music

Three Kinds of Sugar

1. Yesterday, I learned that Wilson Pickett did a cover of the 1969 Archies hit “Sugar, Sugar.” One of the best known examples of the Bubblegum Pop genre, “Sugar, Sugar” actually sounds pretty good when given the Pickett treatment.

2. “Sugar, Sugar,” remains popular at weddings, a grand generalization I base solely on the fact that it played at mine during the cutting of the cake. Our version was by neither Pickett, nor The Archies, but Bob Marley:

Indeed. So two of our favorite singers of all time have covered this song. They do a pretty good job of it, considering what they’ve got to work with. Not that they haven’t gotten a little flack for it from the critics.

3. The song, while certainly catchy (burrows-into- your-brain catchy), was the product of a manufactured band assembled by a producer. Music mogul Don Kirshner formed the group after a split with his earlier creation, The Monkees. Where The Monkees were real people who wanted more artistic control and bridled at the sheen of inauthenticity, The Archies were considerably more malleable given their status as a bunch of cartoon characters (the Archie comics characters, in fact) whose performances were provided by studio musicians. New York Magazine has an interesting little article about the creation of The Archies in ’68, in which Kirshner says that their music will be the type that’s played in clubs, but will appeal to all ages—and by all ages, he means starting with the “2-to-11″ year old market. (If you’re familiar with the Kirshner vs Monkees mess, the article has an interesting paragraph in which songwriter Jeff Berry recounts a story that ridicules Monkee Mike Nesmith for having musical pretensions. Nesmith, one of The Monkee’s true musicians, is the bandmember who made their private, internal tensions with Kirshner public.* It also mentions Kirshner’s next project, a collaboration with the film producer Harry Saltzman, that would feature a band composed of “an English guy, a girl, a Negro and a white Southern guy.”**)

As for the origins of these covers? Pickett seems to have covered “Sugar, Sugar” for the same reason he covered a lot of songs during a period in his career (“Hey Jude, “Born to Be Wild”, “Hey Joe”): the pursuit of continued pop success and broad appeal.

Meanhile, Marley’s version is supposed to have come at the suggestion of a producer, the Chinese-Jamaican music mogul Vincent Chin.

*On a purely digressive note, Nesmith was the heir to the Liquid Paper fortune.
**My guess is this became the film Toomorrow, a space musical that starred Olivia Newton-John and by all accounts is a mess.

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