This post is intended as supplemental material for the course “Sounds of Laughter: Musical Comedy in the United States”
The Archies was a fictional band comprised of comic book/TV show characters. Their hit song “Sugar, Sugar” was the #1 song in the U.S. in 1969 (a year that also produced this, this, and this – although those were all from UK artists). Here’s the video (complete with original animation):
In their discussion of authenticity in popular music, Barker and Taylor describe the response to this song at the time:
Many felt repelled by the song’s childish jauntiness and naked commercialism and couldn’t allow themselves as a simple thing of beauty. In the late 1960s a lot of people were taking themselves seriously: the personal was political and everyday likes and dislikes could be spun into psudo-social theories overnight. “Bubblegum” became widely used as a term of abuse…It meant fake, without depth, or manufactured for public consumption. (Barker 2007, 160)
The thread that connects many of the examples of musical humor in this course is non-seriousness (or at least not being taken seriously by critics and/or audiences). While this song is certainly grounded in cartoon-style humor aimed at children, it is most notable for refusing to take itself seriously in (as mentioned above) a very serious time.
I agree with the authors that there’s a certain beauty (and certainly craftsmanship) to the song. However, I am more so fascinated and mildly horrified with the ways this song is like musical Oreos or Cheetohs: a thoroughly unappealing prospect (singing cartoons, Crisco and sugar sandwiched between chocolate Graham crackers, fried corn puffs covered in orange powder) that lights up your brain in ways that create an instant craving for it (I’ve never been able to listen to “Sugar, Sugar” just once in one sitting – and it has been specifically designed that way).
Barker, Hugh, and Yuval Taylor. 2007. Faking it: The quest for authenticity in popular music. New York: W. W. Norton.