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Boppin'

Archie Meets Ramones

The Ramones existed as a band from 1974 until 1996. The original members of this dysfunctional band o’ brudders–singer Joey Ramone (Jeffrey Hyman), guitarist Johnny Ramone (John Cummings), bassist Dee Dee Ramone (Douglas Colvin), and drummer Tommy Ramone (Tommy Erdelyi)–have all gone on to the great Bowery in the sky. But it’s not an exaggeration to say that the group has become legend, a universal pop-culture touchstone whose image and music are summoned as pervasive talismans in movies, print, TV shows, advertising–virtually everywhere except on the goddamned radio–and whose impact and influence are recognized by anyone and everyone who understands the history of rock ‘n’ roll.

Archie was created by cartoonist Bob Montana, and debuted in Pep Comics # 22 in 1941. The title character Archie Andrews has been described as “America’s typical teen,” and has bumbled and/or braved his way through 75 years of comic mishaps. The most common central conflict of Archie stories has been the unresolved love triangle of Archie and his would-be girlfriends, down-to-Earth Betty Cooper and pampered rich girl Veronica Lodge. Archie’s best bud Jughead Jones and rival Reggie Mantle complete the core cast of Archie; Archie and his pals and gals have starred in comic books, newspaper strips, a radio series, and TV cartoons, with a new, edgy live-action TV series called Riverdale on The CW in 2017. The fictional quintet has also performed in comics and cartoons as a rock group called The Archies, who crossed over to real-world chart success with the # 1 hit single “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969.

Archie and The Ramones. This does not seem like a match made in Heaven; what highway to Heaven could possibly lead through both the make-believe Riverdale and the all-too-real Forest Hills? And yet, the one-shot comic book Archie Meets Ramones is perfect. Lemme emphasize that again, with the sledgehammerin’ precision of New York’s Finest: Perfect. Perfect! PerfectPerfectPerfect!

When this book was announced, I heard complaints from some Ramones fans, whining that a crossover with the squeaky-clean Archies would be an insult to The Ramones’ memory, a whitewash of the group’s grungy, street-level depravity and inspiration. True, there was never any likelihood that a Ramones-Archies book would include glue-sniffing, heroin, violence, casual sex, male prostitute Dee Dee turning tricks, or Hilly Kristal‘s dog crapping on the floor at CBGB’s. These were all integral components of The Ramones’ formative years, and they have indeed been politely ignored in the pages of this comic book.

But if you think any of that is really what defines The Ramones, then I’m sorry to say that you don’t get it. At all.

You can protest, but I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, etc. I don’t care if you’re the biggest Ramones fan this side of Riff Randall, I don’t care if you were there at CBGB’s or Arturo Vega‘s loft, and I don’t even care if you’re Danny Fields, The Ramones’ first manager (though I think Danny would get it–he was among the firstto really get The Ramones). If you believe that The Ramones are defined more by the seediness of their origins than by the brilliance of their pop music, then you need to check back with Miss Togar for some remedial sessions at Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.

Remember: The Ramones wanted to be a pop band. When I interviewed The Ramones in 1994, Johnny told me, “We started off, and I think we wanted to be a bubblegum band. At one point, The Bay City Rollers were becoming popular. They had written ‘Saturday Night,’ and we then sat down and said, ‘We have to write a song with a chant in it, like they have.’ So we wrote ‘Blitzkrieg Bop.’ Somehow, in our warped minds, I think we thought we were a bubblegum group.”

Also remember: The Ramones were a pop band. Indisputably. Their songs were concise and catchy, immediately unforgettable, and made transcendent via velocity and force of will. But the songs are great songs at any speed, played in any style; I’ve heard elevator versions of Ramones songs, earnest acoustic versions of Ramones songs, surf instrumental versions of Ramones songs, and Y2K girlpop versions of Ramones song, and each disparate version has retained the spark and panache The Ramones bestowed upon the original version. The durability of this catalog suggests a band greater than the sum of its vices.

Moving on to The Ramones’ only feature film, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, it’s worth pointing out that Johnny Ramone specifically and firmly nixed the idea of any scenes showing The Ramones doing drugs. Nein. Verboten! It was not the image The Ramones wished to project. No, in the film, pizza would be their stimulant of choice! 

After all the Carbona huffin’, and the chainsaws and the lobotomies and the beating on the brat with a baseball bat…The Ramones still wanted to be a bubblegum band. Johnny said they wanted to be The Bay City Rollers; it would have been just as appropriate for them to be The Archies.
Archie Meets Ramones suddenly makes a lot of sense in that context.  

The comic book’s story, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Riverdale!” (written by Alex Segura and Matthew Rosenberg, with simply gorgeous artwork by Gisele Lagace), begins with The Archies tanking at a high school battle of the bands. Frustrated and angry, The Archies are ready to give up this silly notion of being in a rock ‘n’ roll band, but things change with a gift from Archie’s friend Sabrina the Teenaged Witch: an enchanted copy of The Ramones’ debut LP from 1976. As Archie plays that record, as the sound of “Blitzkrieg Bop” washes over Riverdale, The Archies find themselves magically transported back to ’76, standing in front of the iconic club Max’s Kansas City, and face to to face with Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy.

The tale is breezy and energetic, full of love for The Ramones, and loaded with an endless barrage of Ramones references. Sure, you know how the story’s gonna end long before The Archies realize it, but just getting there is more fun than a barrel of Sheenas. And that’s a lot of fun! There’s even an uncredited cameo appearance by Talking Heads. The book is just pure joy, from start to finish, the kind of pure joy I already recognize from listening to The Ramones.

Joy. That may not be a word often associated with The Ramones, but we should use it more often. We know of the troubles the individual members of The Ramones faced, of their bickering and battles, Dee Dee’s addiction, Joey’s OCD, Johnny’s authoritarian prickishness, Tommy’s nervous breakdown; but that’s not what I hear when I listen to The Ramones. I hear joy. Pure, loud, rock ‘n’ roll joy. This comic book captures that joy completely. And to say that something’s as good as a Ramones record? I don’t know of a greater compliment I can give.

Take it, Betty! 1-2-3-4…!

Categories
Boppin'

FAKE BANDS! Professional (and also amateur) Liar Creates Rock ‘n’ Roll Groups

For someone who can’t sing, write songs, produce records, or play any instruments, I’ve created a fair number of musical acts. I’m not talking about fantasy air guitar combos–though I have a bunch of those, too–but fictional musicians I’ve used or intended to use in stuff I write. Yeah, I’m a regular Raybert (and only Monkees fans will get that reference). Here are a few of the musicmakers I’ve created: 

GUITARS VS. RAYGUNS

After decades of nonfiction freelancing, my first fiction sale was my short story “Guitars Vs. Rayguns,” purchased and published by the good folks at AHOY Comics. The story namechecks a number of real-life acts, from Chuck Berry to the Ramones, but the planet-hopping group at the center of it all is never identified. Well, folks, they call themselves Guitars Vs. Rayguns. Obviously. This was intended as a one-off story, until an AHOY fan wrote a letter to the editor wishing for more. So, I’m working on it. I’ve had no discussions with AHOY about this yet, and I may never get around to writing it. Keep watching the skies.

COPPER 

Other than (presumed) shared reference points, my character of Copper has nothing to do with this Jaime Hernandez illustration from the great Love And Rockets comics.

Copper is a 17-year-old punk bassist in the mid 1980s, and she’s the star of my most recent short story sale, “Chaos At The Copperhead Club.”  That story has been purchased but not yet published by AHOY, and is in the same shared continuity as my previous stories “The Last Ride Of The Copperhead Kid,” “The Copperhead Strikes!,” and “The Copperhead Affair.” Copper’s band is not named in the story, so let’s name ’em now: please welcome to the stage Copper and the Pit Vipers!

THE DUST BUNNYS

Fabricated power pop group the Dust Bunnys kicked bassist Jenny Woo out of the band–and through the window of a high-rise building–at the start of Eternity Man!, my proposed rock ‘n’ roll time travel superhero novel. Don’t worry! She’s one of the stars of the novel, so it’s no spoiler to say that she’s immediately saved by Eternity Man himself. I wrote the first five chapters of Eternity Man! before setting it aside. It’s not necessarily abandoned, as I often sketch out ideas, leave them alone, and then return to them weeks, months, or years later. Hell, Eternity Man!‘s fourth chapter includes my first public mention of the Copperhead Kid, long before I wrote and sold “The Last Ride Of The Copperhead Kid.” Some ideas have an expiration date; some do not.

In that first chapter of Eternity Man!, our Jenny mentions previous stints in some other fictional combos: Elegant Cream Vehiclethe Lemming PipersAttica’s Finch, and Warriors of Romance. A friend of mine came up with the name “Elegant Cream Vehicle,” and I came up with the others. 

Elegant Cream Vehicle and Daddy’s Soul Donut (a name also suggested by a friend, taken from an episode of The Simpsons) turned up (alongside Archie’s Band, who were from  Queens, not Riverdale) in this trifle. And Warriors of Romance well predate Eternity Man! What was the action-packed, pulse-pounding origin of Warriors of Romance? Face Front, True Believer:

WARRIORS OF ROMANCE

In the ’80s, when I was scrambling to try to write professionally, one of my many, many stillborn concepts was Marvel Girl, intended as a new character with a familiar name. Marvel Comics‘ original Marvel Girl had been Jean Grey, a founding member of the uncanny X-Men; Jean had been upgraded to a new identity as Phoenix, so I figured Marvel might need a new Marvel Girl to retain its trademark. Helpful? That’s me! I also tried to concoct a new Supergirl for DC Comics for the same reason. Neither notion even got as far as a draft proposal, both existing only as figures in my sketch book.

Marvel Girl would have been Debbie McCullagh, aka Debbie Mack, drummer for a struggling psychedelic group called (you guessed it) Warriors of Romance. Memory suggests I intended her to have Superman level powers, but with the powers only manifesting either as needed or sporadically (a notion possibly inspired by the Hulk or the original SHAZAM!-shouting Captain Marvel). The idea was not thought through, and was never executed. ‘Nuff said.

WILLINGTON BLUE, SKIP KELLER

Willington Blue and Skip Keller were characters in my unsold short story “Home Of The Hits” (formerly “Hitcore”). I had high hopes for this one, and I was surprised that it was rejected. The story references a previous group that included auteur Blue, and songwriter/record label contractor Keller is mentioned as having been in a boy band, but neither act is named.  

THE SHAMBLES

Yeah, I’m aware that there is a terrific real-life recording act called the Shambles, but I hope Bart Mendoza will forgive me for coming up with the same name independently in 1979. My set o’ Shambles was concocted for a lackluster entry in the journal I kept for a college class called Fantasy And Science Fiction. It was terrible. The actual Shambles are much, much better.

BEN ARNOLD AND THE TURNCOATS

Aw, this one never had any chance in hell of happening, but I wish it did. Ben Arnold and the Turncoats were the mid ’60s American rock ‘n’ roll group at the heart of The Beat And The Sting, my idea for a comic book mini-series based on the 1966 TV version of The Green Hornet. I particularly like Kato‘s line that the Turncoats’ hit “You Won’t Get Me” is derivative of the Kinks, and Britt Reid‘s preference for being more of an Al Hirt man. I posted a blurb for the idea, and the first few script pages, but it doesn’t make sense for me to continue it as fanfic. Another challenge for the Green Hornet? Sadly, not this time.

AND THE REST!

Those are the ones I’ve used in…something. There are others attached to projects too embryonic to discuss here: the Frantiksthe Ragtagsthe Limey FruitsButterscotch Peacemongersthe Terry Legendthe Broken ThingsRock Lobster, and Bright Lights. Those all require more rehearsal and woodshedding before they hit the stage. If they ever hit the stage.

And a-one, and a-two…!

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Categories
Pop Sunday

The Lemon Clocks / Time To Wake Up

The Lemon Clocks

“Time To Wake Up” (Rock Indiana 2020)

Here on their fifth album, “Time To Wake Up,” The Lemon Clocks proceed to explore and embrace varied late sixties and early seventies musical forms with remarkable results. Self-contained and self-assured, the band’s adventurous songs expand on the concepts they are so dearly enamored with. Each new Lemon Clocks album reveals growth and depth, and “Time To Wake Up” is no exception. 

In case you are not familiar with the band, Jeremy Morris handles lead vocals as well as a slew of different instruments. Stefan Johansson and Oscar Granero are also multi-instrumentalists, while Carlos Vigara plays bass, and Dave Dietrich is on drums and percussion.  

Directed by Jeremy’s mega-melodious vocals based in the Beatles-Badfinger range, “Time To Wake Up” takes listeners on an enchanted expedition of magical shapes and sensations. Captivating chord changes, shifting grooves, reverb-soaked trimmings, spinning synthesizer passages, haunting Mellotron motions, ringing glockenspeils and the warm tones of mandolins contribute to the interesting and exciting sounds housed within the album. Inspiring and surrealistic lyrics further illustrate the songs, producing a presentation vibrating with color and wonder.  

Every single track on “Time To Wake Up” possesses memorable qualities, but for starters, there’s “Sleepwalkers” that simultaneously tip-toes and trembles across a bed of spacey squiggles, underlined by an eerie riff that is plucked over and over again. Imagine The Electric Prunes rubbing shoulders with Pink Floyd, and that should give you a good idea where the creepy-crawly confection is coming from. 

Thieving the jaunty lick of Them’s “I Can Only Give Everything” and nailing it to a wall of trippy and hypnotic patterns, “Floating Free” signs on as another stroke of psychedelic genius, along with “You Are The Cosmos” and “Infinity Dream” that shimmer and swell with atmospheric elements. A shot of mind-bending ingredients arrive at the end of “Flowers In My Hair,” where the title cut of the album jingles to a clinging arrangement, and the salty temper of “Buzz Off!” duly buzzes with strange sonic figures and venomous verse aimed at a character suitably called Mister Mosquito. 

Songs featuring hanclaps are always fun, and “Time To Wake Up” offers a couple of such efforts. Bouncing and bopping with optimism, “Brand New Day” reflects the bubblegummy blush of The Archies, and the popping garage rock of “Stop!” is powered by an utterly infectious hook and bright and breezy harmonies. 

Set to a swaying rhythm and delivered in an easygoing manner, “People Come And Go” dispenses sage and spiritual commentary, “How I Miss You” slides in as a gorgeous mid-paced ballad rich with heart-tugging emotion, and the comparably thoughtful and effective “This Is Love!” would make John Lennon beam with paternal pride. 

The closing number on “Time To Wake Up” is a cover of the Tommy James and The Shondells paisley-phased classic, “Crimson And Clover.” Stretching out the song to nearly fifteen minutes in length, The Lemon Clocks turn an already brain-twisting tune into a tapestry of epic proportions. The beginning of the band’s version of “Crimson And Clover” remains true to the original recording. But about halfway through the song, gears are switched and a celestial Moody Blues styled symphony enters the picture. The Lemon Clocks eventually return to “Crimson And Clover,” which proves to be a fitting finale to an album big on daring tricks and kicks.    

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Records / The Yuletide Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave

(Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-yuletide-wave-2

Nobody in their right mind has to be told 2020 has been a major downer. But the year is ending on a great note, because Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave has arrived! Offering twenty-two holiday-related songs, the collection is primed to lift the spirits and restore hope and faith. It’s only fitting Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave begins with a song addressing the situation we are currently experiencing. And that track is Nick Frater’s Wash Your Hands Of Christmas, which speaks of the lack of  lovely things we normally celebrate during the season. Despite the subject matter, the song sparkles and shines with beauty and bliss.

 Alison Faith Levy’s All I Want For Chanukah Is A Ukele strums and hums to the noggin-nodding burr of a ukele, and The Brother Steve’s I Love The Christmastime weighs in as a peppy piece of power pop perfection. Michael Simmons channels Frank Sinatra with impressive effects on the crooning Christmas Waltz and from Spygenius, there’s Revels Without A Claus that jumps and jerks to a wonky dance hall shuffle.

Wrapped in atmospheric attire, involving  jazzy horns and novel melodies, I Remember You At Christmas by Anthanor plugs in as a poignant paean to a former sweetheart, while The Decibels cleverly combine the traditional hymn, Angels We Have Heard On High with segments of the sixties garage rock nugget, Gloria with hard-hitting appeal.

The Stan Laurels crib a cue from the warm vocals and detailed construction of The Beach Boys on the shimmery Noche Buena, and Kai Danzberg & Scott McPherson’s frisky The Day Before Christmas vividly recalls the anticipation felt as a child waiting for the fat man on a sleigh to deliver wish list toys and games.

 Swinging and spinning with gripping chords and happy harmonies, Groovy Time Of The Year by The Bobbleheads is indeed groovy. Propelled by a bouncy beat and a sugar-coated bubblegummy chorus, the absolutely irresistible All I Want Is You For Christmas by Kimberely Rew and Lee Cave-Berry sounds like a joint effort between The Archies and Fountains Of Wayne, and Blake Jones & The Trike Shop’s String The Lights And Hold On pitches an ear-pleasing repertoire of choppy drumming, incisive licks and fetching hooks.

Excellent entries from Librarians With Hickeys, Irene Pena, The Forty Nineteens, Anton Barbeau, Dolph Chaney, The JAC, Addison Love, The Stillsouls and Kelly’s Heels with Steve Rinaldi further complete this prized package of sonic greetings.

Stuffed to the pores with catchy songs, Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave can actually be enjoyed anytime of the year. You don’t have to practice a certain religion or believe in Santa Claus to appreciate these tasty treats. Every day is a holiday when it comes to a record flashing the Big Stir imprint, and here’s yet another production asserting their care, knowledge and recognition of quality music.

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Pop-A-Looza TV

The Archies / Sugar Sugar – The Complete Albums Collection

The Archies 

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. 

Categories
Boppin'

The Archies: An American Band

It all started with a jukebox.  Don’t you wish more stories started with a jukebox?

The jukebox in question was a beat-up Wurlitzer that used to blast out the hits of the day at Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe, a popular teen hangout in the small Midwestern town of Riverdale back in the 1960s.  One snowy afternoon in December of 1966, a couple of pretty teen-aged girls, Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, were at Pop’s, giggling and dancing to the brand new 45 by their favorite singing group, The Monkees.  “I’m A Believer” was just beginning its short journey to the top of the pop charts, but it was already # 1 with a sugar-coated bullet as far as Betty and Ronnie were concerned.  And they played it over and over and over again.
The activity at the jukebox did not go unnoticed by the boys at Pop’s, particularly Archie Andrews and Reggie Mantle. These two boys and two girls had known each other since childhood, and they had a tangled relationship.  Archie and Reggie were frequent rivals for Veronica’s affection, while Betty was head-over-heels infatuated with Archie, and therefore Veronica’s de facto rival; Archie, for his part, could never seem to decide between Betty and Ronnie.  Yet the rivalries never tore them apart; Betty and Veronica remained always the best of friends, and while Archie and Reggie certainly got on each other’s nerves, they generally stayed on somewhat friendly terms, at least.
And on this particular afternoon at Pop’s, the two jealous boys were cooking up a scheme together.  If the girls seem so interested in a rock ‘n’ roll group, they reasoned, why not form a group of our own?  Bet that’ll get the girls intrigued, for sure!
But what began as a simple (okay, make that convoluted) ploy to impress the opposite sex led to the formation of one of the most fondly-recalled pop bands of the late ‘60s, The Archies.  It was an inauspicious beginning; neither Archie nor Reggie was really a musician, but Archie did have a battered folk guitar (a left-over from an earlier summer camp escapade) and was able to fumble a few chords, and hyper-active Reggie attempted to flail away on the drums.  Archie brought in his best pal, Forsythe “Jughead” Jones, to try his hands at the keyboards, and this embryonic version of The Archies was born.


And they were terrible.  An inept garage band with no chops to speak of, all they had going for them was the exuberance (and, dare we say, arrogance) of youth.  Still, that’s often all you need in rock ‘n’ roll, and as they kept at it, thrashing their way through covers of the hits of the day, they got a little tighter, a tiny bit better.  The girls were impressed with The Archies’ efforts, but not in quite the way the boys had imagined.  Before long, Betty and Veronica were members of the band, both singing and banging on tambourines (“The only kind of banging either of ‘em did back then,” Reggie would later recall wryly.)
While the instrumental roles were perhaps oddly chosen–Veronica had played piano since grade school, and would have certainly been better on keyboards than Jughead, while Betty was a more than competent guitarist—it’s likely that the girls were initially relegated to vocalist/percussionist positions simply because it was deemed more ladylike in pre-Women’s Liberation Riverdale. Nonetheless, the addition of their singing voices transformed The Archies immediately, from a fledgling garage band to…well, a fledgling garage band with killer harmonies, the kind of harmonies you can’t get outside of a group of people that have sung together their whole lives.
Still, The Archies remained just another one of hundreds of garage bands toiling in obscurity across America, and their story might well have ended right then and there, if not for a concerned, protective father and a spurned music mogul, and the weird way their paths collided.
Veronica’s father, wealthy industrialist Hiram Lodge, had never been terribly fond of Archie, and always felt his daughter was wasting her time with him.  Now that she was frittering away her ambitions by being in–ugh!—a rock band with that Andrews boy, things had gone too far.  Lodge was not an unkind man, nor an unwise one, but he knew there had to be a way to show Veronica that The Archies would never amount to anything.  To do that, he contacted an old acquaintance:  Don Kirshner.
Kirshner, an ultra-successful music executive, had just parted ways with what was probably his most successful project ever, The Monkees.  Originally hired as The Monkees’ musical supervisor, Kirshner had helped the band become the most popular rock ‘n’ roll group in America.  But The Monkees bristled under Kirshner’s tight control, and eventually rebelled, dismissing Kirshner from his duties.  Furious, Kirshner vowed to find another band to supervise, one that wouldn’t question his authority.
Like, maybe, a band of teenaged amateurs from Riverdale.
Hiram Lodge arranged for Kirshner to hear The Archies play, figuring that Kirshner would make them see that they had no real future in the music biz.  But Kirshner loved The Archies—not because they were a great band (Lord knows!), but because he saw potential in their look, their image.  “America’s typical teens!,” thought Kirshner.  With The Archies under his aegis,  Kirshner was sure he could make the world forget The Monkees had ever existed.
The Archies were ecstatic—who wouldn’t be, in such a dizzying environment?  Although they certainly wouldn’t be playing on their records, they would provide all the vocals.  Kirshner did (wisely) suggest some changes in their instrumentation, as Reggie moved to bass, Jughead became the drummer, and Veronica settled in at the keyboard; Betty was still stuck with a tambourine for the time being.  The Archies increased their concert schedule, and began recording their first album, The Archies, which was released in 1968.
Unfortunately, The Archies’ initial chart action was unlikely to make The Monkees quake in their Thom McCann’s.   The first single, “Bang-Shang-A-Lang,” made it to respectable (if unspectacular) # 22, but the album never got past a pathetic # 88.  Sensing that perhaps his time-tested formula might finally be ready for some tweaking, Kirshner did what would have been unthinkable for him when he was supervising The Monkees:  he let the band have a bit more involvement in the recordings.
Such a simple thing, such a big difference.  The Archies had become a pretty good combo by now, and Betty was even finally allowed to fatten the group’s sound with her own guitar playing.  The next single, “Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.-D.O.O.)” had already been recorded by session musicians, and it missed the Top 40 entirely.  But The Archies’ third single would feature singing and playing by Riverdale’s Finest.  And, to further Kirshner’s revenge, it would be a song previously rejected by The Monkees, an irresistible pop confection called “Sugar, Sugar.”
Words can’t express how huge the “Sugar, Sugar” single was.  # 1 for four weeks, and by some accounts the biggest record of 1969, “Sugar, Sugar” made The Archies into superstars.  The concert tours became bigger, the TV appearances more frequent, the dollar signs written larger in bright lights and starry eyes.  Briefly, brilliantly, The Archies were on top of the world.
As is so often the case, such giddy success sowed the seeds of its own demise.  These five teenagers had been so close for so long, and that’s likely the only thing that kept them stable in the eye of this hurricane.  Because they were together now all the time—in planes, hotels, recording studios, everywhere—and all the old complications became even more magnified.  Archie and Reggie argued constantly, and the Archie-Betty-Veronica love triangle remained unresolved.  Jughead was content to keep the beat and scarf down an endless supply of hamburgers (his relatively benign vice of choice), but the band was in imminent danger of imploding.
The Archies were unable to translate their singles success into album sales.  The awesome “Jingle, Jangle” single (featuring Betty on a shared lead vocal, the first time Archie hadn’t sung all the leads on an Archies single) made it to # 10, but the album of the same name—as brilliant a pop record as anything released in 1970—languished at an utterly shameful # 125.  The end was at hand.
By the time of The Archies’ fourth album, 1970’s Sunshine, the long-simmering rivalry between Archie and Reggie had reached a boiling point.  Reggie was particularly unhappy; he was stung by criticism that the group hadn’t played on its earliest records, and was now seething with jealousy as one of The Archies’ old opening acts, Led Zeppelin, was fast becoming one of the hottest groups around.  Reggie was done, and he announced his intention to leave The Archies and form his own hard rock group, Old Man Weatherbee (flippantly named for an administrator at Riverdale High School).  Archie had already tested the solo waters with a country single, “I Need Something Stronger Than A Chock’lit Malt,” and was likewise ready to move on.  However, in a final show of solidarity, The Archies rallied to make their last record a great one.  Sunshine is a sublime rockin’ pop album, a fitting farewell from this often-misunderstood band. The highlight of Sunshine was undeniably “Who’s Gonna Love Me” an exuberant track that inspired Andrews to give his most soulful, commanding vocal ever.  Ultimately, after all the bickering, The Archies parted as friends.  Archie went on to his solo career (though his solo debut, This Is Love, was credited to The Archies, to fulfill a contractual obligation, and a legal issue prompted him to use the pseudonym Ron Dante for his second album, Ron Dante Brings You Up); he eventually moved into artist management, and even wound up as the publisher of the highbrow literary magazine The Paris Review.  Reggie moved to England and remained a fixture on the hard rock circuit for years to come; he produced Spinal Tap’s Shark Sandwich LP, and is rumored to be the bassist on KISS’s 1979 disco hit “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.”  Jughead became an in-demand session player, Veronica began a film career, and Betty retired from show business entirely.  For years, The Archies repeatedly turned down multi-million dollar offers for a reunion tour, though they did agree to a touching, emotional on-stage reunion at Live Aid.   That reunion was temporary for the band, but far more permanent in a matter of the heart:  Archie and Betty rekindled their relationship, and were married in 1987.  Veronica was the maid of honor, Jughead was the best man, and Reggie, bless ‘im, presented the happy couple with a voucher for unlimited studio time at his recording complex south of London—just in case they were ever taken with an urge to get back into the game.
In 2005, all five of The Archies returned to Riverdale for a retirement ceremony honoring Pop Tate, whose teen bistro Pop’s Chock’lit Shoppe had been the start of everything for them.  The same jukebox was still there.  Sure, the records had been updated and changed many times over the years—and each of The Archies’ singles had earned a permanent spot on the jukebox—but THE record was still there.
Giggling like the teens they once were—and, in many ways, would always be—Betty and Veronica rocked the coin right into the slot, and the decades melted away as Micky Dolenz again testified that he was a believer.  Sometimes just believing is its own greatest reward.