by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception." (When asked about his theory of relativity) – Albert Einstein
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Gravity/Falling Down Again” – Alejandro Escovedo
R.I.P.- Arthur Lee of Love, aged 61.
The Soporific Science Of Pop/Rock: (Or, My Wasted Weekend With A Toothache, The Archies And A Bottle Of Vicodin)
So I’m dorkin’ around this past weekend, downloading stupid songs from the web, when I get the bright idea to start collecting as many idiotic bubblegum pop tunes of the late ‘60s and early ‘70's as I can think of. My twisted logic being that I could then place them side-by-side on a mix CD with the even more repugnant, steaming pile of shite that passes for idiotic bubblegum pop today and show the younger generation how really and truly awful things have gotten. I’m cranky anyway- I’ve got a horrible toothache, my appointment with the dentist is three long days away, and there’s nothing to be done about it but pop pills and listen to music. Why should these modern whippersnappers get to sally forth through their text-blizzard, Jennifer Lopez-infected little lives and never suffer through some of the undeniable mind-rot I had to as a kid?
I whipped through the obvious picks- Top 40 drivel so embarrassingly mundane
and soporific I shudder to even type their dreaded names here- I came across
the undisputed kings of crapola: The
1910 Fruitgum Company. The evil conception of Jerry Kasenatz and Jeff Katz
(where WOULD pop rock be without ingenious Jewish songwriters? For the answer
to this and many more relevant questions, check out the tome Jews Who Rock by
Guy Oseary, which I was given as a gift one year by a dear rock fan buddy of
mine who also happens to be Jewish- you’ll never be the same, you have
my word), the ‘Fruit- nobody called ‘em that but they SHOULDA!!-
were a competent but decidedly uninspired gang of studio noodlers comprised
of singers Joey Levine (who also sang for The Ohio Express, but we’ll
get to that particular fuck-a-ree in a mo) and Mark Gutkowski, guitarists Pat
Karwan, Chuck Travis and Frank Jeckell (triple axe attack, oo yeh babeh that
HADDA rawk, uh!), horn blower Larry Ripley, and skin-men Floyd Marcus and Rusty
Oppenheimer. I’m not even gonna check and see if Rusty was related to
the guy who helped bring the atom bomb to fruition, considering his musical
output, I’ll just take it as a given ...
Okay, all line-up and songwriting credit hoopla aside, the bottom line here
is that the band shot straight to the top of the charts in 1968 (yes, the year
Hendrix, The Yardbirds, The Doors, Cream, etc. were blazing their own fiery
ways to the top; what the HELL was wrong with people ... oh yeah, they were
SCARED!! Askeered of lil’ ol’ rock n’ roll ... heheheh) with
sure-fire knee-knockers an’ brisket-bangers like “Simon Says,”
“Goody Goody Gumdrops” and “1-2-3 Red Light.” I downloaded
and listened to each of these, as well as tummy-terrorizers like “Chewy
Chewy” and “Indian Giver.” Phew. What a load in the pants,
man. Thing is, ‘til I sat down an’ really listened to some of the
lyrics, I never realized that at least one of these sorry-ass soft-soapers actually
had a rather devious, sexually-disturbed message squirreled away in the lyrics.
Or maybe I’m just paranoid. NAWWWW!! Not me!!
Well, I’ll lay the theory out for yaz, an’ you can take it as ya
see fit. Remember, I’m not saying that Monsieurs Kasenatz and Katz- who
actually didn’t even write “1-2-3 Red Light”- were intentionally
trying to promote bad, evil, wicked things in their music, but beyond the scope
of “Oh, it was just the TIMES they lived in,” I’m hard pressed
to see what normal, socially-conscious male could pen or even produce lyrics
like the ones in that song and NOT know how foul they sounded. You ready? OK,
here we go...
Composed by the songwriting team of B. and S. Trimachi (brain-damaged, ex-jock
step-brothers of one of the producers K., then, or what...??), “1-2-3
Red Light” is probably the first truly conscious date-rape-themed tune
(“Wake Up Little Susie” doesn’t count- Don Everly drove his
pretty lil’ gal home unmolested even though he knew her daddy was waitin’
on the porch with a loaded shotgun- now THAT’S chivalry, gang!) to ever
slither outta a cracked AM radio speaker. Though the music in almost every other
K./K. hit was nearly identical (with a few rather hilarious side-trips, such
as the “doo doo doo doo doo” refrain running through “Chewy
Chewy” or the way they nicked The Crystal’s “Then He Kissed
Me” in the middle of that same song, an’ by the way, don’t
even get me started on ol’ Phil “Quickdraw” Spector ... yeesh),
“1-2-3 Red Light” is less of a high-school loser/chump anthem and
more the theme music for a growling, ravaging wolf slathering and lusting at
young Lil’ Red’s rickety, fragile door.
Kicking off with an innocuous-enough sounding click-track drum beat, hand-claps,
cheesy organ riffs, and almost indistinguishable guitar licks, the song soon
reveals its nasty inner message, as Levine (or Gutkowski, who knows, and come
on, are they even REAL at all??) grinds his way into a primal plea for the ol’
nookie: “Every time I try to prove my love you / (1-2-3 red light) / You
stop me / Baby you ain’t right, to stop me / (1-2-3 red light) / Every
time I make a move to love you / (1-2-3 red light) / You stop me, baby every
night you stop me ... stop the game / You’ve got too much to lose / If
you stop me again / That’s when we might end / So please don’t refuse
At least he said “please” before he pinned her down to the summer-sweat-sticky
seat of his ‘68 Ford Mustang convertible and mussed up her beehive, eh?
Maybe it’s just me, like I said, but it sounds like another damn good
reason why “NO MEANS NO” is a big sellin’ bumper sticker on
college campuses across the U.S. of A. today, kids. Plus, I still have to wonder
what kind of bad-breathed, monkey-pawed goober couldn’t get a piece in
the age of Free Love anyway- what market was this song aimed at, UTAH??
And really, history has proven that there WERE more important things than base
sexual urges to write, play an’ caterwaul about at the dawn of the ‘70s,
hasn’t it? Ya know- VIETNAM, EQUAL RIGHTS, POVERTY, DRAFT-DODGERS, oh
yea and HIPPIES!! Either way, you’ll never hear “1-2-3 Red Light”
on yer local Oldies station quite the same again, willya? (but not really cuz
it’s syndicated all over Amerikkka by the same bastards who own every
other station on the continent an’ monopoly-DJed by Max fuckin’
Headroom these days anyway). “LOCK IT IN AN’ TEAR OFF THE KNOB!!
STAY RIGHT HERE FOR THE BEST OF THE FIFTIES SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES AND SOON THE
EIGHTIES TOO CUZ YOU YUPPIE SHITHEADS AIN’T GETTIN’ NO YOUNGER EITHER
HALLEFUCKINLUJAH!!” Ahh...my job is done.
Awright, enuff with the ‘Fruit, I just wanna wrap this rant up with a
short note about one Ron Dante, a similar bubblegummer who, despite his last
name (Sorry, Ron, but I just can’t help but picturing you perfectly coifed
in an all-white disco suit, gold chain tucked snugly into yer prolific chest
hair, rising up outta Dante’s Inferno in a red-hot, smokey elevator from
Hell that’s playin’ watered-down versions of your already too-sweet
pop hits, buddy- no offense, ya know plus my tooth is killin’ me here
maybe another pill will help, eh ...) wasn’t nearly as underhanded in
his lyrical pursuits.
You may remember Ron as the “Voice Of The Archies,” that long-lost
(the Archie comics of today are owned by a Christian, Right Wing organization
who make no bones about their beliefs on paper yet continue to allow their surely
underpaid artists to pen teeny-bopper chicks in outfits that would make Jessica
Rabbit herself blush- go figger, eh?) comic book/TV cartoon featuring Archie
hisself, Jughead, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and the rest. They didn’t do
much rockin’ in the comic version (too busy lost in endless teenage rutting
behavior but at least at good ole Riverdale High, the gals were portrayed as-
if not more- lusty and devious creatures as the dudes), but on TV, man, they
almost gave Lennon/McCartney a run for their money ... HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! Sorry-
the pill’s kickin’ in ...
Speaking of wacked out- just for shits n’ giggles, I once wrote a phony
“update” on the whereabouts of The Archies in the 21st Century right
here in these pages and received at least a half-dozen e-mails from concerned
fans of the animated wonder band who were wondering how and where they might
reach their musical heroes- I shit you not. This is how desperate some people
are to hang onto the sad cartoon remnants of their wasted lives- but hey, it
beats the Jebus Train and sometimes those nut jobs have cool old albums layin’
around they’ll let me borrow to record, heh heh ...
But I digress- besides the big Archies’ hit, “Sugar, Sugar”
(at least these gimcrackers had the decency to title their tunes properly- some
of ‘em actually made yer teeth ache upon first listen, an’ I consider
myself a loonie pop/rock fan to the nth degree), Ron also co-wrote a song for
Barry Manilow (the only performer insipid, non-threatening and bland enough
to rise up and replace groups like The Archies and the ‘Fruit on the charts-
O.K., I’ll give ya Debbie Boone but that’s no fair cuz she sang
for the OTHER guy, praise be ...), was a featured voice on the soundtrack for
the movie “Arthur” (what DO ya do when ya get caught between the
moon an’ New York City, Ronnie? Oh please please please lemme know cuz
Dudley ain’t talkin’ no mo’ an’ Chris Cross rode outta
The Big Apple like the wind a decade or two ago ...), and was one of the musical
producers for Disney’s “Little Mermaid” TV series. Which is
nothing to sneeze at (my apologies to the dwarf in advance), considering that
a super-talented songwriter/performer like Randy “Short People”
Newman has made one helluva nice living offa the Dizz-lies over the past decade
or so. Anyway, I’d always thought (and a goodly number of my musical compatriots
did, too) that Ron had been the evil mastermind behind ALL of those songs I’ve
just (sorry) reminded us all about.
so- in fact, compared to the insidious anti-femme jab of “1-2-3 Red Light,”
the root canal-inducing, idiotic conformity of “Yummy Yummy Yummy,”
and “Chewy, Chewy,” and the downright insulting Native American
groove imbedded in “Indian Giver” (yes, The Sweet’s “Wig
Wam Bam” was equally moronic and tasteless, but at least the wankers who
wrote that particular cut from Hell’s own soundtrack were BRITISH. No
excuse for Americans to continue to fuck with the Red Man into the 1960s- no
wonder Brando was too pissed to attend the Oscars a few years later ... don’t
laugh. YOU’RE from “The Land Of Sky Blue Water ...” Woo hoo!!
Crack another cold one, cowboy!), Ron’s compositions for The Archies,
as well as numerous other hits for bands like The Cufflinks and wheelbarrow
loads of production work (Barry Manilow, Pat Benatar, Cher, Broadway) prove
that he at least could pen a pop tune on his own and had the pipes to carry
In a bizarre twist, Dante (who was all but unknown to the legions of Archies
and Cufflinks fans in his heyday- and those numbers have only grown, God knows
how many irritable e-mails I’ll get just for droppin’ that line
about Dante’s Inferno ... I WAS JUST KIDDING, FOLKS!!) now tours and performs
his own hits, as well as continuing to record and release albums. He’s
a busy guy, and has done a helluva lot more behind the scenes than guys like
Danny, Jordan, Joe & John (and sometimes Donny) have ever done for pop music.
Check him out at rondante.com. There ya go, Mr. Sugar- I hope the free PR makes
up for me thinkin’ all these years that you wrote “Yummy Yummy Yummy”
which, as every sweet-toothed pop/rock fan worth a stick o’ cane knows
is a far less delectable aural dessert than a genuine masterpiece like “Sugar,
Sugar.” So there.
Anyway, the ‘Fruit and the Ohio Express couldn’t even really be
qualified as teen idols- they never toured; never played live gigs in smoky
clubs; never had to prove to a roomful of Hendrix and Grand Funk fans that they
could actually play that tasty lil’ lick in the center of their own miniature
folly-pops, did they? Nawwww. Still, despite their bad (and sometimes downright
evil) lyrics, same-y melodies and almost assuredly un-MTV-friendly faces, I’d
gladly take them and loveable oddballs like Ron Dante on the radio over the
Britneys, Christinas, N’Syncs, and Back-door Boys of today- that is, if
I couldn’t get my own bizarre definition (everything from the fucked-up
but essentially honest cheese of The Carpenters, Bread and America to the almost-pop-parody
of the Ramones, the sticky, doom-laden holocaust of Big Star and the shimmering,
too-perfect skitter of most of Todd Rundgren’s early ‘70s catalog.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on artists like The Jayhawks, Matthew
Sweet, 12 Rods, The Magnolias and them ‘Placemat fellers...) of perfect
pop/rock on the airwaves. The good news is that The Archies TV series (FIVE
seasons!! Oh, Yayyy!!!) should be out on DVD anytime now, so screw the radio
anyway. Time for another pill ...
That’s it for this time out, ya ‘toon-heads. Tune in again, same
day, same space next week for more reviews an’ less rantin’ ...
maybe. Until then- make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see mentioned
in this column, or you’d just like to share your own Saturday morning
pop/rock memories (come on, Bugaloos fans!), send replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com.