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Old 08-02-2013, 10:16 AM   #1 (permalink)
Lord Larehip
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Default A Concise History of Bubblegum

If we’re going to trace the history of bubblegum music, let’s do it right and start with the source. The source is not a band or set of bands. The source is a record company. To give a little history, the late 40s saw a rise in “minority labels” i.e. small labels that put out “race music” which included both black and “hillbilly” styles, which had become popular after WW2. Most of these labels were tiny, subsisting on a single band and, not infrequently, a single song. Minority music entrepreneurs had to be sharp and savvy for their label to survive the fierce competition. Many were ruthless and disreputable and a good A&R man or label owner had to learn the ropes and learn them quick.

Those that did became the movers and shakers of the rocknroll era. Aside from Sam Phillips at Sun, there was Lew Chudd of Imperial Records who gave us Fats Domino, Art Rupe of Specialty Records who gave us Little Richard and Sam Cooke, Leonard and Phil Chess who gave us Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, the Bihari Bros. of Modern Records who gave us B.B. King. Not to mention Jerry Wexler, Max Silverman and Herb Abramson who helped Ahmet Ertegun found Atlantic Records. Another of these entrepreneurs was George Goldner.

Goldner started his first label, Tico, in 1948. It was strictly for Latin music (which he loved). Branching into blues and R&B, Goldner founded Rama Records in 1953. He signed the Crows who recorded a hit called “Gee,” an early rocknroll number. With the money from that record, Goldner then founded Gee Records and signed Frankie Lyman & the Teenagers. By 1955, Goldner sold 50% interest in all three labels to Joe Kolsky in partnership with Morris Levy. In 1957, Goldner and Kolsky founded Roulette Records with Morris Levy as president. Goldner then sold his shares to his partners later that year and went off to found other labels. One of them, End Records, signed Little Anthony & the Imperials. Eventually, Goldner would sell these labels to Morris Levy as well. In 1964, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller founded Red Bird Records to cash in on the girl group sound. The first act to sign on Red Bird were the Dixie Cups whose two excellent hits, “Chapel of Love” (1964) and “Iko Iko” (1965), were early examples of what would become bubblegum. Goldner joined Lieber and Stoller as a co-founder in 1965 but, typically, left a short time later.

Going To The Chapel Of Love- The Dixie Cups - YouTube

One of the men Goldner had hired in 1955 as an assistant was Artie Ripp. Ripp learned the industry upside down and backwards under Goldner’s tutelage. By the time Goldner sold his second round of labels to Roulette in the early 60s, Ripp had left and co-founded Kama Sutra Productions in 1964 along with partners Hy Mizrahi and Phil Steinberg. Kama Sutra Productions was a hit factory employing people to write hit songs for them to peddle much like Don Kirshner’s Brill Building in New York where songwriting talents as Goffin-King churned out hit after hit. Kama Sutra saw some success as hit peddlers and figured they could rake it in if they signed up their own bands and had them record the songs and then distribute those recordings on their own label thereby keeping all the money in-house. In 1965, Kama Sutra Productions brought in Art Kass, an accountant from MGM, and became Kama Sutra Records. MGM agreed to distribute them. That year, one of Kama Sutra’s clients, the Lovin’ Spoonful (under control of Koppelman-Rubin Productions), gave the label one of their biggest hits, “Do You Believe in Magic.”

In fact, Kama Sutra lived off Spoonful’s hits for the next couple of years. While much of the Spoonful’s music was rather sweet and had some teen appeal, they were not a bubblegum band. They were a true band with legitimate folk and folk-rock credentials prior to forming the Spoonful. In fact, fans regarded them as folk-rock despite the fact that their music was nominally folky at best and the label made them dress in some decidedly non-folky clothing in their publicity shots. Even though Kama Sutra wanted to present the Spoonful as a “good times” band, songs as “Summer in the City” and “Nashville Cats” are simply not bubblegum. The Spoonful evolved over time as all bands must. Bubblegum bands never evolved because they weren’t real bands and played only what they were told to play by their producers and performed these songs strictly for the money. The Lovin’ Spoonful probably lent some influence to the bubblegum industry due to their proximity to the people who created it but they are today rightfully regarded as a legitimate rock band.

Rain On The Roof-Lyrics- Lovin' Spoonful - YouTube

To be sure, there was a proto-gum contingent for some years prior to the emergence of bubblegum. We can go back to the Chordettes with their 1958 hit “Lollipop.” Certainly this was without a doubt an early form of gum. The songwriters wrote it as a joke because their more serious material wasn't getting notice. They released this only to watch it shoot up the charts. This version was released under the name Ron & Ruby. The Chordettes, 40s swing jazz singers in need of a rocknroll hit, covered it and scored huge. The Youtube clip below has over 5.3 millions views!!

Chordettes - Lollipop - YouTube

The year before, Buddy Holly had released “Peggy Sue” which certainly had a gummy quality and no doubt served as the primary influence of Tommy Roe’s 1962 hit, “Sheila” which even steals the paradiddle tombeat from Holly’s song. Roe, in fact, went on to become a major force in bubblegum, much of the formation of which can be attributed to him and, through Roe, back to Holly.

Tommy Roe - Sheila ( 1962 ) - YouTube

Another hit from ’62 that touched upon gum was Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon’s “Palisades Park” (written by Chuck Barris) with jumpy adolescent melody and beat coupled with Farfisa organ riff.

Another early gum pioneer was Lesley Gore with her 1963 hits “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Both songs crafted to appeal to the West Coast valley girl in all her self-centered, spoiled, vapid splendor. Strictly speaking, Gore’s material is not bubblegum but it definitely served as a forerunner and certainly garnered many fans in that same market (I was 5 and can remember my 8-year-old sister and her friends constantly singing “Judy’s Turn to Cry”) but it was actually geared closer to 16-year-olds than 12-year-olds (neither of whom consider the other to be in the same generation). Typical of many gum artists, Gore was actually a superb jazz singer who could only get notice doing this kind of material. She actually knew nothing of the valley girl lifestyle and didn't care to. Gore still performs today but is strictly jazz.

In ’63, we also saw the release of “Sugar Shack” by Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs, another proto-gum aimed at a somewhat older audience but for which all the signatures of true bubblegum were present including using “sugar” in the title and a sexually non-threatening penny whistle riff to offset the somewhat racy lyrics punctuated with a growly bass sax to emphasize the sexual undercurrent.

Jimmy Gilmer -

One of the primary sources of bubblegum structure comes from soul and, specifically, Motown songs and arrangements. The string section for 1965’s smash “Can’t Help Myself” was borrowed and recycled by Bubblegum producers as Lew Warburton countless times. Much of Holland-Dozier-Holland can, in fact, be classified as proto-gum. “Can’t Help Myself” is itself a proto-gum song as evidenced by it’s more popular second title, “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch,” parts of which seem to have served as a model for Edison Lighthouse’s 1970 hit, “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” or Jay & the Techniques’ 1967 hit, “Keep the Ball Rollin’.”


Another Holland-Dozier-Holland number from ‘65 gave us another important proto-gum piece—the Isley Bros. and “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You).” Perhaps more than any other song, this one was pulled to pieces and carefully dissected by the bubblegum writers. The melody turns up in countless ways, e.g. 1970’s “My Baby Loves Lovin’” by White Plains (which, not coincidentally, is sung by Tony Burrows, who also sang for Edison Lighthouse), Kenny O’Dell’s 1967 gummy hit, “Beautiful People,” and the Grass Roots 1971 hit, “Sooner or Later” and recycled yet again on McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs.”

Kenny O'Dell - Beautiful People (1967) - YouTube

Another example of proto-gum would be Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 song, “Sugar Town” written by her producer and collaborator, Lee Hazelwood. While Ms. Sinatra was certainly not a bubblegum artist and “Sugar Town” was actually more popular among older people than the bubblegum audience, the song itself presents us with a recipe for fashioning gummy songs right down to using “Sugar” in the title and lyrics of a “not a care in the world” bent. In addition, a harpsichord can be heard which later made its presence felt in bubblegum also due to its light, silvery, child-like sound. “Sugar Town” is not true bubblegum as it actually exhorts adults to revert to child-like optimism whereas bubblegum was never made to address that audience, in fact, ignored it completely. After all, kids just wanna dance and who cares what grown-ups wanna do? But this was clearly an attempt to cash in on the bubblegum craze.

NANCY SINATRA - Sugar Town 1967 - YouTube
Damn, what a...err...voice!
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