Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sunshine Punch: The Cuff Links: "Tracy"

And so the 70s begin, not overnight but trailing along in the wake of '69, like baby partridges following their mama partridge (as one tv show's opening credits would have it). The first few songs here - before the 70s start properly and the colors of this blog change - are about separation and unity in their ways, and as a nod to the happy face that beams out amidst the still-disconcerting chaos the 60s left, I am starting with an NME #2 from that haven of thumbs-up American goodness, bubblegum.

The biggest non-human (so to speak) single of '69 was "Sugar Sugar" - by The Archies, who in reality were a studio band put together by Don Kirshner, who wanted a band that wouldn't rebel on him like The Monkees did. Ron Dante was the main man in The Archies, but since no one knew who he was, he could just as easily become the lead singer (or really, the only one) of another band, and thus were born The Cuff Links.

And this is textbook bubblegum, ba-ba-bababa-ing along, horn-heavy and high on sugar and sunshine like a third-grader drinking his/her first Coke on a warm day at lunchtime. But it's also very much a product (written by Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, who had written "Catch A Falling Star" amongst other hits) and with Dante doing all vocals it was done very quickly; and since it was a huge hit, a whole Cuff Links album was recorded in a matter of days, done as quickly as possible to capitalize on "Tracy"'s success. All the songs were by Vance and Pockriss, who had written more than enough songs for the purpose, and they hired a young guy, Rupert Holmes, to arrange the songs, just to speed things up even more*.

If the whole thing sounds commercial - or even like a commercial, as if it's pop made just to make money and nothing else, then that's true; and you'd think that this music, as opposed to The Monkees, would be reviled by the baby boomers who take music so seriously (at least The Monkees wanted to be real; The Archies/Cuff Links were just musicians getting paid for studio time).

But they didn't, and still don't, as this is music so ephemeral as to be trapped in its time period (I began seriously listening to AM radio in '78 and never heard this, not even on good old KRLA, who would play anything), evocative of that cheery sunny time when the decade was shiny and had that new decade naivete to it. The Cuff Links, as you can see, were a real band, as such, but they were put together by the songwriters, and Dante was forbidden by his new solo contract with Kirshner to tour with them; Dante had to get his considerable royalties for his work by confronting Vance in person; a second Cuff Links album was recorded with a new singer, and that was pretty much that for Ron Dante and The Cuff Links, whose second album featured Rupert Holmes, instead.

So much ugliness sits behind this bouncy song, and yet it is a bubblegum classic, not that anyone thought what they were doing was anything special - just simple pop for kids, kids only vaguely aware of the more 'serious' music forms, content to eat their Pop Tarts and drink Tang and so on. Nothing that nourishing, but pleasurable and now nostalgia-inducing, churned out just as mechanically but feeling like sunshine, with that longing that fuels all bubblegum...

Next up: a song that has no end.

*Holmes also wrote songs as well as arranged them - working with everyone from The Partridge Family to Dolly Parton, Gene Pitney to a new singer on the New York scene, Barry Manilow. He eventually had a #1 hit in the US at the other end of the 70s, virtually inventing yuppies before they existed.

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