Your Sister’s (Record) Rack: The Archies
Digging around in my sister’s bedroom, specifically her record collection, I found some of her singles and one of her very first albums. They’re all by the Archies, which was a fictional rock group from the comic books. Well, it started with the Archie comics – the music is actually an offshoot of the animated “The Archie Show.”
Archie was actually created in the 1940s as a typical American teenager. Red-headed and freckled, Archie Andrews was inspired by the Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney. Archie was originally a pretty hep cat, with two swingin’ gal pals (Betty and Veronica) and a best friend (Jughead). The four lived in Riverdale and did typical teenager things throughout the 1940s and the 1950s.
Jump to 1968, and there’s a hit cartoon TV show featuring the Beatles and their music (dating back to ’65) and a live action TV series, The Monkees, also with cool pop music. Don Kirschner, who produced the music for the Monkees, was asked to create another pop group, this time to serve as the voices for the animated TV series based on the Archie universe. Archie and his pals were hipped up to 1960s standards and the plot of the animated “Archie Show” involved the four friends forming a rock group.
The TV show only lasted one season, from 1968-69, but it spawned a number of hit singles including the No. 1 smash “Sugar Sugar.” Most of the tunes were sung by Ron Dante and played by top L.A. studio pros including guitarist Hugh McCracken (played with Paul Simon, Paul McCartney and more) and drummer Gary Chester (Aretha Franklin, Isley Brothers). The songs initially came from Brill Building giant Jeff Barry (who co-wrote “Sugar Sugar” with Andy Kim) but later many of the tunes were written or co-written by Neil Goldberg.
Even though the original TV show was long gone into rerun land, the Archies were still a hit-making pop group as the 1970s dawned and there was another TV show, “Archie’s Funhouse.” Sunshine is the Archies’ hippy dippy album with the trademark hooky pop music that was a guilty pleasure then as it is now. This was the Archies’ fourth album and it supposedly marked a more “mature” approach for the virtual group. Some of the tunes from this album were featured on the TV show.
Well, the title tune which opens the album sinks its hooks deep in the flesh right off the bat. You can’t help tapping toes along with “Sunshine,” sugary as it may be. “Mr. Factory” introduces an ecological, anti-polluting industry message with lyrics like “The little fish ain’t growin’/Cause the dirty river ain’t flowin’/Doesn’t anybody want to see it clean?” Call it entry-level awareness if you will, but I’m sure this Archies album turned a lot of pre-pubescent teenagers into suburban hippies back in its day. Me included.
“Waldo P. Emerson Jones” is a dude who ” took his chopper up to Woodstock and wormed his way backstage” and supposedly knows the Beatles and causes trouble when he goes after the singer’s girl. “Suddenly Susan” is another chick who parts the clouds when she walks into your life, and “One Big Family” is a saccarine serenade to brotherhood. While one didn’t expect a commercial venture (especially one aimed at 10-15-year-olds) to be as relevant as, say, the Jefferson Airplane, this Archies album did attempt to more accurately reflect the dawning consciousness (some would say self indulgence) of the late 1960s-early 1970s.
Take a listen to “A Summer Prayer For Peace,” the centerpiece of Sunshine. Mewling about “three billion people singing this … summer prayer for peace,” the Archies suggest that if we all lay down our weapons and sing together that would end hate and war and stuff. Stupid as that may sound, at least they were trying, you know?
“Sunshine,” the title tune, was heavily played on the TV show but it didn’t even reach the Top 50 on the U.S. pop charts. “A Summer Prayer For Peace” did manage to hit No. 1 in South Africa although it stiffed stateside. “Comes The Sun,” an attempt to rock out (and maybe steal some of the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” thunder) could’a been a hit but was never released as a single.
Sunshine was close to the end of the line for the Archies. The group would release just one more album of new material (This Is Love, 1971) and the rest were greatest hits and repackagings. Oh, and you used to be able to get Archies records on the back of cereal boxes – cut out the record and slap it on the turntable – sounded great! Not.
Ron Dante went from the Archies to singing jingles on TV commercials (“You Deserve A Break Today” for McDonalds) and producing Broadway shows (“Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Children Of A Lesser God,” both Tony Award winners). He also sang backup for artists like Melissa Manchester and Luther Vandross, and produced some Barry Manilow sessions. He still tours and plays, and even if you don’t ask he’ll happily sing “Sugar Sugar.”