America’s favorite teenager turns 73 this month. Debuting in Pep #22 (December 1941), Archie Andrews has entertained generations with his antics, his schemes, and his struggle to decide between Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. He also gave us a sound indicative of the bubble gum rock genre in the 1960s, a decade with an abundance of musical options.
The Beatles propelled a British invasion of American popular music, The Beach Boys translated the southern California surfing into Top 40 gold from coast to coast, Motown’s singers offered love-soaked ballads, and folk music groups gave mellow sounds contradicting the harshness of the era marked by assassinations, riots, and war.
The bubble gum genre neither challenged the imagination nor expressed deep-rooted emotions. It simply made people smile. And nobody signified the sugary sounds of this category better than The Archies, a group that never really existed. Sort of.
With television violence gaining ground as a hot-button issue, a void existed for children’s programming that could be sanitary, entertaining, and, of course, profitable. The void grew bigger after considering the groundbreaking yet edgy music of The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin in addition to the Woodstock generation’s clarion call for counterculture music. The Archies served as the musical component on Filmation’s The Archie Show, which debuted on CBS on September 14, 1968.
An Archie-based show was a logical choice given the Archie franchise’s goodwill, name recognition, and success since its 1941 debut. Don Kirshner directed the music of The Archie Show. Kirshner’s musical pedigree included engineering the music success for The Monkees, a fictional group formed for an eponymous television show on NBC. The Monkees became a phenomenon largely because of Kirshner’s golden ear for music plus the visibility of a broadcast network platform. When Kirshner took the job with The Archies, he brought along Jeff Barry, the producer of I’m A Believer, a number one song for the Monkees. Barry also co-wrote two number one songs with Ellie Greenwich, Da Doo Ron Ron and Do Wah Diddy Diddy.
Jeff Barry’s first Archies single, Bang-Shang-a-Lang, conformed to his tradition of titular consonance. Feelin’ So Good followed, but when Barry paired with Andy Kim to scribe the third Archies offering, they hit the musical jackpot. Sugar, Sugar was the number one song for four weeks in 1969. Ron Dante and Toni Wine were the real-life musical forces that gave voices to Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie, and Jughead.
In Archie #189 (March 1969), the story The Music Man gives an origin of sorts to Don Kirshner’s involvement. It centers on The Archies pounding the proverbial pavement. Their efforts are for naught, seemingly. Nobody is interested. “Every two bit, fly-by-night operator has turned us down or bounced us out,” Archie notes. Suddenly inspired, Veronica reveals her father’s friendship with Don Kirshner, leading the band to lobby Mr. Lodge to use his influence for securing an audition. The Music Man ends with Kirshner asking The Archies to record for his label, Calendar Records.
CBS gave the Archie universe prime time exposure in the 1969-70 television season with the specials Archie and His New Friends and The Archie, Sugar Sugar, Jingle Jangle Show. Successors to The Archie Show on Saturday morning include The Archie Comedy Hour, The U.S. of Archie, and Archie’s Bang-Shang Lalapalooza Show.