Sugar Sugar – The Complete Albums Collection (Cleopatra Records)
The story of The Archies dates back to 1942, when they began life as comic strip characters. Based in a town called Riverdale, Archie Andrews and a core group of friends – Betty Cooper, Jughead Jones, Veronica Lodge and Reggie Mantle – were teenagers involved in various dramas and adventures where good clean fun was always the name of the game.
Flash forward to 1968, when The Archies were granted a Saturday morning cartoon show. Not only were the kids now television stars, but Don Kirschner – the man behind the phenomenal success of The Monkees – turned them into rock stars. Rather than hiring a “real” band to do the job, he employed a crew of studio musicians and songwriters that would focus strictly on recording.
The folks Don Kirschner selected to masquerade as The Archies were experienced professionals with credible reputations. Jeff Barry, Ron Dante, Joey Levine, Andy Kim, Toni Wine, Hugh McCracken and Bobby Bloom were among the talent responsible for the music of The Archies.
During their heyday, The Archies delivered five albums, which are included on Sugar Sugar – The Complete Albums Collection as individual compact discs. Frequently criticized for their fictional existence and bubblegummy sound and image, The Archies actually produced a wealth of incredibly well-crafted material that seriously ranks as some of the best pop rock of the era, or any era for that matter.
The band’s first album, The Archies, featured their introductory single, Bang-Shang-A-Lang, which reached number twenty-two on the charts in the autumn of 1968. Pronounced by a big and bouncy chorus aligned with a foot-stomping beat, Bang-Shang-A-Lang announced the arrival of The Archies in ear pleasing splendor. Those who purchased The Archies on the basis of the single would encounter further nifty nuggets, particularly Truck Driver and Hide And Seek, which were both cut of a robust garage rock fiber, and You Make Me Wanna Dance, a fast-paced floor shaker.
Late summer 1969 saw The Archies score a transatlantic number one hit with Sugar Sugar. Mixing bubblegum bliss with a nip of a soul-studded swagger, the insanely catchy tune appeared on the band’s second album, Everything’s Archie. While Sugar Sugar stands as the crowning achievement, the album offers a brace other tasty treats. For example, there’s the snarky bite of Don’t Touch My Guitar and You Little Angel You is a dandy doo-wop delight. A rather melancholic mood houses Circle Of Blue, and the perpetually peppy Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y. D.O.O.) refers to having a picnic in the grass with Mama Cass.
The third Archies album, Jingle Jangle, birthed a winner in the form of the title track that peaked at the number ten spot in the final weeks of 1969. Juicy bubblegum flavorings, aided by soulful vocals and a super-sized choir of la la la la la la la’s were the intoxicating ingredients couched in the song. Devised of crunchy George Harrisonesque chords, You Know I Love You, the countrified spunk of Look Before You Leap and the smartly-structured pop rock zing of She’s Putting Me Thru Changes sail in as subsequent picks to click on the Jingle Jangle album.
Surfacing in June 1970, Sunshine marked the fourth Archies’ album, which was not as bubblegum oriented as previous efforts. No major hits emerged from the album, except for A Summer Prayer For Peace, that climbed to number one in South Africa. Draped in droning instrumentation, the chant-like dialogue listed countries throughout the world, urging all to practice peace. The ecology-minded Mr. Factory favored a bluesy pitch and Who’s Your Baby brandished a funky groove. Incorporating bits and bobs of The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie with A Little Bit ‘O Soul by The Music Explosion, Over And Over dialed in as a neat slice of bubblegum garage pop, and the equally fetching Waldo P. Emerson Jones paid homage to a cool cat who attended the Woodstock Festival and counted The Beatles, Jimmy Page and Simon and Garfunkel as buddies.
Issued early 1971, This Is Love was pressed in limited quantities and vanished quickly from the shelves, making it a mighty rare speciman. By far the band’s strongest album, This Is Love can easily be considered an obscure classic. Be it the rollicking romp of Little Green Jacket, the sparkling mid-tempo ballad, This Is The Night, the plucky punch of Don’t Need No Bad Girl or the firm grip of Carousel Man, the album posts as a perfectly realized pop rock affair. Even the peculiar What Goes On – which possesses a jazzy San Francisco hippy jam vibe shaped of twirling rhythms, funky brass arrangements and the whistling whirr of a flute – seems right at home on the album.
So there you have it – Sugar Sugar – The Complete Albums Collection – in bright and shiny glory. Airtight with electrifying energy, helmed by herds of happy harmonies and solid gold hooks, the box set documents the pop rock precision of The Archies with impressive effects. Armed with ace construction and composition skills, not to mention great singing and playing, the band was never placed in the same category as their contemporary heavyweights, yet it is no exaggeration to say a lot of their work is just as worthy as choice creations from artists such as The Beach Boys, The Hollies and The Turtles. Those acquainted only with the hit singles of The Archies are sure to enjoy the many similarly-inclined gems strewn across these discs.