In the mid-1960’s two producers at Buddah records (Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz) started cranking out catchy and upbeat sanitized rock/pop records designed to appeal to what we today call “tweens”, the pre-teen and young teen audience. They called it bubblegum music and they cranked it out like a Willy Wonka music factory.
It all started with A Little Bit of Soul by Ohio garage rockers The Music Explosion. Kasenetz and Katz got them in a studio, shaved off the rough garage edges and gave them a more easily accessible sound.
The song was a huge hit and led Kasenetz and Katz to further refine the pure bubblegum formula: Take a happy pop melody, add just enough garage rock energy, a sing-song schoolyard lyric and a groovy band name and you’ve got yourself a hit. Imagine a song that was too insipid and juvenile for The Monkees and you’ve got the perfect bubblegum song. The lo-fi songs were perfect for the cheapo record players owned by young kids and provided a gateway from children’s music to mainstream rock. I guarantee you a lot of parents got awfully sick of Ooh-Poo-Pah Susie by Professor Morrison’s Lollipop after their 11 year old daughter played it over and over on her Fisher Price record player:
Kasenetz and Katz soon realized that with music this disposable there was really no need for a band with talent or charisma. They went through countless bands with names like the 1910 Fruitgum Comnpany, J.C.W. Ratfinks and the Carnaby Street Runners. Some of them were actual garage bands, others were just studio creations who never performed live.
One of the real bands (I think) was Crazy Elephant. They only had one hit but it was terrific, 1969’s Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’:
The Kasenetz Katz Singing Orchestral Circus was a bubblegum super group, combining the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Ohio Express, Music Explosion and several others (all produced by Kasenetz and Katz). The only hit they had was the catchy single Quick Joey Small:
The popularity of bubblegum and the disposable nature of the artists meant it was a perfect fit for kid’s TV. The Archies started it with Sugar Sugar but soon even live action acts like The Banana Splits and Lancelot Link got in on the act. Here’s the Banana Splits cranking up the fuzz tone with I’m Gonna Find a Cave:
The very nature of bubblegum music was it’s faceless anonymity, something that eventually wore thin as audiences matured and wanted to know more about their musical idols. It fizzled out around 1971/72, eventually morphing into glam and later disco as the bubblegum producers found another medium that allowed them full control behind a pre-packaged act that could perform the songs for the cameras.
Bubblegum is long gone now and don’t tell me Katy Perry and Justin Bieber are bubblegum acts. Sure, bubblegum was manufactured pop but a key part of the equation was the irrelevance of the performing artist. There was no need for a pretty face, the pure sound coming out of a single AM speaker was all you needed. of course there was a lot of bad bubblegum but the genre produced some genuinely good pop songs. I’ll let The Archies close it out with one of the best, Sugar Sugar: