The Infinite Jukebox: The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’

One of the things I love about pop is that from time to time and far more often than it ought to in a properly ordered Universe, the pursuit of pure commerce results in the creation of great art. Not High Art, save in exceptional circumstances, but of Art nevertheless.
Some of you, having already registered which song I’m writing about, will be looking at me in bewilderment, and a possibly larger fraction of you will have signs of disgust on your face. How can I possibly describe the ultimate bubblegum pop record, a song so light and fluffy that it’s singers and players were a bunch of animation cels, moving in a very limited fashion, as art of any kind, even with a small ‘a’?
But ‘Sugar Sugar’ is a gem, a pure pop gem, and for once one recognised more clearly in this country, where it was number 1 for eight weeks, than in its parent land, where it only topped the Billboard chart for four weeks.
Never forget that there is an art to pop, as well as a craft. The Archies existed because Don Kirshner got fed up dealing with the Monkees who, being human beings and musicians themselves in their respective fashions, had opinions of their own about the music they wanted to be represented by. Cartoons don’t refuse to record tracks, especially not the wholeseome Archies, smalltown boys and girls next door.
And The Archies’ records are perfect bubblegum, simple, expressive, bright and clear. They offer melodies, and tunes and choruses that insert themselves into your head and have you humming them, often unconsciously.
No-one realised just how good ‘Sugar Sugar’ was. It was tucked away on side two of an album, track four. But it’s bounce, its quasi-electronic pulse and its danceable rhythm made it the epitome of this simplistic, but tuneful strand of pop, and a herald for danceable music to come.
The lyrics are, like all true bubblegum, simple to the point of simplistic, even infantile. And why not? Love cannot only be expressed in subtle, carefully-composed lines. Lyrics are an important part of songs – without them, they become instrumentals, which are a whole different barrel of monkeys – but they’re not the whole thing and they rarely ought to be the most important thing. The best songs are a balance, or even an opposition between words and music, and there should be a place, and not a despised place, for that unlearned explosion of love, the one you don’t have the words for yet, but which still makes you want to sing about it. Sugar, ah honey honey, you are my Candy girl. And you got me wanting you.
Besides, this is the Sixties, that decade that mastered the simple surface beneath which are the things you might not wanna talk about in front of your mother. Just what is this Sugar that Ron Dante and his backing singers is going on about. Pour a little sugar on me honey, he’s asking. Pour a little sugar on it baby. And she promises she’s going to make his life so sweet.
Well, that’s up to you to decide. The music doesn’t push the issue either way. It’s straight down the middle cute and bouncy, it’s the girl in the centre of the dancefloor, bouncing up and down in her mini-skirt, aware that everyone is looking at her but not giving any indication that she’s noticed.
Weirdly, when this was slowly descending the Top 30, into January 1970, ‘Tracey’ by The Cufflinks, another piece of bubblegum, was heading for the Top 10. I was a musical simpleton, still learning everything, but at that time I actually recognised, without knowing, that Ron Dante was singing both. And even though ‘Tracey’ is pure bubblegum too, it’s words are more complex, more overt, it’s world is wider. It is, if you need to define such things, a better song. And just as bountiful and commercial.
But ‘Sugar Sugar’ is the more deeply felt music, precisely because of its shallowness. It’s one-molecule-thin, and it says everything we are capable of saying when we’re one-molecule-thin. Ah, honey honey. And we bounce up and down to that rhythm again, the rhythm we’re going to find out about one day soon. Not today. But soon, oh yes, soon.

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