May
14
2009

What is bubblegum music?

Bubblegum Pop (artiwork by levaine - CC-BY)

Bubblegum Pop (artiwork by levaine - CC-BY)

Bubblegum music is a kind of pop music manufactured to appeal to young teens and pre-teens. The songs have simple melodies and regular “bopping” beats. The repetitive, easy-to-remember riffs and choruses make the songs easy to learn and easy to sing. The lyrics are straightforward, even stupidly simplistic, though sometimes with a double entendre thrown in, just to make the music less cool with the fans’ parents.

The emergence of bubblegum music around 1968, and its decline from 1973, parallel the rise and decline of one of its main exponents, The Archies. The Archies were a cartoon band whose antics and music formed the cartoon TV series The Archie Show. But their music was real, and they pumped out dozens of hits, written to order and recorded by a group of assembled studio musicians.

Two recurring themes of bubblegum music are romantic love and food, often together. And so the Archies’ biggest hit, Sugar Sugar from 1969, epitomises bubblegum:

Sugar,
Ah, honey honey,
You are my candy girl,
And you’ve got me wanting you…

Other big singles for The Archies were Who’s Your Baby?, Bang-Shang-A-Lang and Jingle Jangle.

The 1910 Fruitgum Company rose to fame at the same time as The Archies, with their musical take on the children’s game Simon Says. Other hits of theirs included 1, 2, 3, Red Light, along with Goody Goody Gumdrops, and Indian Giver.

The Ohio Express made it big with the food-and-love theme, with their 1968 hit Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve got love in my tummy).

All of these bands were manufactured. They were more “brands” than “bands”, and studio musicians were generally interchangeable with named performers. But the brand and the sound was enough for their target audience.

Much of the bubblegum music came from Neil Bogart’s Buddah Records, produced by Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz who are coined the name of the genre to describe the songs they were producing.

History

The upbeat novelty songs of the early 1960s preceded bubblegum music. Hits like The Name Game by Shirley Ellis (“shirley shirley bo birley…”) shared the simple melodic beat and catchy danceable fun sound of bubblegum, but were aimed at older teenagers (as is pretty clear from 1960s film of her concerts).

A little later, lighthearted bands like The Lovin’ Spoolful made records with lighthearted lyrics, as did soloists like Tommy Roe with hits like Suzie Darlin’. No way was this bubblegum music yet (although Tommy Roe joined the genre later with Dizzy and Jam up Jelly Tight). He’s sometimes called the “father of bubblegum”, but I think that overstates the case.

The mid 60s saw younger teenagers having more disposable income and buying more records, and music was provided for them to buy. The Monkees were assembled in 1966 for a television series, and given material to perform. Their early works bordered on bubblegum, including I’m a Believer and A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, but they weren’t quite bopping enough, and the band then asserted their musical independence and moved a little upmarket with later hits such as Listen to the Band.

Often credited with being the first bubblegum hit is Green Tambourine by The Lemon Pipers, but to my mind its psychidelic elements and audio phasing disqualify it from the genre, so I’d say that bubblegum music didn’t really arrive until The Archies hit the mainstream with a bang in 1968.

Bubblegum lives on in a sense. You could argue that it was continued into the 1970s by the likes of The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch, and even the Bay City Rollers. Later still, the Spice Girls were doing what the bubblegum groups of 1968 did—selling manufactured simple music to a teenybopper audience.

But the social context is different, and the later songs are laden with richer imagery but lack the innocent joy of the 1968 music.

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