Monday, May 16, 2005

Forget Your Troubles, Come on, Get Stupid

Pure stupid happiness is not an emotion I indulge in much. I'm a congenital pessimist--nothing is so bad that it can't get worse, and nothing is so good that it couldn't go craptacular without warning--and I'm probably a bit too self-aware to surrender completely to joy. Yet I went over the edge the other night, thanks to 25 All-Time Greatest Bubblegum Hits: The Ultimate Collection, a compilation on Varese Sarabande Records, released in 2000. This thing provides the purest rock and roll sugar high available under current law, and I can't remember the last time listening to a CD made me feel so goddamn happy.

The disc is loaded with bubblegum standards like "Yummy Yummy Yummy," "I'm a Believer," "I Think We're Alone Now," and the "Stairway to Heaven" of bubblegum music, "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies. It's got Bobby Sherman ("Easy Come, Easy Go") and Tommy Roe (the vaguely obscene "Jam Up Jelly Tight"). It's also got some lesser-known gems that are undeservedly forgotten, like "Every Beat of My Heart" by Josie and the Pussycats. In some alternate universe, this bit of gorgeous girl-group gum was Number One for weeks and weeks in 1970. Also from the world of Saturday morning TV, the disc has the Banana Splits "Wait Till Tomorrow," in which the Splits go all Donovan on yo' ass.

Bubblegum was supposed to be disposable kids' music, but the best of it was too well-made to be disposed of. "Tracy" by the Cuff Links and "My Baby Loves Lovin'" by White Plains have deserved 35 years of oldies-radio play. And gum is encoded in some of the oddest places. Listen to "Jennifer Tomkins" by Street People and see if its hook doesn't remind you of rap-style wordplay. Listen to "Captain Groovy and His Bubblegum Army" by the group of the same name--the shouted command "join!" could just as easily be a command by the Kiss Army.

The bubblegum era produced its own self-referential records, like "Bubble Gum Music" by the Rock & Roll Dubble Bubble Trading Card Co. of Philadelphia, which name-checks several gum stars (and slams the Grateful Dead). It even had its own all-star, We-Are-The-World type recording: the Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, made up of everybody under contract to Buddah Records at the time, recorded "Quick Joey Small (Run Joey Run)," which has nothing to do with the 1975 David Geddes record "Run Joey Run" and which, in addition to being completely demented, completely rocks. As does "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes," by Edison Lighthouse--the only bubblegum record that sounds better the louder you play it.

That bubblegum music can inspire pure stupid happiness in a balding fat man in his mid 40s who knows he should know better might be bubblegum's greatest achievement.


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