The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (1965)

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Widely regarded, and for good reason, as one of the greatest songs of the last century, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is probably mad genius producer Phil Spector’s finest work.

Spector had begun his career as co-founder of the Teddy Bears, and was responsible for their 1958 US number 1 To Know Him Is to Love Him. They split the following year and he moved into production, becoming the apprentice of Lieber and Stoller. He co-wrote Ben E King’s Spanish Harlem with Lieber and produced the original version of Twist and Shout by the Top Notes. In 1961 he formed a record label with Lester Sill. Acts including the Crystals and Darlene Love began having hits on the new Philes Records, and in 1963 he used them all, along with the hitmaking session group known as the Wrecking Crew, to produce the classic Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Philes Records. The LP hit record shops on 22 November, the day President Kennedy was assasinated.

The hits kept coming, and Spector was on top of his game. In 1964 he was conducting the band for a show featuring one of his best acts, the Ronettes. Also on the bill were the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. Previously, Hatfield had been in a group called the Variations, while Medley sang in the Paramours. Barry Rillera was in both groups and suggested that the duo would work well together. Hatfield and Medley formed a new version of the Paramours and signed to the small label Moonglow Records in 1962. However the following year the group split, but Hatfield and Medley decided to continue as a duo. They would perform for Marines at the El Toro base, where black Marines began calling them ‘righteous brothers’. And so, the name stuck. As they searched for fame they wound up supporting both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on their US tours.

Spector worked out a deal with Moonglow and took the duo under his wing. He commissioned Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Mann had previously been a performer, co-writing Who Put the Bomp with Gerry Goffin and recording it. Mann and lyricist Weil fell in love, married and began a career together as brilliant songwriters. Hits included We Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Animals. Mann came up with a new melody and the opening line was inspired by reversing a lyric he had used in I Love How You Love Me, namely: ‘I love how you close your eyes when you kiss me’. The duo came up with the majority of a song, including the placeholder line ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ Spector came up with some elements, including ‘Now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa, whoa, whoa’, which Weil disliked. But she and Mann were pleased with an idea for the bridge he came up with, which was a piano riff similar to Hang On Sloopy.

The trio took the song to the Righteous Brothers, who thought it had potential – but not for them, for the Everly Brothers. Spector, Mann and Weil slowed the song right down so it could fit with Medley’s deep baritone, and the duo started to think they might have something they could work with, but they were used to equal status on records, and Hatfield was unhappy at waiting until the chorus to join in. When he asked Spector what he was supposed to do in the meantime, the producer said ‘You can go directly to the bank!’

The Righteous Brothers weren’t needed for a few weeks until the instruments were all recorded. As usual, Spector used his trademark technique of building up layer upon layer of music, with the Wrecking Crew as his band. Eventually the perfectionist Spector was pleased with the epic, delibarately blurry sound he had created. Medley and Hatfield were brought in and spent 39 takes in two days recording the vocal. The Blossoms, which featured Darlene Love, provided backing vocals, and also involved at the song’s climax was Cher, who had helped out on the Ronettes’ Be My Baby.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is truly majestic and few songs capture the heartbreak and sense of loss in a failing relationship better. It starts so slow and quietly, to the point that many (including Mann) believed they were playing it at the wrong speed to begin with, so deep is Medley’s baritone. The opening line is just genius. And thanks to Spector’s knack of timing, the build-up is done perfectly. By the end, Medley and Hatfield are raging to return to the love lives they knew, but to no avail. It’s gone, gone, gone. Grand, lush arrangments in sad songs were nothing new to the charts – the UK charts were full of them until the advent of rock’n’roll, but none had the Spector sound. He might have been a paranoid control freak (and eventually, a murdering psychopath), but like Joe Meek, he was one clever bastard too.

With the recording over, the Righteous Brothers wondered if they’d made the right choice. This style of song was hardly in fashion at the height of the British Invasion, after all, and at three minutes and forty seconds length, it was also longer than most tracks. Spector refused to cut it back, but he was sneaky and requested the vinyl label would say ‘3.05’ to trick DJs into playing it. Despite his cockiness, the producer began to have serious doubts himself. His publisher Don Kirshner thought it should have been called Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’, for instance. He devloped a spastic colon and didn’t sleep for a week.

All the work and stress paid off, and then some. By and large, critics loved it from the get-go, and understandably wondered if we’d reached the pinnacle of pop. Released in the UK in January, it took four weeks to climb to the top. In that time, Cilla Black, then at the top of her game, rush-released a verison of her own, and the two versions were nearly neck-and-neck at one point. The difference in the two versions was gaping. Black’s was not only clearly a cheap knock-off, but her chorus was bloody horrible and offensive to the ears. Fair play to the Rolling Stones producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, who was so disgusted he decided to take out a full-page advert in Melody Maker, extolling the beauty of the original. It was in fact Oldham that first coined the term ‘Wall of Sound’ to sum-up the Spector sound. The public saw sense, and for the first time, Spector had a UK number 1. He later said this song was his greatest achievment at Philes Records.

Its legend has only grown over the years. It regularly appears in the lists of greatest songs of all time, and in 2015 the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress chose it as one of the 25 songs that has ‘cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy’. But it was in the UK that the ultimate tribute took place, when in 1996 the comedy actor Paul Shane performed You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ on the BBC1 daytime show Pebble Mill. Ever since, ‘BABEH BABEH!’ has become the ultimate expression of the beauty of music.

Written by: Phil Spector, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil

Producer: Phil Spector

Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 February)

Births:

Director Martha Fiennes – 5 February 

87. Bobby Darin – Dream Lover (1959)

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Bobby Darin is an interesting character. He was one of, if not the first teen idol to break free of what was expected and forge his own musical path. He was also, like Paul Anka and Buddy Holly, very musically gifted for someone so young.

His private life was also fascinating. Born Walden Robert Cassotto in East Harlem, New York, he was raised by his grandmother, but led to believe she was his mother. His birth mother, Nina, fell pregnant with him out of wedlock aged 17, so rather than the scandal get out, they decided his mother should pretend to be his sister instead. This pretence was kept up until Nina revealed the truth to him in 1968, when he was 32 years old. Darin was understandably devastated. He had become interested in music at a young age, and was able to play the piano, drums and guitar by the time he was a teenager. He excelled at science, but decided to pursue an acting career, before changing his career path again when he met Don Kirshner, who later managed the Monkees.

The duo, who met in a candy store, decided to write advertising jingles and ditties, the first of which was appropriately named Bubblegum Pop. He joined the Brill Building team of songwriters, and wrote songs for Connie Francis. The partnership was unsuccessful (he was there the day Neil Sedaka presented her with her second hit, Stupid Cupid), but they grew close. Unfortunately for Darin, her father, who was looking after her struggling career, did not approve. Darin suggested they elope but she refused. She later said it was the biggest mistake of her life.

Around the time Darin and Kirshner went their separate ways, Darin was taken under the wing of Atlantic Records songwriter and co-founder Ahmet Ertegun. In 1958 he wrote Splish Splash in less than an hour, and it went on to sell over a million. Finally he was a star. In April 1959, he recorded another self-penned composition, Dream Lover, with Ertegun producing alongside another legendary music figure, Jerry Wexler. Neil Sedaka was also there on the piano.

Splish Splash had been simple, knockabout fun, but Dream Lover was a sophisticated teen-pop slice of yearning. Built upon a Latin rhythm, it was successfully designed to make young girls swoon, but with safe enough lyrics to keep potentially angry parents at bay. It’s reminiscent of Tab Hunter’s Young Love, but assured where Hunter’s performance was tentative. The double-meaning of the line ‘I want a dream lover so I don’t have to dream alone’ is inspired, and Darin’s voice is effectively anguished.

If someone was to ask me to name a song that sums up the 1950s, Dream Lover would be one of the first I’d mention. This may be in part due to its use on an advert for Maltesers in the late 80s. Nostalgia for the 50s was of course very big back then, kickstarted as it was by the popularity of the Levis ads. My first exposure to Great Balls of Fire came from an advert for Edam, with the lyrics changed to ‘Goodness gracious great balls of cheese!’… bizarre, really, to turn a song of lust into an ode to cheese… I digress. One thing this blog has given me is a newfound respect for some of the artists that helped develop pop music in the 50s, and for this song, Bobby Darin deserves some of that acclaim. He’d be back later in the year with a very different sound.

During the four-week reign of Dream Lover, postcodes were introduced for the first time, with the experiment taking place in Norwich. This began on 28 July, and a day later, a series of important acts came into law – namely the Mental Health Act, the Obscene Publications Act and Legitimacy Act.

Written by: Bobby Darin

Producer: Ahmet Ertegun

Weeks at number 1: 4 (3-30 July)

Births:

Journalist Julie Burchill – 3 July

Deaths:

Cricketer Charlie Parker – 11 July 

75. Connie Francis – Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid (1958)

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Thanks to Who’s Sorry Now? Connie Francis had become a star. MGM changed their minds and offered her a new contract. The problem now was, how do you follow it up? Her next two singles, I’m Sorry I Made You Cry and Heartaches, sank without trace. Francis needed another track that would appeal to both young and old listeners. As luck would have it, she got one of each.

Yet again, her father suggested wisely when he picked Carolina Moon. Like Who’s Sorry Now? it was an oldie. It had been written by Joe Burke and Benny Davis in 1924, and was a hit for Gene Austin four years later. Both songwriters were responsible for a number of famous tunes – Joe Burke came up with Tiptoe Through the Tulips and Davis wrote Baby Face with Harry Akst.

Carolina Moon is a sweet, wistful ballad, tenderly sang by Francis. She’s missing her love and is hoping the moon will find him and tell him she’s ‘blue and lonely’. They can’t have had a decent postal service near Francis, I guess. Crap joke aside, it’s a good showcase for the singer, and the plaintive harmonica solo is a highlight. On it’s own though, I doubt it would have reached number 1 Luckily for Francis, her luck turned once more.

Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka were still in their teens and struggling to get their foot in the door of the world of songwriting. Eventually they wound up at the office of Aldon Music, a new company formed by producers Don Kirshner and Al Nevins. I say office… by all accounts the tiny room was a piano, two desks and lots of boxes as they had only just moved in. Nonetheless, Kirshner was impressed (Nevins less so), and he contacted Francis to say the boys could help her out.

Kirshner, Greenfield and Sedaka were surprised to see Francis was still living in humble surroundings, in a small house with no carpet. They played ballad after ballad to her and Bobby Darin (the singer had started in music as Francis’s songwriter). She later recalled in an interview for DISCoveries Magazine that hours later, after Kirshner had left, she said, ‘Look, fellas. I hate to tell you this and don’t get me wrong, your music is beautiful, but it’s too educated. The kids don’t dig this kinda stuff anymore. You guys are putting me to sleep. Don’t you have something a little more lively?’ Greenfield told Sedaka to play a sample of a new song they had written for the Shepherd Sisters. Sedaka was horrified. He considered Francis way too classy to even suggest such a thought. He relented, played her Stupid Cupid, and finally Francis, Kirshner, Greenfield and Sedaka got what they looking for. A big hit.

Stupid Cupid was inspired. Sedaka might not have thought it was classy, but music didn’t need to be anymore. It had witty lyrics, a memorable tune and great production from Morty Kraft. The bass player remains unknown but whoever it was, their work is considered some of the best in rock’n’roll up to that point. The guitar twang every time Francis reaches ‘Stupid Cupid, stop picking on me’ is clever or annoying depending on your mood, but the way Francis sings that line is perfect. She certainly had a knack of owning the songs she worked on

Spending six weeks at number 1, Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid finally established Francis, and although she never reached the top again, the hits continued. Lipstick on Your Collar is still considered a 50s classic. She continued her winning ways around the world for years to come, and had further number 1 success in the US into the 60s, but the 70s were tough on the singer. She was raped and nearly suffocated in a motel in 1974. The attacker was never found, and Francis became reclusive and addicted to medication. In 1977 she completely lost her voice following surgery. When it returned, she had to learn to sing all over again. She began performing again, but in 1981 her brother was murdered by Mafia hitmen, and she was diagnosed with manic depression before being committed to 17 different hospitals. Having led such a rollercoaster life, she decided to release her autobiography, Who’s Sorry Now? in 1984, and it became a bestseller. Despite her tribulations she is remembered as one of the biggest stars during a time that was mainly male-dominated. Greenfield and Sedaka of course became very successful, and Sedaka later a star in his own right, and Kirshner earned himself the nickname ‘The Man with the Golden Ear’, managing, among others, The Monkees, before they broke free.

On 1 October the sovereignty of Christmas Island is transferred from the UK to Australia, and two of the BBC’s longest-running television series also began during Francis’s second reign at the top. 11 October saw the start of sports programme Grandstand, which lasted until 2007, and five days later, Blue Peter began, which continues to this day. 21 October saw the first women take to their seats in the House of Lords, and a week later, the State Opening of Parliament was broadcast on TV for the first time.

Written by:
Carolina Moon: Joe Burke & Benny Davis/Stupid Cupid: Howard Greenfield & Neil Sedaka

Producers: Connie Francis/Leroy Holmes

Weeks at number 1: 6 (26 September-6 November)

Births:

Novelist Irvine Welsh – 27 September
Musician Thomas Dolby – 14 October
Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon – 27 October 

Deaths:

Birth control advocate Marie Stopes – 2 October
Cricketer Charlie Townsend – 17 October
Philosopher GE Moore – 24 October
Physicist Stephen Butterworth – 28 October