25 February 2006

The Archies, Part Two

Archie's Funhouse

Sweet Saturday Morning
Neil Brian Goldberg, The Archies,
and The Politics of Children's Music
by Donny Jacobs and Andy Bishop
What makes a good pop/rock group? Distinctive singing? Catchy, can't get-'em-out-of-your-head melodies? Provocative lyrics? Danceable rhythms? Solid production values? If your answer is "yes" to all these questions, then one group that delivers all you require is The Archies. That's right . . . The Archies. A studio group created nearly forty years ago to generate music for an animated cartoon series.

That massively popular TV show exploded onto the CBS network's Saturday morning schedule in September, 1968. By far, the most popular aspect of the show was its weekly musical segment, featuring an original Rock tune sung and played by Archie Andrews and his teen pals . . . in reality, a crackerjack studio band fronted by Ron Dante, one of the most in-demand session singers of the '60s. With the entire contents of three soundtrack albums telecast over the course of the first two seasons, The Archies' popularity escalated to such an extent that, by Spring of 1970, they had four Top Forty singles to their credit. One of those singles, "Sugar, Sugar," was 1969's Record of the Year. It sold platinum, as did its follow-up, "Jingle Jangle."

Don Kirshner, the famed Rock entrepreneur, owned the record label that marketed Archies music. He had an uncanny ability to pick hits, but the real credit for The Archies' magic sound belongs to Jeff Barry, a seasoned songwriter and producer groomed in the legendary Brill Building hit factory. Barry fashioned a winning approach to the music: Basic Rock'n'Roll instrumentation and generous portions of a tasty Gospel, Blues and Rockabilly mixture. Ron Dante's fresh tenor voice effectively captured the feeling of youthful exuberance The Archies personified. Kirshner's business savvy, Barry's production expertise and Dante's vocal ability was a formula for incredible good fortune, creating a wave of acclaim that propelled the television show into its third year.

However, that 1970-71 season saw big changes. "The Archie Comedy Hour" (successor to the original half-hour "Archie" show) became "Archie's Funhouse." Musical segments now presented The Archies in a mock "concert" setting, with animation integrated into live footage of children cheering and applauding. The songs were shorter than before, allowing several to be featured per episode. Lyrically, they were targeted to a somewhat younger audience than had previously been the case. The most noteworthy change also had to do with lyrics. Some of The Archies' new material included explicit protest songs; others featured socially conscious messages. At the time, this was unheard-of in a cartoon series. Obviously, someone had decided that children's television could and should reflect the same issues adults were confronting on their nightly news reports.

That someone was Neil Brian Goldberg. Jeff Barry handed over the third season production reins to him and retired to an executive producer's role that was, for all intents and purposes, hands-off. Except for the "Archie's Funhouse" theme and "Sunshine"(the hit single from the third season), Jeff didn't write any of the new songs. For contractual reasons, his wife Nancy is the "Barry" listed in the co-writer credits, but she didn't actually contribute to the project at all. Goldberg, a former Cameo-Parkway recording artist and talented staff songwriter for Jeff Barry Enterprises, was given free rein to mold The Archies however he wanted to.

His concept might’ve been indistinguishable from Jeff Barry's, except for the interference of an executive at Filmation Studios, the company that produced the TV shows. This executive, who shall remain nameless, instructed Goldberg to "write dumb"! He felt that this was the best way to create music for children. Neil strongly disagreed. To prove that children's music didn't have to be condescending, he purposely wrote Archies songs with provocative messages . . . messages about the environment, spirituality, and the human condition.

Delivered right at deadline, his message songs must have come as a shock to that Filmation executive. Regardless, the studio’s animators designed an unprecedented series of cartoon videos that turned on social themes. There were still plenty of basic, good-time Rock'n'Roll numbers for kids to dance to, but clearly, much of the new material was meant for listening, not dancing. This was educational television with an exciting new twist, and “Archie’s Funhouse” wasn’t even intended to be an educational show! "It turned out that one out of every three songs of the ("Archie's Funhouse") project had a good and positive message of some kind," Neil remembers. Rock critics preoccupied with the latest musings of Bob Dylan and John Lennon totally overlooked this Saturday morning revolution. Perhaps that was inevitable, since they had always underestimated the value of popular music created for children and still do.

Neil Brian Goldberg's songs aired in reruns of "Archie's Funhouse" for decades to come, but only four of them ever saw commercial release: "Mister Factory," "One Big Family," "Comes The Sun" and "Dance!" All four appear on The Archies' Sunshine LP, the first of their albums that was only partially devoted to soundtrack recordings. His tenure as producer proved to be a tough act to follow. The Archies continued to appear on Saturday morning television until the end of the decade, but the Rock component was dropped after 1971. For three years, incidental background themes were the only music to be heard on new permutations of the series. Something was definitely missing.

Filmation Studios and Archie Comics conceived a historically-based cartoon series called “US of Archie” in 1974, and producer Jackie Mills was hired to create thematic material for this new show. Mills’ Archies songs (performed by ex-Doodletown Piper Tom McKenzie with anonymous background singers) had a Dixieland Rock flavor and focused on important events in American history. You might call them educational, but they weren’t true message songs, and they weren’t as popular. After this, the only new Archies recordings Filmation Studios commissioned were some ill-conceived spoken word pieces performed by actor Dallas McKennon (the voice of the animated Archie) over a tacky techno background. During the 1980s, some of this awful music was dubbed into syndicated reruns of the first TV season, replacing Jeff Barry’s original songs; it was even released on an obscure soundtrack album called The Archies Drive The Boulevard.

Neil Brian Goldberg fulfilled one more Archies assignment: During Ron Dante's hiatus from the group in mid-1971, Neil replaced him as lead vocalist on a ballad called "Love Is Living In You". The tune, written by Phil Cody and Bob Levine, was undoubtedly a demo that Don Kirshner decided to release as a single. The rarest of all domestic Archies releases, its Ritchie Adams production credit has been disputed by Joe Renzetti, whose name appears on the label as arranger. Neil always produced his own demos, so Adams, if involved at all, probably overdubbed the prominent autoharp, which Renzetti says he would never have used in an arrangement.

After his brief stint as Archie, Neil went back to being a staff writer for Jeff Barry Enterprises. In later years, he wrote best-selling tunes for Candi Staton("Do It In The Name Of Love"), Robin McNamara ("Got To Believe In Love'), Bobby Sherman ("I Don't Believe In Magic"), Bobby Bloom ("We're All Goin' Home") and Tom Jones("It's Up To The Woman"). His more recent efforts, which have titles like "Freedom Bird." "Love Storm," "Brother Man" and "The Last Princess" contain spiritual and social messages not unlike those found in his Archies compositions. He feels very strongly about these newer songs. However, because they were crafted with children in mind, his Archies compositions hold a special place in his heart. "(At the time) I hardly told anyone about The Archies 'cause I was embarrassed that they were only "Bubblegum/kiddie" songs," he confesses. "But now I realize what a major event each of those shows was. No one had any idea what was about to happen to children's TV, and to the next generation of kids!"

No one from that generation will ever forget hearing Neil Brian Goldberg songs like "One Big Family," with its subtle yet strong message about the fellowship of humanity, and "Mister Factory," a plea for the environment performed to a chilling cartoon sequence showing toddlers in gas masks. Neil wrote thirty-two "Archie's Funhouse" songs in all, over two dozen of which remain unissued. It's unclear if they'll ever see CD release, but at least we can hear them on the "Archie's Funhouse" DVD set that Classic Media released in 2008.

Maybe the rarity of these sides will eventually make them too tantalizing for catalog A & R men to resist? Then again, maybe not . . . reissue label logic can be hard to fathom. In any event, Neil Brian Goldberg hopes to publish his autobiography soon, and that book will grant the public a long-overdue opportunity to focus its attention on his revolutionary Archies songs. Those songs may not only be the most significant portion of the group’s recorded legacy, but also the most important music ever written for children's television. Here, for the first time, is an in-depth consideration of them.

The "Archie's Funhouse" Sessions
A Neil Brian Goldberg Production for
Jeff Barry Enterprises
Produced by Neil Brian Goldberg
and Ron Dante
Executive Producer:
Don Kirshner
A & R Supervision for RCA Victor:
Herman Diaz, Jr.
Recorded at Sound Ideas Studios, New York City, June 1970
Engineered by Vincent Leary


Musicians probably included
Ron Dante . . . Lead and Backing Vocals
Neil Brian Goldberg . . . Guitar and Backing Vocals
Hugh McCracken . . . Guitar
David Spinozza . . . Guitar
Don Thomas . . . Guitar
Sal DiTroia . . . Guitar
Ron Frangipane . . . Keyboards
Chuck Rainey . . . Bass
Buddy Saltzman . . . Drums
Gary Chester . . . Drums
George Devins . . . Percussion

"Anyone Can Be Anything" - Twangy guitar + bass + layered harmonies = a solid Pop/Rock foundation. The catalyst is one of those hook-filled, money-in-the-bank melodies Neil Brian Goldberg specialized in. The result is a high degree of listening pleasure. One of the finest Rock‘n’Roll children's songs you’ll ever hear.

"The Ballad Of 51st Street Park" - Civic groups could've made excellent use of this mid-tempo rocker in public service announcements. The Archies tell the story of how an enterprising group of neighborhood kids revitalizes a run-down, garbage-strewn and rat-infested city park.

"Jungle George" - This clever comedy tune seems to have been inspired by the fondly remembered 1967 cartoon series "George Of The Jungle"(Neil denies having ever seen the show, but he may have seen or heard the title somewhere). Thirty years later, the same cartoon would inspire a 1997 live-action film starring Brendan Fraser. Kids loved the goofy tropical sound effects of "George," as well as its irresistible natives-on-the-warpath rhumba beat.

"La-La-La-La-Love" - A variation on the theme of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's 1965 smash hit "What The World Needs Now,” tailored to a grade-schooler's taste and set to a infectious cha-cha rhythm.

"The Laughing Song" - When Neil has occasion to perform his Archies songs in public, he says this number is always a big hit with kids. The average Rock critic would likely dismiss "The Laughing Song" as the epitome of vapid Bubblegum, but this ditty is wicked catchy, and it’s tough to sing, too! Ron Dante’s skill at breath control and phrasing made it sound easy.

"Little By Little" - The Archies never had a better showcase for Ron Dante’s tenor delivery than this beautiful and uplifting song about overcoming life’s obstacles. He and Neil blend their voices together to produce the sky-high harmonies.

"The Lonely Cricket" - This easygoing ballad has a "Nashville Sound" appeal guaranteed to make even the most avowed Country music hater smile. “The Lonely Cricket” might've come across as just another silly children's tune, but Neil had bigger plans. He bathes it in soulful piano and guitar licks that are as fresh and pure as water from a mountain stream. The poor cricket's heartbreak over the world's indifference to his music is a metaphor for every musician's desire to have his work appreciated.

"Looks That Say I Love You" - Neil addresses the eternal Veronica/Archie/Betty love triangle, laying a honey-sweet melody on top of a lively Cuban rhythm foundation. Had he written this number during the 1950s era of Latin dance crazes, he might’ve called it “The Unrequited Relationship Rhumba!” Almost any man could dance his way into a woman’s heart with the help of this song.

"Love Vibrations" - With a street classy beat, sizzlin' guitar chords and killer hooks, this was clearly the most commercial-sounding song from "Archie's Funhouse." Filmation Studios put this tasty track in heavy rotation, just like Top Forty deejays spinning a Rolling Stones record. The next step was for Kirshner Records to press it on wax and watch it sell like a Rolling Stones record, but Don Kirshner didn't, and he let a major hit slip away.

"Love Went 'Round The World" - Neil loved the simplicity of the music video Filmation Studios created for this celebration of universal love; it depicted dozens of palpitating valentine hearts encircling the globe. Ron Dante sings it with heartfelt emotion.

"Love Land" - It may not boast one of Neil's strongest lyrics, but "Love Land" has one of those insidious melodies that invades your consciousness and sears itself onto your memory like a branding iron. It's almost unfair, how even lesser Neil Goldberg compositions are strong enough to rate radio exposure!

"Lucky Me" - It wouldn't be surprising to learn that "Lucky Me" was recorded just before or right after "Fallin' In Love Is Fun." It bears the same axemaster's handiwork, and would fit just as well in the repertoire of a Heavy Metal band like AC/DC or Judas Priest. Even before Neil took over as producer, fluffy toy piano tracks were never The Archies oeuvre. If they had been, the music wouldn't have been anywhere near as popular with adults.

"Mister Factory" - Every song with an environmental message should be like this: Simple, direct, and unforgettably visual. Even without the somber cartoon video that shocked everyone, "Mister Factory" qualifies as one of the most cutting-edge children's songs ever written. American radio may not have been ready for socio-political Archies songs, but other parts of the world clearly were: "A Summer Prayer For Peace," another cut from the Sunshine album, topped the charts in South Africa. Imagine how this better-known and much more powerful protest ballad would have fared as an international single.

"Monkey-See, Monkey-Do" - As this number demonstrates, Neil could do the coolest things with a catch phrase and a rhumba beat! "Hey! Little One," “Looks That Say I Love You” and "Monkey-See, Monkey-Do" are examples of a type of song music journalist Ken Emerson calls "Jewish Latin." It's an important subgenre of Rock'n'Roll which also includes classic records like Elvis Presley’s “It's Now Or Never,” Jay and The Americans' "Come A Little Bit Closer" and The Drifters' "There Goes My Baby."

"My Singin' Guitar" - Centuries from now, someone may stumble across an old DVD of "Archie's Funhouse" and mistake this ballad for an update of 19th century Appalachian folk tune. Neil wrote it in 1970, but it just as easily could've been composed two-hundred years ago. Simply timeless!

"Oh, Baby! (Don't Let It Get You Down)" - With its failed relationship theme, catchy chorus and impassioned vocals, this record sounds like something you might've heard Three Dog Night or The Doobie Brothers singing on '70s pop radio. Pasting the children’s music label on a song with so much adult appeal is highly questionable! “Oh, Baby!” was definitely another potential hit that Don Kirshner overlooked.

"Oh, Sweet Suzy" - Neil takes in hand "Oh! Susannah," Stephen Foster's vintage 1848 gold miner's theme and infuses it with a shot of Rock'n'Roll energy. Instead of that beat-up old banjo on his knee, he strums a souped-up Stratocaster that roars along like a powerful sports car behind Ron Dante's understated but effective vocal.

"One Big Family" - We're one big family and our daddy's in the sky/We're one big family, don't you make your brother cry. Neil's visualization of the human family from a child’s vantage point was, and is, deeply profound. This may be the most powerful message song he ever wrote. The telecast version of "One Big Family" features an instrumental break that doesn't appear on the version released on The Archies' Sunshine album.

"Rowboat Ride" - A rousin’, rug-cuttin' sing-along with a down-home Country feel, here's a Neil Brian Goldberg song that will tempt you to do as his lyrics command and leave your troubles by the riverside!

"Somebody Likes You" - With its insidious habanera beat, this sweet and seemingly harmless slice of "Jewish Latin" music will stick in your head like a hatchet blade for days after you've heard it!

"Sweet Saturday Night" - Classic Archies! “Sweet Saturday Night” is an upbeat tribute to the weekend, and the night when people usually have the most fun. A strong 1950s influence is evident in the Rockabilly power chords that propel this record to its climax. Neil’s stellar production of this stellar song owes some of its style to early '60s Hot Rod music as well.

"The Ways I Love You" - A delectable mid-tempo ballad, obviously inspired by the famous 1845 sonnet "How Do I Love Thee?" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Even though Neil successfully passed it off as one, this is not a children’s song! This is the kind of love ballad a man sings to his wife, or a woman to her husband, after many years of married bliss. Hopefully, Jan Goldberg (Mrs. Neil Brian Goldberg, if you’re curious) will find herself being serenaded with "The Ways I Love You" at her next wedding anniversary celebration!

"The Big Boat" - Neil takes apart "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and reassembles it as a jumpin' little Gospel tune that preaches universal love and brotherhood. This feel-good number must surely have had millions of fired-up five-year-olds rowing imaginary oars to its wicked boogaloo rhythm!

"Candy Kisses" - The next time you're sitting on the back porch with your woman and strumming your guitar, try stirring her up with this deep blue ballad. See what happens! Ahem! After "it" happens, and the two of you are getting yourselves back together . . . mention that it's an old Archies song and enjoy seeing the incredulous expression on her face. It sounds more like a BB King or Bonnie Raitt number.

"Comes The Sun" - This is the greatest Beach Boys record the Beach Boys never recorded, and an example of California Rock at its finest. So what if it was written and recorded in New York City? The imitation Chuck Berry guitar riffs are blistering enough to give you sunburn, and Ron Dante rides the surging rhythm like a surfer riding a monster wave. Many people remember "Comes The Sun" as their favorite Archies song from the third TV season. It would’ve made a fabulous single!

"Dance!" - A driving number that captures the energy and exhilaration of Rock'n'Roll dancing which, as Neil notes in his song lyrics, is all the more fun when you're young and in love.

"Don't Run From Love" - As popular as Archies songs were, and as often as they encouraged falling in love and pairing off, there should’ve been an epidemic of "Sadie Hawkins Day" fever among preteen girls! Fortunately, most little girls chose to save their romantic antics for later years and settled for singing along to terrific tunes like “Don’t Run From Love.”

"Fallin' In Love Is Fun" - Kids who grew up to be fans of arena Rock groups like Aerosmith and Guns 'n' Roses had their appetite for electric guitars whetted by Archies tracks like this junior-sized bone-cruncher. A Heavy Metal band would have no trouble at all lighting fire under a crowd of headbangers with this song . . . it fairly begs to be bathed in white noise! As you'd expect, The Archies' version was toned down considerably, but it still rocked hard.

"Hey! Little One" - A devastatingly funky Bo Diddley-influenced rocker that gets in your face and under your skin. It doesn't let up until you're on your feet and moving to its hot rhumba rhythm. There's just no way to listen to this record and not suffer major damage! If the wicked guitar riffs and thundercrack handclappings don't get you, the fat-bottomed bass surely will, and those lethal Farfisa organ flourishes won't ever fail to work you over good 'n' proper.

"Honey" - Listen to the chorus of this super-commercial Country Rock number just once, and you absolutely will not be able to resist singing along with it. Neil Brian Goldberg's hooks are so addictive, they should be registered with the FDA!

"(I'm Just Your) Puppet On A String" - Bubblegum with an edge . . . sugar with a bite! Ron Dante growls provocative lyrics about manipulative love over a bluesy background. Like the protagonist in James and Bobby Purify's 1966 hit "I'm Your Puppet," he's a helpless plaything for his woman's amusement. This is a song for kids?!!!

"Young Love" - The softer side of Archie Andrews is displayed in this gentle ballad, which is almost as strong a showcase for Ron Dante's lush harmony singing as “Little By Little.” Skillfully wielding his musical paintbrush, Neil conjures up watercolor images of lovers spending carefree days on the beach or in the park.

NEIL BRIAN GOLDBERG

His work with The Archies ended almost as quickly as it had begun. That body of work has never garnered the acclaim it deserved; this essay was written for the purpose of righting that wrong. Neil Brian Goldberg is an amazingly gifted songwriter and visionary artist who, thirty-five years ago, proved himself a most worthy successor to Jeff Barry.

For the last twenty years or so, Archie Comics executives have been working to re-launch their characters as a singing group. They also have plans to stage an "Archie" musical on Broadway at some point. In a contemporary Pop music market that values image over substance, finding composers and producers the calibre of Barry, Ron Dante (who took over album production after the the third TV season) and Neil Brian Goldberg will be tough. Whatever happens in the future, you can be sure that the musical legacy of the original Archies group will only grow more remarkable with the passage of time.

All selections published by Kirshner Music/April Music/
EMI Music Publishing(ASCAP)

Special thanks to Neil Brian Goldberg 
and Joe Renzetti

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

For me the Archies were a one-hit wonder supergroup if the two terms are not incompatible. "Sugar Sugar" rocked Britain to its foundations; everyone was singing it ... "When I kissed a girl .. I knew how sweet her kiss could be ...". I think it is still indelibly painted on my brain today. It has to be one of the most memorable songs of all time. We did not get the benefit of the Saturday morning show so it was like a sudden bolt from the blue. From nowhere came this animated group storming the music charts of the world with a song that was so catchy, almost daring you not to sing along with it. Definitely a highlight of the late sixties/early 70s.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man. It's amazing to me how many of these tunes I actually remember hearing (and seeing). My favorite of them all was "Mister Factory"; I know it's available on CD, but I've been a little afraid to get it - maybe part of me is scared that I'll hear it again after all these decades and think, "Ugh! How could I have liked THAT?" Even so, if and when someone does bring out a Neil Goldberg Archies compilation, I'll be first in line!

Bob said...

I can't believe how many years I search for a "Love Vibrations" album. I just knew it was going to be the next Archies album after "Greatest Hits". Instead, the "This Is Love" album came out that had nothing to do with the TV series. A LOT of great songs were on "Archie's Funhouse," and they should have been released. I will always believe that "Comes The Sun" would have made the Billboard Top 10 if it had been released as a single.

DON CHARLES aka "STUFFED ANIMAL" said...

Bob,

I agree. I despair of these songs ever seeing release on CD or vinyl (although you can hear them all on Image Entertainment's "Archie's Funhouse" DVD set). Don Kirshner reportedly gambled away his rights to The Archies' masters many years ago, and nobody seems to know who really owns them. Lord only knows what shape the master tapes may be in; most Archies reissues that appear on the market are mastered wholly or partially from vinyl.