Listen to our Bubblegum Classics playlist
Growing up in the 1970s exposed me to many flavors of bubblegum pop. Of course, I was too young to know that’s what this incredibly catchy, upbeat and often prefabricated genre of music was called. Like a lot of kids back then, I was introduced to bubblegum’s confectionary concoction of songs not by radio nor by stereo; Saturday morning cartoons and kids’ shows were my gateway to gum. In the age of bellbottoms and rollerskates, weekend television programming was a veritable bubblegum jukebox. I’d wake up before my parents, pour a bowl of sugary cereal, park it in front of the TV and rock out to Monkees reruns or The Bay City Rollers Show. Yes, the tartan-clad Scottish pop champions of Saturday nights also ruled Saturday mornings. Thanks to psychedelic television producers Sid and Marty Krofft, they had their own weekend kids’ show.
Long before Danny Bonaduce hosted radio or starred in his own reality show, he played Danny Partridge, bass player for the Partridge Family. Their television show by the same name drew teenyboppers crushing out hard on heartthrobs David Cassidy and Susan Dey, teen idols who played rock ‘n’ roll siblings Keith and Laurie Partridge, respectively. Their effervescent style of bubblegum was coated with a beautifully baroque-styled harpsichord, which sounds incredibly dated today, but in the best possible way.
The success of the Archies’ cartoon show inspired many others. The Brady Bunch aired a cartoon version of their popular sitcom called The Brady Kids. It featured a different song on every episode (as well as a pair of politically incorrect panda bears). Mission: Magic! was a Brady Kids spinoff that attempted to introduce a young Rick Springfield to even younger audiences. Every episode boasted an awesome Springfield sung bubblegum song. Not to take away from “Jessie’s Girl” or more notable hits, but this compilation of his television tunes is easily my favorite material by the Australian star. It blends bubblegum, glam and power-pop into super catchy songs backed by an amazingly tight band.
The Jackson 5 also had their own Saturday morning cartoon called The Jackson 5ive. Because the real Jackson 5 were really busy, the show had voice actors portraying the band, but we were too young to care because Michael Jackson’s animated character had two pet rats named Ray and Charles (after Ray Charles) and every episode included kid-friendly, soul-kissed bubblegum hits. The Osmonds had a very similar show, except that they all provided their own voices to the series.
I sequenced this Bubblegum Classics playlist to start with my favorite TV gum. But I also took a deep dive into the genre’s most notable hitmakers. Though they didn’t have their own show, the Cowsills appeared on many other television programs, and to my ears, they sing with some of the most beautiful family vocal harmonies ever captured on two-inch tape. And fans of the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” can’t deny the similarly saccharine “Yummy Yummy Yummy” by Ohio Express. As the ’70s spawned disco, teenage magazine pinups like Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett dared to blend bubblegum with mirrored ball music. Though the genre was originally dismissed as prefabricated novelty by music critics, most of these recordings have aged with a fine aural patina. Many of these hits hark back to simpler times. The fact that a lot of these songs were tracked with A-list session musicians like the Wrecking Crew has helped give bubblegum pop a much longer shelf life than anyone could have expected back when record labels were churning out these recordings like assembly line candy.
The resurgence of 20th century bubblegum pop in 21st century music can be heard in some exciting bands. The Lemon Twigs comprise young brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario, a dynamic duo proving that sometimes the best, bubbly teenybopper music has to be made by actual teenagers. Roman band Giuda also borrows from the bubblegum pop’s stompy rhythms and glitter-rock guitar styles and balances it with the suedehead subculture of working class England. Los Angeles junk shop glam rockers Hammered Satin are also rumored to be working on a new album largely inspired by yesteryear’s bubblegum hits.
Could this be the start of a full-fledged bubblegum revival? It’s hard to say. I guess we’ll just have to insert a quarter, turn the handle and see what drops.