Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth Part II:
Interview with the Book editors, Kim Cooper and David Smay
By Ronnie

BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH is the best rock 'n roll book I've read in many years. The great thing is that it serves as both a reference guide and an entertaining overview of this often misunderstood genre.

After reading BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH, I decided to try and interview the editors of this interesting, informative book. The editors, Kim & David, graciously took the time to answer my questions.

E.C.: How did the book come about? How did you decide the format and how did you choose the authors of each segment?

Kim: In Scram #5 (1995), I wrote an article (also titled "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth" and reprinted in the book) celebrating the bizarre lyrical excesses of the genre. I wanted to do more bubblegum research, and made some notes for a possible CD-ROM project, but became discouraged when I realized how hard it would be to get permission to use the music.

A couple of years later, Adam Parfrey from Feral House asked me if I'd like to edit a book on bubblegum that he'd commissioned. I called the author and discovered he was no longer interested in the project. Feral House still wanted to publish something on the subject, so I enlisted the aid of Scram contributor David Smay as co-editor, and we developed our own concept for the book.

There were some people that we knew should be involved; others heard about the book and contacted us with their suggestions. Ultimately we had a crack crew of more than forty people exploring their own areas of expertise. It wasn't hard to dole out chapter assignments, since many of the writers had already done extensive work on their subjects (i.e. James Porter's Kasenetz/Katz history for Roctober, Carl Cafarelli's genre overview in Goldmine). A list of the remaining available chapters were emailed to the group, and folks chimed in with what they wanted to cover. (This book would have been much harder to organize without the internet.) Those who came to the project late had less to choose from, but most seemed happy with their assignments.

We wanted it to be an episodic book, with detailed sections on the important artists, producers and labels. Beyond strict history, we saw an opportunity to explore many of the offbeat byroads that intersect the bubblegum genre, such as California factory-pop meister Gary Usher and the KISS phenomenon. The book evolved organically, with the helpful suggestions of the contributors and many strategy sessions between David and myself.

My greatest regret is that we failed to enlist a few people who really should have been involved in this book. If there's ever a second volume, we'll be bugging Dawn Eden, Jim Freek and Andy Zax for contributions.

David: Kim brought me onto the project after she had already gotten it started, and rounded up most of the writers. Kim did the original outline which went through many revisions before it took its final form.

E.C.: Where there any "holy grails" of bubblegum that you had hoped to uncover with the book? Or, were there any uncovered hidden surprises regarding the book?

Kim: Well, it WAS nice to get Joey Levine on the record admitting that the double entendres in his lyrics were intentional. Ron Dante continues to deny that there was any funny business going on.

David: There were certainly groups that I wanted to champion. Very few people have heard Josie & the Pussycats (recently released on Rhino Handmade) and I think those recordings are stellar. Worthy of comparison to the early Jackson 5. I also wanted to bring attention to Shampoo, a band known for one hit, but whose first album is a classic of hard rocking bubblegum with brilliantly snotty lyrics.

E.C.: I imagine that there were a few groups which borderline on the definition of "bubblegum" that you decided to leave out. Was this the case?

Kim: Definitely. David and I came up with the concept of the "Ten Commandments of Bubblegum" in part to help us weed out peripheral acts that didn't quite fit the parameters. Ultimately we didn't literally apply the commandments in order to cut anyone out, but we did veer away from the teen idols that some contributors thought should be included.

David: We took a pretty broad and inclusive approach to the subject, but had to draw the line in a few places. We probably could've included ABBA within out broadest definition of Bubblegum, but chose not to. In retrospect, I think we probably should've covered them because their influence on contemporary bubblegum has been so big. We kept The Turtles, but left out the Lovin' Spoonful. Some of the more commercial Folk Rock acts were pretty borderline.

E.C.: I noted a few occasions in the book where the artists changed his mind on cooperating with interviews when the term "bubblegum" came up. Was this the exception or the rule?

Kim: I haven't done a poll, but most of the artists who were involved in the scene seem proud of their work, and unashamed by the bubblegum tag.

David: "Bubblegum" is still considered a derogatory term to most musicians. They'd rather be considered pop musicians. But a lot of folks were comfortable with the term.

E.C.: One thing that surprised me was the number of connections between bubblegum music and "serious" rock music. For example, the number of tracks which were recorded using the "wrecking crew" and such artists as Danny Hutton. These are just two, I found many, many more. Was this something that you wanted to emphasize in the book?

Kim: Yes. Bubblegum initially attracted me both for the undisputed joys of the music, and its underdog status. If we can do something to help gain respect for these great records, we'll have done our work.

David: Definitely. The history of Bubblegum opens a window on a largely unwritten part of rock history - the history of studio culture. The history of songwriter/producers. We felt that the official Rock Myth of the Autonamous Band, left out huge chunks of significant pop music history.

E.C.: I was also taken aback somewhat by the ruthlessness of some of the bubblegum moguls. I mean, this stuff is truly fodder for VH1's Behind the Music! Its amazing that such memorable music was created when money was usually the bottom line. Is this simple because of the use of veteran songwriters and session musicians?

Kim: I think those bubblegum moguls were very smart guys. They had a vested interest in producing great music, because (at least in the '60s and '70s) that was what sold! It was good business sense to hire the best writers, singers, players and producers, and it's no surprise that the results were creatively satisfying.

David: There was a lot of exploitation - particularly when dealing with teen musicians both in boy bands, or in local garage groups. There's a flipside though, of close-knit friendships of songwriters who worked together on projects over years. It's really the difference between folks who knew and understood the music business, and those who stumbled into it almost by accident, had a meteoric rise and precipitous fall.

E.C.: Another thing which amazed me about bubblegum was the amount of sexual entendre of the lyrics which escaped detection. I guess we were lucky that we didn't have a Tipper Gore back in the '60s-'70s to head a PMRC on bubblegum! Why did this fly under the radar of parents who were dissecting Rolling Stones lyrics?

Kim: I like to think that bubblegum slipped by on its innocuous outer veneer, with the dirty subtext only being perceived by a small percentage of listeners. Parents were less worried about pop culture corrupting their little darlings back then, and the thought of listening closely to something as silly and irritating as bubblegum would have seemed absurd. And remember, most bubble entendres could be read as accidental—the Stones wanting to spend the night together was a far more direct threat to adolescent morality.

David: Bubblegum happened a bit later than the hullaballoo about the Stones. Most Bubblegum was hitting between '68 and '70 - a very freewheeling time on AM radio. Also, I doubt many parents actually focused on the lyrics of Bubblegum - they were probably seduced by the innocent surface.

E.C.: A few years back I remember seeing a book on punk rock, which included a CD or music. Did you ever consider a CD compilation for BUBBLEGUM MUSIC IS THE NAKED TRUTH? Or is that just a marketing nightmare waiting to happen?

Kim: We thought about including a CD, and Feral House's distributor was interested, but I think books with CDs tucked into the back cover are often hard to hold open. I didn't want to do anything that might have detracted from the usability of the text. We did compile a fantasy wish list of bubblegum obscurities that we circulated to a few reissue labels, but they all balked at the complicated licensing requirements. I hear a similar CD has just come out as a bootleg--pleasingly titled "Bubblegum Motherfucker"--and that may be the only way such a comp can happen these days. Who knows, though? Any label owners who read this and are interested in a legit compilation of gummy rarities, drop us a line.

David: We looked into it, but the rights to Bubblegum songs are particularly complex (often involving writers, producers and various cartoon studios). Ultimately it was cost prohibitive.

E.C.: The Daisy Bang Story really had me going. I was searching all kinds of rock reference material to find this group! When I kept reaching a dead end, I realized that it must be a put-on. What inspired you to do this brilliant parody?

Kim: I'll let David, who birthed this lovely fantasy, answer. It is rumored however that the Daisy Bang may appear at the second Bubblegum Ball, to be held in LA this spring, as will Ron Dante.

David: Thanks! I've always loved false histories that mix the real thing with fiction. E. L. Doctor's novel Ragtime did that successfully, and I wanted to try that approach myself. In "The Daisy Bang Story" I did a lot of research to find natural connections that I could use: "Oh, Curt Boettcher worked on this project and Emmitt Rhodes knew these guys. Nilsson and Cass Eliott worked on this label etc." Except for the characters in The Daisy Bang, everything else in that piece is historically accurate and chronologically possible.

E.C.: My only criticism of the book is that I wish some of the images were in color. I mean, bubblegum seems so Technicolor to me. But, I imagine that this was a purely financial decision?

Kim: Yes, finances dictated the lack of a color section. We could have included some amazing images from Lisa Sutton's collection (many of which do appear in black and white). The book was longer than anticipated, and we had to work very hard with the publisher and designer to retain most of the material we wanted to use. It was simply impossible to include color reproductions, and I regret it just as much as you do.

David: It was a struggle to keep the book affordable and saleable. We were pushing for something that was almost encyclopedic and Feral House needed to keep it to a certain size to keep the price down. Color plates would've been lovely but outside the scope of what we could do. But you're right Bubblegum deserves technicolor.

E.C.: Have you seen the new Josie & the Pussycats movie? If so, what is your take on it?

Kim: Book contributor Metal Mike Saunders kindly hepped me to a website giving out free preview tickets to the Pussycats movie, and I ended up forwarding invites to most of the other writers. The movie was mildly amusing, but nowhere near as delirious as "Spice World" (a true modern gum classic). I wished the songs were catchier, and less hard-edged. The anti-conformity message, couched in such conformist language, was odd, but ultimately kinda boring. And they misspelled Leif Garrett's name. Still, the teens in the preview audience seemed to enjoy themselves, so what do I know?

David: Loved Seth Green in the boy band D'Jour singing "Backdoor Man."

E.C.: Now you have such television "rock" groups as S Club 7 and California Dreams. S Club 7 is even managed by the ex-Spice Girl manager, Simon Fuller. A perpetuation of bubblegum?

Kim: I'm not familiar with these acts, so hesitate to comment. (Gotta get cable one of these days.)

David: Sure, bubblegum is the most televisual of rock genres. It doesn't mean its necessarily good bubblegum, but those kind of projects qualify.

E.C.: Speaking of televised bubblegum, whatever happened to the "New Monkees"? I remember them having auditions years ago, but never heard anything come outof it. Your book didn't mention this.

Kim: According to Lisa Sutton, the show actually was produced, and was so wretched that they only aired a couple of the handful of episodes that were made. There were also recordings. I claim ignorance, as I was living in London in 1986-87, and completely missed the Monkees revival and subsequent New Monkees project.

David: It didn't really make much of splash and none of our writers were interested in pursuing it.

E.C.: Would you ever consider a video/televised documentary of bubblegum?

Kim: This is something we've been talking about since the very early stages of the book, and it could still happen.

David: If VH-1 wanted to fund us...

E.C.: Finally, out of all the groups that are discussed in the book, which group epitomizes bubblegum to you?

Kim: I'm an Ohio Express girl. Joey Levine's giddy nasality (what I imagine Alfred E. Neuman would sound like), those amazingly dumb and infectious songs, the poor kids in Ohio having to learn their own hit records from the radio& yep, that's bubblegum in a nutshell. Yummy cubed.

David: For me, it's The Archies. They had the best singer in Ron Dante, the best producer in Jeff Barry, the best songwriting team in Barry/Kim, the best studio musicians. Cartoon band, on Saturday mornings for almost ten years, #1 hit. Really, I think The Archies deserve consideration alongside ABBA and The Hollies as a great pop group. There are so many gems hidden in Archies album tracks that didn't get radio play.

For more info on Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Scram magazine and other foolishness, please visit www.scrammagazine.com Kim Cooper can be reached at scram@scrammagazine.com

Click here for part I - Our review of the book

Click here to find more about the book:

More Groovy Bubblegum Sites:

Click here for Bubblegum World
Click here for The Classic Bubblegum Music Page
Click here for Bubblegum Music
Click here for C'mon Get Happy
Click here for The Partridge Family Temple