The Archies – Sugar, Sugar (1969, Calendar)
Why It’s Perfect: Inspiring Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me isn’t enough? If songs were cups of coffee, the spoon would stand bolt upright from all the sweetness dumped wholesale into this bubblegum classic. In fact, I suspect the beverage would be more like a mug packed solid with sugar, with a thin skein of coffee quivering over the lip. By any reasonable standard, Sugar, Sugar ranks as one of the top tunes of the late ‘60s, in spite of the oddity of how it came to be. Credited to wholly fabricated “band” The Archies (yes, as in the kids from the comics) and intended for use in their new Saturday morning cartoon, Sugar, Sugar should by all rights be little more than an advertising jingle throwaway. (Indeed, a number of Archies songs were actually given away on the back of cereal boxes as cardboard cutouts which could be played on standard record players!) Instead, the braintrust at Archie Comics turned to none other than Don Kirshner, fresh off his success as musical supervisor of the similarly prefab Monkees, to mould The Archies into a legitimate act. Kirshner then assigned producer/songwriter Jeff Barry, arguably one of the best pure pop composers of the era, and talented Canadian Andy Kim to churn out hits for the animated adolescents.
With such hitmaking pedigree behind it, it’s a pity that Sugar, Sugar doesn’t command more respect from the tastemaking elite. The song weds a jangly bed of summery guitars with massively overdubbed harmony vocals in a style reminiscent of Barry’s work with girl groups like The Ronettes and The Shangri-La’s, and everything has hooks for miles, but the real kicker is that lazy, vaguely Hawaiian organ lick. It’s got to be one of the most instantly-identifiable melodies in all of pop, and its unhurried progression might as well be the very sound of honey’s slow-drip satisfaction. Ace session vocalist Ron Dante deserves credit for finding just the right balance between innocent puppy dog affection and a certain rabbity horniness, selling a lyric like “You are my candy, girl / And you’ve got me wanting you” or “Pour a little sugar on it, baby” in a way that passes muster for both kids and pop-suspicious parents. He slides from butter-smooth to (admittedly soft) rock grit with ease, and Toni Wine’s coyly seductive backing vocals provide a fun femme counterpoint. Sugar, Sugar is the sort of song that demands sunshine, a hammock, a glass of fresh lemonade, and a cute girl close at hand; in lieu of these things’ availability, it at least suggests their existence, even on the dreariest days.
Defining Moment: Toni Wine cooing “I’m gonna make your life so sweet!” to which Dante responds with a hearty “Oh yeah!” as the percussion and handclaps (I love handclaps) start getting a bit frisky. It’s just so much pep I hardly know what to do with myself.
Other Great Songs by The Archies: With Kirshner and Barry (as well as arranger/guitarist Neil Goldberg and Hugh “Father of Phil” McCracken) behind them, the “band” reeled off a long series of singles, although none really approach the quality of Sugar, Sugar. Still, if you hanker for goofy nonsense pop you could certainly do worse than the vaguely Beatles-ish Bang-Shang-A-Lang or Jingle Jangle, which is worth checking out not least for Ron Dante’s strangely androgynous falsetto vocals.
Also, give a listen to Wilson Pickett’s excellent R&B cover of Sugar, Sugar, which itself became a top 40 hit.