Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Child Shall Lead Them: 1910 Fruitgum Company: "Simon Says"

And now we come - all of a sudden, like a sugar rush - to the wonderful world of bubblegum music, which was a haven for garage bands who liked to make music for drunk girls to dance to (to borrow from Franz Ferdinand) as opposed to far-out psychedelic blues jams for those who wanted to get high. One of the great joys of pop is the complete inanity of it, that it does not and really should not be taken so seriously; and as you can see there was a lack of cheery, perky songs around at this time.

So in come the bubblegum army to give the increasingly heavy late 60s a big lift. The biggest source of bubblegum was one Buddah Records, run by Neil Bogart (he who later gave the world KISS and The Village People) - he saw the success of the Monkees and wanted in on the action - luckily he met the producing powerhouse duo of Jerry Kasenetz and Steve Katz, who proceeded to work with the 1910 Fruitgum Company (an actual band from New Jersey, btw, and not just a pseudonym for themselves) to do this song. I cannot say much about it except that the various looks on the faces here show that while this may not be what the group first got together to do (the b-side is called, after all, "Reflections From the Looking Glass") but it was what the kids wanted and it was dumb fun and what is wrong with that? (This is yet perhaps another variation of the childlike qualities of psychedelia, with this game* winning out as little kids were simply too young for anything else.)

What was one way out of the 60s? Bubblegum was maybe not what the serious types would have thought up, but it persisted in the US and in the UK, feeding into and energizing other music to make this old thing called rock 'n' roll new again (bubblegum + rock = glam). As absolutely non-threatening as this song is, it helped to refocus some on what mattered - sweetness, youth and a lightness of touch that during this time in particular were sorely needed. It reassured people - even those who hated playing this game - that there was still a place for simplicity in music, if not out-and-out nonsense. This is playground stuff, but it's the roots for a lot of what is to come; in a way bubblegum is the roots of a lot of good things about the 70s, if by good you also mean silly, addictive, sweet and ridiculous. That's fine; in fact bubblegum may have even pushed the whole 'back to basics' '68 movement along in its own way, just as much as The Band. Who knows? Anything can happen when travelling back to square one.

*Whenever I had to play this game I did well until it got too fast and I invariably messed up; but this song never does speed up or play tricks. Bubblegum's too good-hearted for that.

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