Ritchie Cordell, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz may not be names you know. However "Yummy Yummy Yummy," "Chewy Chewy," and "Hanky Panky" should be familiar. Before K-Pop and boy bands, the pre-adolescence of rock ‘n' roll brought us Bubblegum. After the Beatles cleared the rulebook, Sixties’ record executives saw a huge potential audience in the kids. Too young for newly-alloyed Hard Rock, kids were devouring cereal, sweets and cartoons. A handful of songwriters fed the assembly line of hitmakers from 1967-1972 and Bubblegum was briefly fashionable pop music.
While teenagers were lucky enough to have a hi-fi, the younger siblings were often provided with tiny handheld AM radios. Those two-inch speakers needed sound to be vivid and bright. "Teenybopper" music appeared before. However, Motown's phalanx of hit songwriters and the Prefab Four, The Monkees, ignited new listeners. Kasenetz and Katz scored a No. 2 hit in 1967 with the Music Machine's "Little Bit O'Soul" through traveling station-to-station with their production. When the single caught the ear of marketing maestro Neil Bogart at Buddah Records, he signed them and turned an offhand remark into confectionary singles that still ring out today.
Buddah Records single-handedly jumpstarted pop music in the tumultuous year of 1968. Singles from The Lemon Pipers erupted in an array of colors after the light psychedelia of "Green Tambourine" soared to No. 1 in February. Mansfield, Ohio’s Sir Timothy and The Royals were truly re-branded as The Ohio Express April 1968's delectable "Yummy Yummy Yummy" went top five in both the U.S. and U.K. New Jersey's Jekyll and the Hydes dropped the garage act to sell millions of "Simon Says" and "1, 2, 3, Red Light." Kasenetz and Katz even started their own "supergroup" to further promote their music ("Quick Joey Small, Run Joey Run)" and secretly represented themselves as Welsh coal miners turned pop stars Crazy Elephant ("Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'").
By 1969, Bubblegum was entrenched in the pop charts and in other hands. Songwriters hired studio musicians and gave voices to cartoons like The Archies ("Sugar Sugar"). Sid and Marty Krofft created a live-action cartoon in The Banana Splits, who like the Monkees, hired a myriad of pro musicians including Barry White and Al Kooper. Hanna-Barbera even spun off The Archies into a weekly cartoon about an all-girl pop band, Josie and the Pussycats.
With all this focus on sales, Bubblegum albums just did not sell. Singles were the biggest measure of success. Pop acts like Michigan's Tommy James and the Shondells, whose simplistic songs like "Hanky Panky" and "Mony Mony" were the blueprint for Bubblegum, returned to the charts with some 12 Top 40 Pop hits. His producer Ritchie Cordell leapfrogged from working with Kasenetz and Katz to later produce the Ramones and co-write "I Love Rock N' Roll" with Joan Jett.
In the US, Bubblegum went pop as The Partridge Family found a universal audience for this sugary music. In the UK, Bubblegum morphed into Glam Rock giving us sweet,Suzi Quatro and that beat that still shakes stadiums today. So the next time you hear silly songs mentioning sassafras or marmalade, merrily chew along.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T- BONE's Records and Cafe and a GED instructor.