25
Sep 06

THE ARCHIES – “Sugar, Sugar”

FT + Popular73 comments • 8,273 views

#279, 25th October 1969

How much sugar are we dealing with, exactly? Here’s an itemisation of the hooks in the last minute of “Sugar, Sugar”:

  • The main hook (“You are my candy girl”) and riff – we’ve been hearing this all through the song, but the sting of repetition gets drawn here by a well-judged key change.
  • The counter-hook from the male backing vox – “Pour your sugar on me!” – more spontaneous and joyful, more passionate, the backing guys throwing a wink or two at the girls behind the sweet lead singer’s back.
  • The female backing hook (“I’m gonna make your life so sweet!”) – this is lovely and I wish we heard more of it. The first time we get it tentative and shy, the second time more confident and delighted. I am guessing the first is ‘Betty’ and the second ‘Veronica’ but I have never knowingly read an Archie comic so I don’t actually know!
  • The “ba-ba-ba-da-da” third backing hook – this one is a real genius bit of popcraft, because you’ve had tiny snippets of it already leading into the chorus after the verses, so you’re primed for it and its injection of swing into the song.
  • The chanted “Honey! Honey! Sugar! Sugar!” that unites all these hooks before the fade – the whole party coming together. At no point is “Sugar, Sugar” a rave up – it’s always pretty sedate – but here it comes closest.

“Sugar Sugar” is magnificently well put together: the loading of all this stuff at the end of the track encouraging you to wind the record players arm right back to check it all again. It’s a bold way to structure the song and shows Jeff Barry and Andy Kim’s absolute confidence in the irresistibility of their main chorus – which is in some ways too irresistible, as I guess it’s all most adults remember and would indeed be dumb if it went nowhere else. (The verses flirt with inanity to an even greater degree, lyrically at least).

“Sugar Sugar”‘s craft is what makes me like it – I’m sure it was momentous to have a cartoon band at #1 but any controversy over the fact seems very distant given the procession of gimmicks, flukes, manufactures and novelties that have enthralled and apalled us since. There are other, more crazed and crude bubblegum records I thrill to more, and there’s a lot of pop I like better, but like a well-made wooden toy “Sugar, Sugar” is something anybody could deeply admire.

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Comments

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  1. 31

    (haha ok the second para is the most boring and obvious point ever made on POPULAR! the interesting bit (?) is the amount that is generalisable in mechanics of the first para maybe: in a way this is just my pet theory the SEVEN AGES OF (GUILTY) POP MAN as per usual, except it also includes the conundrum of how aged x you view yrself aged y viewing yrself at age z)

  2. 32
    Marcello Carlin on 26 Sep 2006 #

    complicated by my never really having progressed beyound the z stage

  3. 33

    true of all of us, except for sharply difft values of z? (i was very disgruntled to be 8! i liked being 7!)

  4. 34
    Marcello Carlin on 26 Sep 2006 #

    dunno, trout mask replica was in the album chart the same time as the archies and rolf, didn’t see any difference at the time and still don’t!

  5. 35
    DavidM on 26 Sep 2006 #

    2

  6. 36
    Alan Connor on 26 Sep 2006 #

    I always held out against reading The Archies, even when internet and so on made it possible. There were references to it, usually scatological / playful / scathing, in American indie comics that I like, but I’d never wanted to have to suck up every piece of Ameridreck necessary to get what might just be a hipster’s take on it.

    As a result, I’d never wholly twigged that the Betty and Veronica who I’d heard described as sexual objects so often were the singers of this pleasing song.

    But of course they were!

    Resurrection watch: Cover versions include Wilson Pickett, Tommy Roe (unsurprisingly), Neil Sedaka, Jimmy Smith, the aforementioned Ventures, Ike & Tina, Tom Jones, Dollar and the Germs.

    Many many films, often in those with dozens and dozens of songs used, including A Very Brady Sequel, Now And Then and Josie & The Pussycats.

    The Simpsons is one of my favourite users of pop songs, like when Bart and Millhouse go crazy on sugar having found $20 in “Boy Scouts ‘N’ The Hood”. It’s also in “Sweet & Sour Marge”, but was oddly left out of the “I Want Candy” / “Lollipop” / “Peppermint Twist” / “Whip It” segue in “The Simpson Family Smile-Time Variety Hour”.

    I’m sure it must have been in all manner of adverts, but none spring to mind. Or is the WHOLE SONG AN ADVERT??????

    nb: there was a comment in the recent mountain of words that reminded me why I wanted to do these trails of how songs got re-used and reinterpreted, but I can’t remember what it was. Maybe I’ll find it as I work back.

  7. 37
    Marcello Carlin on 27 Sep 2006 #

    You forgot the Jonathan King “prog” cover, issued under the guise of Sakkarin, Top 20 in ’71.

  8. 38
    Mark Grout on 27 Sep 2006 #

    Jonathan King missed the point?

    I say yes to this one.

    On holiday, Alice found and bought an Archie Comic (Betty, actually). Never saw one before, pretty cool. I was going to get a sub for Alice and Amber, but the postage was rid.

  9. 39

    i’m not sure jonathan king ever missed the point

  10. 40
    Marcello Carlin on 27 Sep 2006 #

    JK was sending up pretentious prog.

  11. 41
    jeff w on 27 Sep 2006 #

    My favourite cover of “Sugar Sugar” is by one of the artists whom Tom will be writing about very soon! It may even be on the B-side of their 1970 #1, but Google won’t confirm this.

  12. 42
    Marcello Carlin on 27 Sep 2006 #

    Neither can I, since purchasing of the record in question was not encouraged where I grew up…

  13. 43
    Doctor Mod on 27 Sep 2006 #

    . . . must have been the kiss of death as far as serious rock fans and the charts were concerned

    For serious fans my age (I was 18 in 1969), it certainly was. We didn’t have Rolf here, but we had more than enough garbage on the chart (some of which made it over to your side of the Atlantic). Over here we had FM radio, and by this time the singles charts weren’t exactly the center of our musical sensibilities. Album-oriented rock had already begun to take center stage, a trend that probably dated back to Sgt Pepper.

  14. 44
    Alan Connor on 27 Sep 2006 #

    You forgot the Jonathan King “prog” cover, issued under the guise of Sakkarin, Top 20 in ‘71.

    Nice one. I saw this on a list of JK tracks (I think in the Late Late Breakfast Show annual), but forgot it – and have indeed never heard it. I kinda wish I’d bought his King Of Pop box set when I saw it reduced in Our Price in the mid-90s. Kinda.

    And the unpopular band were, I presume, the England World Cup Squad – the Pipes & Drums & Military Band of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards not having done any bubblegum that crossed my radar.

  15. 45
    Chris Brown on 27 Sep 2006 #

    I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with being mindless, trivial and contrived – it’s just this song I don’t like.

    As for the childhood thing, well I obviously used to be a child, and by that time this had somehow become part of the list of records that adults thought children would like. If we got to hear pop music at my primary school, we’d get this amongst a limited rotation; the only other one I can recall now is ‘Superman’ by Black Lace.

  16. 46
    henry on 28 Sep 2006 #

    let’s not forget the cover of this song by the wonderful Dave Pell Singers…

  17. 47
    Doctor Mod on 30 Sep 2006 #

    Well, if you don’t hate soul and you want to hear an interesting spin on this one, you might consider the Wilson Pickett cover version.

  18. 48
    blount on 30 Sep 2006 #

    alex chilton did a version in a medley with (i think) ‘sex machine’

  19. 49
    koganbot on 2 Oct 2006 #

    I’m in the middle on this one, probably give it a 6 or 7. To emphasize what maybe Tom and a few others have been edging towards saying: for bubblegum, “Sugar, Sugar” is actually quite TEPID, owing to the vocals, which are unnecessarily pale and don’t do the song justice. Seem more like sugar substitute than actual sugar. But even as a song, I don’t see how “Sugar Sugar” has got nearly the hooks and melody of “Solitary Man” and “Crimson and Clover” and “Na Na Hey Hey” and “I Want You Back,” not to mention “Time of the Season” and “The Boxer” and “Pinball Wizard” and “Volunteers” and “Whole Lotta Love.” So I don’t see this song as particularly emblematic of either bubblegum or pop world 1969. As for the something else that great pop (or even average pop) ought to and usually does have: how about passion and dramatic tension and at least something going on in the lyrics? All the bob sh-bops and a-ding-a-dong dings from the old rock ‘n’ roll era gave singers a slalom run to show off their style and gave kid listeners vocal footwork to aspire to and to annoy adults and other kids with. And as for “the skills of compacting complex observations and emotions into direct and compact form” that’s accessible to a ten-year-old (sir pynk s lord of sukrat on another thread), few have ever done it as well as Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich did over and over back in their teenpop heyday: “He used to act bad/He used to but he quit it/It makes me so sad/’Cause I know that he did it/For me.” The relatively light-hearted “I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still/Da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron/Somebody told me that his name was Bill/Da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron” sketches a world and a situation with a couple of brush strokes. You met him (on a particular day, a particular time), somebody told you his name – this dreamboat, your heart skips a beat but you don’t even who he is, so there’s a distance to cross (and a song to listen to). And the joyous “Chapel of Love” gives you a dark backdrop in six words – “And we’ll never be lonely anymore”: so the condition of this happy wedding is a base state of loneliness, this joy springing from that sorrow. Same thing happens in teenpop nowadays: “Don’t let nobody tell you your life is over,” sing a couple of frightened home-schooled teenagers named Aly & A.J. exhorting you and themselves to heed the call of the world and not to hide out in fear, the delirious beauty of this song feeding off the terror depicted in their others. Or the kiddie-Oprah-pop in High School Musical – “You know the world can see us in a way that’s different than* who we are” – is what gives these kids something to soar and fly away from. Or a pop lyric can simply be a whammy ball to toss against the world and see what happens: “How come every time you come around/My London London Bridge wanna go down.” Not that every great pop song has to have interesting words, or any words, but they sure help.

    (No doubt somewhere, someplace “Sugar, Sugar” tossed itself against the world in an interesting way, and some of you were there. But I don’t feel my way into this happening when I hear “Sugar, Sugar,” which isn’t nearly as good as the other songs I mention in this post.)

    *I grimace at this “than”; I’m probably just showing my age.

  20. 50
    blount on 2 Oct 2006 #

    “Time of the Season” and “The Boxer” and “Pinball Wizard” and “Volunteers” – i’ll take ‘sugar sugar’ easy over any of these awkward can’t-dance bombast groans! the ‘no dramatic tension’ claim seems laffable too – the whole song’s a downhill snowball til the crest of ‘pour a little sugar on my honey’ with the immediate reprise of the chorus after carrying a marked note of triumph/glee where previously it was just hunger and anticipation.

  21. 51
    Mr. Snrub on 26 Nov 2006 #

    This song is best appreciated when mashed up with The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” on “Velvet Sugar” by Go Hme Productions (the 261st best single of 2006).

  22. 52
    Billy Smart on 18 Nov 2007 #

    Judge Dale’s verdict today: “A worthy chart-topper!”

    Billy says: Quite right, too!

  23. 53
    tim davidge on 8 Mar 2008 #

    “He plays it over and over again!” “Well, that’s what you do, when you hear a tune you like”. I can remember this conversation between one of my siblings and a great aunt a few weeks after having parted up with my eight-and-sixpence (still a year or so to go before decimalization) and bringing home my orange-label RCA copy of ‘Sugar Sugar’. It was my first-ever pop record purchase. It wasn’t so much a “tune” as a series of devices, as many, indeed, have said. The hooks, the strong underlying beat and the overall infectiousness just made me want to buy the thing and play it over and over again. Six million others, many of them probably younger than the average pop record buyer, fell for this one. But there was no ‘phenomenon’ beyond this one record. There was, I can clearly remember, a follow-up in the spring of 1970, but it sank without trace. I can’t even remember what it was called, and the Guinness book just gives the one title under “Archies” and then nothing else. Ever.

    “Sugar Sugar” was something of an exercise in cynicism. Don Kirshner, the man behind the Archies, was going to make sure his puppets wouldn’t up and run the show in the way his former charges the Monkees had done. Hence the cartoon. But a cartoon can’t generate the same kind of following that a ‘real’ pop act can. It can sell millions of records to school-age kids, but only once.

  24. 54
    Marcello Carlin on 8 Mar 2008 #

    Follow-up was “Jingle Jangle” and the one after that was “Who’s Your Baby?” which is fantastic.

  25. 55
    Lena on 8 Mar 2008 #

    “Time of the Season” isn’t bombastic.

  26. 56
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Mar 2008 #

    Unlike the current number one (at time of writing) which, um, borrows its riff…

  27. 57
    mike atkinson on 9 Mar 2008 #

    OK, OK, I’ve finally streamed “Time Of The Season”: and blimey, yes, total steal there from “Fluffy” Duffy…

  28. 58
    Doctor Casino on 4 Jan 2009 #

    Two things I’ll admit are absolutely fantastic in this song:

    1) The long “OOooooOOOooooHH!” that the male lead does maybe twice in the song to lead back to the “pour a little sugar on me” hook. There’s some actual non-cartoon DESIRE in that yell, it’s one of the few times it doesn’t actually sound like Archie Andrews is singing but in fact a real live HUMAN.

    2) The way the bass and piano come THROBBING back in, again just in a couple of places – there’s one around 2:13 or so. Pretty great, huge sound there.

  29. 59
    Waldo on 25 Oct 2009 #

    I don’t think anybody’s mentioned the girl in the kissing booth, a fairground attraction surely defunct in our more enlightened times. As Rosie mentions, the problem with this one was that it simply would not go away and I still don’t think is ever has. A giant of a pop song linked to a cartoon (I remember thinking, wrongly, that The Archies were the Scooby-Doo kids), it would have been a major surprise had it bombed. The only criticism I have is that it was far too American and that the overwhelming embrace we gave it here was perhaps something of a surprise.

  30. 60
    Dan Worsley on 30 Apr 2010 #

    One of Mark E Smith’s favourite records apparently, that alone’s worth a couple of points.

    Between an 8 or 9 for me, purely for the contrast between the earthy male vocal (pour a little sugar on it, baby) and the soaring female response (don’t I make your life so sweet).

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