Monday, November 07, 2005

Love, you're such a sweet thing, good enough to eat thing

Merritt: The only genre that I can say I love is bubblegum - but I can say that because I feel free to define what is and what isn't bubblegum: Ramones, Kraftwerk, Abba, the Troggs. I'd like to have a bubblegum store.
Raygun Magazine: You could call it blow pop. [Merritt doesn't laugh.] Define the bubblegum aesthetic.
Merritt: Celebration of simplicity of form, lack of high art intentions and brevity.

The popular conception of bubblegum is disposable, sing-songy pop music churned out by faceless musicians and marketed to prepubescents (and this is certainly true in many cases), but Merritt's own definition distills what really makes bubblegum pop's best moments so memorable. Keep it short and simple (three chords, verse/chorus/verse/chorus/chorus), and make it insanely catchy.

According to Merritt, the cheerleader chant that begins the Magnetic Fields track "Washington, D.C." was intended to channel the Bay City Rollers' track "Saturday Night." The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish, tartan-wearing teen sensation, perhaps a prototype for boy bands, and Merritt told Chickfactor that they were the first band he saw in concert "by choice."

The Ohio Express had a brief existence during the early part of the classic bubblegum period (late 60s to early 70s), and as cited by Claudia Gonson for Caught in Flux, Stephin was a fan. The producer duo of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz were the masterminds behind the outfit, along with another successful bubblegum group, 1910 Fruitgum Co. Their arrangement was an odd one (and I highly recommend the book Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth for more), as their first hit was not even performed by them - it was the track "Beg, Borrow & Steal" by the Rare Breed (available on the Nuggets compilation) simply re-released. To clarify: it was the same exact recording, not a cover, released again under the Ohio Express name. While the band was out performing and making appearances, studio artists would create their new songs, including their biggest hit, "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy."

Responsible for fifteen top-40 hits in a five year run, Tommy James is best known for his work with the Shondells, including songs like "Mony Mony" and the dumb garage rock of "Hanky Panky." But, it's his pure pop like "I Think We're Alone Now" that earned him a spot in the bubblegum hall of fame. His track "Crimson and Clover," a chart topper, slowed down the pop formula and used wah-wah guitar and a tremolo vocal effect for a psychedelic feel. Regarding the vibrato guitar on the Magnetic Fields track "All My Little Words," Merritt said:

I took great pains to get the vibrato almost at tempo but not quite. I've always liked "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells, where the vibrato - "crimson and clo-o-o-ver, over and o-o-o-ver" - is not quite in time. I think it's supposed to be in time.

When asked to select "the perfect song" for NPR's All Songs Considered, Merritt's pick was "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies, a song for which I couldn't imagine a single note being in a different place. Merritt writes:

This laidback three-chord anthem full of sweet double entendres and soulful hand-clapping enthusiasm is recorded with minimal guitar and maximal two-finger Farfisa organ. The pinnacle of bubblegum music, if not pop itself, S.S. was performed by cartoon characters on a Saturday morning television show, and went to #1 with no band to back it up on the road.

The Bay City Rollers - "Saturday Night"
The Ohio Express - "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy"
Tommy James and the Shondells - "Crimson and Clover"
The Archies - "Sugar, Sugar"

Stephinsources will return on November 21.


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