What Is Bubblegum Music?

A guide to the poppiest pop music of a very serious time

The sub-genre of pop music originally known as "bubblegum" is one of the very few dominated by a specific production team: in this case, Super K Productions, the team of Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz, who scored the majority of bubblegum's biggest hits in the late '60s. The craze was kicked off, however, by songwriter, sessionman, and producer Paul Leka, who oversaw the genre's first major hit in 1968 with "Green Tambourine" on the Buddah label.

Buddah had dabbled in feel-good pop with acts like The Lovin' Spoonful and Tommy James and the Shondells, but "Tambourine" was created specifically for the Pipers, and while they didn't like its manufactured, kiddie psychedelia, it eent straight to #1. The bubblegum era had begun.

Soon, Buddah, Leka, and Super K -- along with bubblegum's other auteur, Monkees mogul Don Kirschner -' realized they didn't have to deal with a band's artistic integrity at sll, and resorted instead to an assemblage of studio pros; the method of using anonymous, interchangeable groups of session musicians was the key to bubblegum's ultimate success; other examples include "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Steam (also written by Leka) and The Archies' "Sugar Sugar," masterminded by Kirshner (after the Monkees' Mike Nesmith supposedly rejected the song by threatening to punch the producer in the face). It was history's first tween pop: catchy, easy to sing, loaded down with references children would love, and presented with an innocence the rest of rock had long rejected.

While the term can and has been applied to any manufactured teen pop, the actual sound of late-60s and early-70s bubblegum is specific: singsong melodies with high vocals (often harmonized), cheap organ solos, simple chords, and a childish lyrical hook, like schoolyard games (The 1910 Fruitgum Company's "Simon Says" and "1-2-3 Red Light") or junk food metaphors ("Chewy Chewy" and "Yummy Yummy Yummy" by the Ohio Express).

The production is always very poppy, with the slightest bit of soul in the vocals and a bit of light garage-rock guitar. The groups are usually faceless and interchangeable, with post-psychedelic names, and some, like the Banana Splits and Josie and the Pussycats, are attached to actual cartoons or live-action children's shows. It is often confused with "sunshine pop," which is a more adult contemporary style influenced by show tunes and the British Invasion.

Several "real" groups entered bubblegum territory at times, and the sound would go on to directly influence glam, especially early Sweet singles, and all future boy/girl bands (beginning with the Bay City Rollers and their hit "Saturday Night"). Through glam, it entered the realm of '80s hair metal, and once it took a harder R&B turn (thanks largely to New Edition and New Kids on the Block), it began to develop into the boy band style we know today. In addition, the rise of twee pop in the 21st century also showed evidence of bubblegum's continuing influence.

Also Known As: Bubblegum Pop, Bubblegum Rock, Sunshine Pop

Examples:

"Yummy Yummy Yummy," Ohio Express

It may the definitive bubblegum hit, but it was merely a demo that somehow made it on to a 45 before singer Joey Levine knew what was happening; he later had a successful career writing commercial jingles.

"Sugar Sugar," The Archies

A huge hit by a band that didn't exist, this #1 hit at bubblegum's peak, possibly because singer Ron Dante was already in the Top 10 as the lead vocalist of "Tracy" by the Cuff Links.

"Indian Giver," The 1910 Fruitgum Company

The Company were a "real" band, despite this hit being written by Shondells hit man Ritchie Cordell and "Montego Bay" singer Bobby Bloom. This may be why both Joan Jett and the Ramones saw fit to cover it.

"I Think We're Alone Now," Tommy James and the Shondells

The Shondells were the godfathers of bubblegum, "Hanky Panky" notwithstanding, and their string of late-'60s hits began in earnest with this ode to "playing dictor."

"Dizzy," Tommy Roe

Tommy had already made a career with soundalike hits -- "Sheila" was a Buddy Holy rip, "Everybody" was reminiscent of Freddy Cannon, and "Sweet Pea" had a hint of Wayne Fontana -- but this is the hit he's remembered for.

They were Brits, but the studio vets behind this hit went on to create several other bubblegum and novelty records, including the Pipkins "Gimme Dat Ding" and at least one other hit on this list...

"Beautiful Sunday," Daniel Boone

Boone was a prominent songwriter on what passed for the British bubblegum scene, but this solo song was the only one to hit big in America -- and set records in Japan that have yet to be broken.

White Plains singer Tony Burrows returned for this smash, and he wasn't done yet, scoring a late-period bubblegum hit with First Class' "Beach Baby."

Super K strikes again, after "Yummy Yummy Yummy" and the Music Explosion's "Little Bit O' Soul" but before "Indian Giver."

"Tracy," The Cuff Links

Ron Dante's other big hit, and his last as a vocalist, though he did all right for himself when bubblegum ended by producing and up-and-coming singer named Barry Manilow.