Thursday, March 27, 2008

1967: Bubblegum Breakthrough

It is no accident that virtually every album considered among the greatest in rock history is not a live album but made in the studio. To name some obvious examples, think of Elvis Presley's first LP for RCA (1956), The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (1973)--all products of improvements in studio recording and engineering technology. Moreover, in the case of Dark Side of the Moon, developments in electronic music and the invention of the Moog synthesizer both contributed to its success and its achievement. Because of developments in electronic music and recording methods, by 1967 popular music had begun to provide an aural, electronic equivalent to the hallucinogenic drug experience, known as “psychedelic rock” or simply “psychedelia.”

What came to be referred to, pejoratively, as Bubblegum Music emerged from, and was a response to, psychedelia. The acknowledged masters of this form of pop music were Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz (known as Super K Productions), who were to Bubblegum music what Alan Parsons was to psychedelic rock. Under the banner of Super K Productions, Kasenetz-Katz were responsible for hits such as “Simon Says” by The 1910 Fruitgum Company and “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” by the Ohio Express, both released in 1968.

In my mind, though, Bubblegum’s first big hit was recorded by The Cowsills, who, as everyone knows, became the model for the musical family depicted in the TV show The Partridge Family (1970-74). The hit, released late in 1967, was titled “The Rain, The Park & Other Things.” It was written by Artie Kornfeld and Steve Duboff, who’d also written the hit “The Pied Piper” for Crispian St. Peters.

I saw her sitting in the rain, raindrops falling on her
She didn't seem to care, she sat there and smiled at me
Then I knew (I knew, I knew, I knew) she could make me happy (happy, happy!)
Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere!
I love the flower girl! Oh, I don't know just why, she simply caught my eye
I love the flower girl! She seemed so sweet and kind, she crept into my mind
I knew I had to say hello
She smiled up at me, and she took my hand and we walked through the park alone
And I knew (I knew, I knew, I knew) she had made me happy (happy, happy!)
Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere!
I love the flower girl! Oh, I don't know just why, she simply caught my eye
I love the flower girl! She seemed so sweet and kind, she crept into my mind
Suddenly the sun broke through (see the sun)
I turned around she was gone (where did she go?)
And all I had left was one little flower in my hand
But I knew (I knew, I knew, I knew) she had made me happy (happy, happy!)
Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere!
I love the flower girl! Was she reality or just a dream to me?
I love the flower girl! Her love showed me the way to find a sunny day

Betraying Bubblegum’s psychedelic origins, the singer is unsure whether he’s just experienced something real or an hallucination. “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” can also be understood as a benign version of The Association’s “Along Comes Mary” with its supposedly cloaked drug reference (“Mary,” so the story goes, is short for “Mary Jane,” one of the many coded names for marijuana).

Although providing similar titillations as rock but for a younger, teenage set, Bubblegum was psychedelic music deprived of its substance. It was psychedelia with the malignant property removed, the 1960s equivalent of today’s decaffeinated coffee, fat free cream, beer without alcohol, sugarless soda pop. It was The Monkees rather than The Beatles, “I Think We’re Alone Now” rather than “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” “Crimson and Clover” as the good (drug) trip rather than the bad one of “2000 Light Years From Home.”

Bubblegum’s novel flavor dissipated fast, and by the early 1970s it was gone, supplanted by what’s since become known as “Power Pop”—think of The Raspberries’ “Go All the Way” instead of Tommy James’ “Hanky Panky.”


Tim Lucas said...

I never knew that Artie Kornfeld co-wrote "The Rain, the Park and Other Things"! No wonder he (a co-producer of the Woodstock festival in 1969) looks so blissed out while standing onstage and rapping to the ABC newsman about all the people sitting in the rain in the WOODSTOCK movie. His rap is the one Charlton Heston has memorized in THE OMEGA MAN.

The Cowsills may have been a bubble gum act by definition, but I would personally categorize their performance of this song as psychedelia. There is no insincerity or irony in the vocals, for one thing, and the instrumentation has a wonderfully irridescent quality. Wholesome yes, but psychedelic nonetheless -- like a black light poster or a strawberry scented candle.

I think the Cowsills' (cleaned-up) cover of "Hair" also works as wholesome psychedelia -- listen to the sound effects during the "It can get caught in the trees" stanza -- but "Indian Lake" is unabashed bubble gum.

You remind me that the last Top 40 single I ever bought was "Quick Joey Small" in 1969. After that, I went over the wall myself and got into LPs -- Steppenwolf, Jefferson Airplane and Blue Cheer. Oh yes, and the WOODSTOCK soundtrack.

Anonymous said...

One of the things that drove bubblegum music was the need for something new in the marketplace. FM radio was raising, popularizing album cuts rather then singles which were the mainstain of TOP 40 AM radio. FM had taken the TOP 40's audience with them who were now out of high and moving on.

Bubblegum replaced it. Its appeal, demographically was to the younger brothers and sisters of the one's who were blissing out to Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, and The Grateful Dead.

The content of short, bouncy, hook ridden music with touches of psychedlia was brainchilded by Super K Productions at Neil Bogarts' Kama Sutra records. Bogart would later start Casablanca Records, home for KISS, and Donna Summer, both acts who could have fit nicely into the heydey of bubblegum.

Psychedelia in bubblegum to me was a 'sound' that the producers pulled on as much as the organ keyboards or the vocals of Ron Dante, who appear on the Archies, The Cufflinks, and eventually, produced most of Barry Manilow's hits. Kornfeld was as 'psychedelized' song writer as one of the time. Pick up a copy of "Barefoot in Babylon" a wonderful memoir/hisotry of Woodstock and beyond.

Currently, I have heard that bubblegum is getting a fresh look from a cultural/popular viewpoint. One past the distain that it had be many when it was the fresh thing filling the AM airwaves. I am looking forward to seeing more here and it spreading influnces that both you and Tim Lucas are demonstrating.