Steve Eighinger

Bubblegum era was short-lived, but it was sweet

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 30, 2020 4:00 pm

It doesn't seem possible, at least to an aging baby boomer like myself, that it was 50 years ago this summer we were at the height of the "bubblegum" era of pop music.

Bubblegum music, that sound from our youth that was always upbeat, albeit somewhat contrived with more than a touch of syrupy-sweet schlockiness, served as the bridge between the standard pop sound from the mid-to-late 1960s and the full-fledged arrival of disco music in the early 1970s.

Bubblegum ruled AM radio with its catchy choruses and light melodies, creating a sound that music purists detested. For me, the bubblegum era covered my high school years, and I loved it. Sure, I had some of those "purist" friends who turned up their nose and favored the edginess of Led Zeppelin or the rowdiness of the Rolling Stones. And that was fine.

But while some of my friends were listening to "Stairway to Heaven" in a dark room, or singing at the top of their lungs to "Honky Tonk Woman," I was enjoying "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies and "Yummy Yummy Yummy" from the Ohio Express.

I didn't feel the need to try and bring about world peace through the lyrics of the music I listened to. Instead I preferred something I enjoyed singing along with in the car or while I sat on the back porch with a bag of chips and a glass of Coca-Cola -- with plenty of ice, please.

For me, the unquestioned No. 1 song of that bubblegum era was "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies. For those with even a trace of interest in the history of pop music at that time, I'm sure you realize the Archies were a fictional "cartoon" group with vocals by a singer named Ron Dante.

Dante, who is now 75, has enjoyed a long and rather distinguished career as not only a studio vocalist but a songwriter and record producer. Dante is hosting a weekly show on SiriusXM's 1960s channel.

Dante was also the voice of the Cuff Links and co-produced Barry Manilow's first nine albums. Dante's big hit with the Cuff Links was "Tracy," and for the record, I was the proud owner of both "Sugar Sugar" and "Tracy."

Arguably, "Sugar Sugar" was the anthem of the entire bubblegum era, serving as Billboard magazine's No. 1 song for all of 1969. "Sugar, Sugar" sold a staggering 6 million copies.

If "Sugar Sugar" served as the symbolic song for that era, the Ohio Express had to be group face of the bubblegum franchise. The band turned out five top-40 hits during the early stages of the bubblegum era and emerged as the Beatles of bubblegum with a string of songs that included, "Beg, Borrow and Steal," "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy," "Chewy, Chewy", "Mercy Mercy" and "Pinch Me."

One other group -- the 1910 Fruitgum Company -- also deserves bubblegum mention. That band enjoyed multiple hits with "Simon Says," "1, 2, 3 Red Light" and "Goody Goody Gumdrops."

Most of the bubblegum acts wound up being one-hit wonders who were no more than studio musicians recording under artificial monikers, much like Dante, but minus his success.

For most, the bubblegum era will be remembered as little more than the blink of an eye in the recorded history of pop music. For me, the thought of that time always brings a smile, especially when someone asks me what my favorite songs were during that marvelous period.

After all, it's almost impossible NOT to smile when you say "Sugar Sugar," "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" or "Chewy, Chewy."

And if you remember that era, I'm betting you just smiled, too.