14 March 2012

Send The Archies to Nashville!

Archie Country!

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From Riverdale to Nashville!
The Pop Culture Cantina’s Brazenly Fanatical Sales Pitch
to Archie Comic Publications

For as long as we can remember, we’ve wanted to hear a collection of Country music recordings by The Archies! You can imagine how pleased we were to learn that Archie Comics staff was at least thinking along the same lines. Have you picked up World of Archie Double Digest #8 with its splashy cover feature, “The Archies in Nashville”? Writer Hal Lifson and artist Tod Smith stoked our Music City fantasies big time with this story. What bliss to see Archie, Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead playing the Grand Ole Opry (at the historic Ryman Auditorium, no less) and laying down tracks with a Willie Nelson look-alike!

Archies in Nashville

So . . . why can’t it happen for real? It should happen. An Archie Country album would be a fitting companion for the group’s 2008 Christmas set on the Fuel 2000 label. Just like that record (which we loved), a Country collection has the potential to become a perennial favorite. Country music is an American roots genre that will always be popular, and it will always have pretty much the same sound it´s had since its early years. You’re always going to hear twangy guitars, strong harmonies and two-step rhythms good for line-dancing! You’ll also hear the love for God and country that’s so basic to rural American values. Needless to say, Archie Comics’ rural readership would appreciate an Archies CD recorded in their homegrown musical idiom! So would people all over the world who love both Country music and Archie.

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The Archie characters and the Nashville Sound are both American cultural traditions! Ain’t it about time the two were brought together? Toward that end, Cantina staff has compiled a virtual demo of Country songs that we think would make good Archies recordings. We’re not that crazy about the “Young Country” songs currently on the radio, so all of our choices are vintage. However, most of them could easily be updated for today’s more Rock-oriented audience; for that reason, we've included several Rockabilly tunes.

As a native of Kansas City, Stuffed Animal been exposed to great Country music all his life, and he’s got a decent ear for both traditional and Pop-oriented Country records. Fortunately, he also has a very large record collection to draw examples from! Among the thirty (count ‘em! 30) recordings listed, there’s surely at least one strong Archie album track listing. Fair warning: Listen to the originals at your own peril! You can’t resist classic Country music! It’s extremely addictive!

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My Boy Archie (My Boy Elvis)
Written by Claude Demetrius and Aaron Schroeder
Sung by Janis Martin
Substitute Archie’s name for that of Elvis, and this 1956 Rockabilly classic is transformed into a dynamite opening track for an Archie Country CD. Another key lyric change would remove references to Elvis Presley’s hit records in the second verse. How about this? “Sugar, Sugar” and “Bang-Shang-A-Lang”/He plays ‘em with a Country twang!/”Jingle Jangle” and “Who’s Your Baby?”/That Riverdale sound just drives me crazy! Needless to say, “My Boy Archie” would be a great vocal showcase for Veronica and Betty.

My María
Written by Daniel Moore and BW Stevenson
Sung by BW Stevenson
We’ve wanted for many a year to hear Archie cover this 1973 Pop/Country hit! More recently (1996), “My María” was a chart-topper for Country duo Brooks and Dunn.

Rosalee
Written by Linda Hargrove
Sung by Tommy James
Our demo contains a few obscure Country songs that, once you’ve heard, you can never forget. “Rosalee”, a circa 1971 ballad originally recorded by Tommy James for his final Roulette Records album, definitely falls into that category. For a Nashville-to-Riverdale cover version, the emphasis would be on Archie’s tenor voice, a keening steel guitar and the ladies' high-lonesome background harmonies.

Comin’ On Strong
Written by David Wilkins
Sung by Brenda Lee
Everybody of a certain age has heard this great 1966 Country/Pop smash from superstar Brenda Lee. That sandpaper-on-satin-voiced song belter Betty Cooper would naturally take center stage on this number.

I Don’t Wanna Love You
Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Sung by Cliff Richard
Any number of songs recorded by British Rock icon Cliff Richard would be ideal for The Archies to cover. This particular gem was released as an American-only Capitol Records single for Cliff in 1965, but it somehow got overlooked.

Down In The Boondocks
Written by Joe South
Sung by Billy Joe Royal
Billy Joe Royal’s 1965 signature song is another number tailor-made for Archiekins to lay his sterling silver voice on top of! The Tex-Mex groove is as infectious as can be.

My Heart Skips A Beat
Written by Buck Owens
Sung by Buck Owens
Alvis Edgar "Buck" Owens was one of the greatest Country stars of the '60s, as well as co-host of the long-running comedy series “Hee Haw”. His songs were no joke, though! They were solid honky tonk dance numbers that consistently topped the C & W charts. This one hit #1 in early 1964.

I Ain’t Never!
Written by Webb Pierce and Mel Tillis
Sung by Webb Pierce
In the summer of 1959, Country veteran Webb Pierce cracked the C & W Top Five with this obvious stab at the burgeoning Rock ‘n’ Roll market; Pierce wrote it himself with assistance from future recording star Mel Tillis. Much to the amusement of audiences, the middle-aged cowboy would imitate Elvis Presley’s dance moves when he sang it!

Wheeling, West Virginia
Written by Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka
Sung by Neil Sedaka
Here’s another obscure treasure: Pop star Neil Sedaka wrote “Wheeling, West Virginia” for "Petticoat Junction", a popular ‘60s TV series. It was tailored for female cast members Meredith McRae, Lori Saunders and Linda Kaye Henning. The lovely trio did perform the song on the show, and they also got the chance to record it in 1969. Released as an Imperial Records single, this marvelous tune got precious little airplay outside of (you guessed it) West Virginia! Veronica and Betty would give Howard Greenfield’s highly evocative lyrics a new lease on life.

Ruby Ann
Written by Roberta Bellamy
Sung by Marty Robbins
“Ruby Ann” is a famous Rockabilly number recorded by Country icon Marty Robbins; his version hit #1 on the Country charts in early 1963. If ever a Country rocker was begging to be sung by Jughead Jones, it’s this one!

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A Little More Like Heaven
Written by Jimmy Atkins and Hoyt Ray Johnson
Sung by Hank Locklin
From 1949 through the early 1970s, Hank Locklin was a fixture on the Country music charts. “A Little More Like Heaven”, released on the RCA Victor label in 1958, has the kind of bright and sparkling melody Archies fans would love.

Reason To Worry
Written by David Russo
Sung by Connie Francis
Recorded in 1960, “Reason To Worry” has never been released in the United States. Connie Francis cut it at the same Hollywood session as her #1 smash “My Heart Has A Mind Of Its Own”; that’s probably why it was forgotten about! Still, it was much too good a song to have been left in the tape vaults. Searching through the Universal Music sound archives, German compilation producers re-discovered it in the early 1990s. The song’s pumping, semi-Hawaiian honky tonk groove would be an exotic treat for Veronica Lodge to vocalize over.

If You Ain’t Lovin’, You Ain’t Livin’
Written by Tommy Collins
Sung by Buck Owens
Buck Owens never released this peppy dance number as a single, but "If You Ain't Lovin'" was such a popular album track, it got culled for at least one Country music compilation. Originally recorded by Faron Young in 1955, Owens’s remake dates from the same period as “My Heart Skips A Beat.” Boasting the cleverest set of lyrics since The Archies’ debut single “Bang-Shang-A-Lang”, it’d be a wicked fun song for fans to listen and pop their fingers to.

Good Deal, Lucille
Written by JD Miller, Al Terry and Charlie Theriot
Sung by Jack Scott
Those who know The Archies' catalogue can verify that they've cut some solid rockers in the past. “Good Deal, Lucille” would be a fitting companion for ravers like “(Ain't No Doubt About It) I’m In Love”, “Hot Dog”, “Comes The Sun” and “Nursery Rhyme”. It’s a Cajun-flavored catfish nugget that’s been bouncing around Nashville since the early 1950s, scoring hits for two different Country stars (Carl Smith and the now-forgotten author of the tune, Al Terry). Rockabilly singer Jack Scott took “Lucille” out on the town in 1960, and his foot-stomping version is the one that cries out for an Archies cover.

Lonely Weekends
Written by Charlie Rich
Sung by Charlie Rich
Charlie Rich’s classic “Lonely Weekends” is quintessential piano-driven Rockabilly! With Veronica and Betty clapping their hands and singing righteous background vocals, Reginald Mantle III would tear this Memphis Country/Pop song up one way and down the other!

Sleepy-Eyed John
Written by Shelby Atchison
Sung by Johnny Horton
“Sleepy-Eyed John” is a circa 1950 Bluegrass ditty that posthumously became a Top Ten C & W hit for Johnny Horton in 1961. Written by an Appalachian fiddler for square-dancing (or clogging, as we call it out here on the plains), this lively tune’s nursery rhyme-styled lyrics have been “sampled” in numerous songs. One of them, appropriately enough, was The Archies’ 1969 recording “Nursery Rhyme”, found on their Jingle Jangle album. In our mind’s ear, we hear Archie, Veronica and Betty singing this one round-robin style.

Sweet Sweetheart
Written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King
Sung by Bobby Vee
Former teen idol Bobby Vee recorded “Sweet Sweetheart” for Liberty Records in 1970, and it became his last American chart hit. For some reason, the very first time we heard this Carole King composition, we imagined Reggie singing it! Ideally, though, he and Archie would perform it in unison, Everly Brothers-style.

The Race Is On
Written by Don Rollins
Sung by Norma Jean
Country superstar George Jones cut the hit version of “The Race Is On” in 1964. We’ve chosen a cover version by RCA Victor recording artist Norma Jean Beasler for our demo. Nashville music historians remember her as the girl who preceded Dolly Parton as Porter Wagoner’s duet partner, but she was nobody's sidekick! Ms. Beasler was one of the finest female Country vocalists of the ‘60s, and she more than does justice to this Don Rollins tune. If she chooses to, Betty need only copy Norma Jean's template to turn in a perfect performance.

Love Of The Common People
Written by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins
Sung by The Everly Brothers
We were looking for an easy-rocking Country ballad that sounded like something Archies producer Ron Dante would write. When Stuffed Animal stumbled across “Love Of The Common People”, penned by the same writers who gave Dusty Springfield “Son-Of-A-Preacher Man”, we knew we'd found what we wanted! Wayne Newton and The Everly Brothers barely charted with their 1967 recordings; ditto for “Outlaw” Country king Waylon Jennings. No disrespect meant to ol’ Waylon, but it’s really not his kind of song! It’s much too Pop-oriented for an "outlaw" like him. The Archies would get a lot more mileage out of this Gospel-flavored number than he did; as an ensemble piece, it would be stunning.

A Satisfied Mind
Written by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhoads
Sung by Glen Campbell
In the mid-1950s, Porter Wagoner scored his first #1 hit with this tune. Performed as a dirge, his recording was a stone downer! With different lyrics, it could easily have passed for an old Appalachian murder ballad . . . yipe! Not at all appropriate for The Archies. However, ‘60s star Glen Campbell heard “Satisfied Mind” differently when he cut it a decade or so later. His rousing Country/Rock arrangement changed our thinking; performed up tempo, it’s the perfect song for an Archie Country collection! Nashville veterans would really sit up and take notice when Archie and Reggie did their high-harmony thing to this beloved and much-recorded Country classic.

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Love’s Gonna Live Here
Written by Buck Owens
Sung by Buck Owens
If any Nashville songwriter was capable of writing hits for The Archies, it would’ve been the late Buck Owens. His good-natured, high-stepping Bakersfield Country sound fits the group like sky fits heaven! When we conceived this demo, Owens’s 1963 smash “Love’s Gonna Live Here” was the very first song we tagged for inclusion. The lyric works equally well sung by a man or a woman, and Connie Smith cut a very respectable cover version that almost ended up here. No doubt, Betty would do it proud!

A Wonderful Time Up There
Written by Lee Roy Abernathy
Sung by Pat Boone
Every great Country album needs a straight-ahead Gospel tune, preferably as the closing track. We’ve chosen a longtime personal favorite, Pat Boone’s popular 1958 remake of “Gospel Boogie”. We think we know why Boone decided to retitle this 1947 song: In order to avoid raising the hackles of conservative Christians! Having grown up in a Southern Baptist church, Stuffed Animal is well-acquainted with the outrage that can erupt when sacred music sounds like it’s been “secularized”. Veronica isn't one to shy away from controversy: What do you bet she'd love to sink her teeth into this number? My boy Jughead could knock it out of the park, too.

Oklahoma Hills
Written by Jack & Woody Guthrie
Sung by Hank Thompson
We wanted to include a Country standard dating back to the years of the Great Depression. To find one, we automatically looked to the Hank Thompson catalogue; during his lifetime, this great bandleader and singer all but defined the style known as Western Swing. The classics ol’ Hank cut with his Brazos Valley Boys, radio staples like “Humpty Dumpty Heart”, “Wild Side Of Life” “Blackboard Of My Heart” and “Oklahoma Hills” are nothing less than iconic. The latter tune, penned in the early 1940s by Folk music legend Woody Guthrie, held a special place in our hearts; Stuffed Animal remembers hearing it on the radio constantly as a child. Instead of Hank Thompson, some Folk group or other was probably singing the song, but Hank's version is certainly the best we’ve ever heard.

Waiting For You
Written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich
Sung by Connie Francis
Jeff Barry, the Archies’ original songwriter and producer, has written numerous Country hits, including "Out Of Hand", "Lie To You For Your Love" and the Rockabilly-tinged "Savin' The Honey For The Honeymoon". However, Jeff didn’t write many two-steppers with Ellie Greenwich, his most famous songwriting partner. This rare exception was commissioned by Pop diva Connie Francis in 1964, and although intended for single release, it was only issued overseas. Kinda like The Shirelles classic “Soldier Boy” done Country-style, “Waiting For You” would benefit from a duet vocal remake by Veronica and Betty. During the instrumental break, Ms. Francis starts humming the melody; may we humbly suggest a modification? That break needs something more attention-grabbing! It would be a good place for one (or both) of the girls to do a spoken recitation, sending long-distance love to an absent boyfriend serving in the Armed Forces. Maybe something like this: I cried so hard when you went away/I wanted so much to be your bride/But Uncle Sam came in-between us/And I had to step aside/I feel so proud when I see your picture/You look so good in your gray and blue/As long you’re over there keeping us free/I’ll be here waiting for you. Yeah, it’s 'way corny, but you know what? American soldiers really do appreciate those maudlin musical tributes; and somehow, they sound more sincere when conveyed in a Country song.

Heaven Only Knows
Written by Freddie Hart
Sung by Freddie Hart
This bouncy Rockabilly track is just irresistible! Back in the ‘50s, records like “Heaven Only Knows” kept barn dance floors full-to-overflowing. Naturally, Jughead’s barrel-chested bass voice would help Archie put this whimsical call-and-response number across.

Diesel On My Tail
Written by Jimmy Fagan
Sung by Jim and Jesse
With these last few demo tracks, we want to push The Archies' music envelope a wee bit. They’re a little more mature than you’d expect, but certainly not inappropriate for the group’s younger fans. “Diesel On My Tail” is a typical Nashville truck drivin’ song, a foot-tappin’ Bluegrass number whose lyrics are dripping with dark humor. Brothers Jim and Jesse McReynolds do a musical impression of ‘60s comedian Don Knotts: In nervous singing voices, they fret over the possibility that a huge diesel truck will flatten the small sports car they’re riding in! Wouldn’t you just love to hear Archie and Reggie wail lines like There’s a diesel on my tail/Goin’ ninety miles an hour/The reflection in my mirror’s mighty pale/I can hear Saint Peter calling/I can almost smell the flowers/Can this compact take the impact? We know we would!

Just Someone I Used To Know
Written by Jack Clement
Sung by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton
In the spirit of popular Archies duet singles like “Who’s Your Baby?”, “Together We Two” (both of which featured Archie and Veronica trading lines) and “A Summer Prayer For Peace” (which paired Archie with Jughead), here’s a vintage 1969 Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton crooner. Reggie and Roni could take it straight to the Grand Ole Opry stage! There’s a long tradition of male/female Country duets that The Archies could and should honor with at least one album track.

Lonely Queen
Written by Johnny McCarthy and Billy Strange
Sung by Jody Miller
Composed by Hollywood guitar great Billy Strange, this obscure Jody Miller album track would give a star turn to that queen of Southern belles, Veronica Lodge. The girl who sings it must be accustomed to riches and glamour, and who fits the bill better than Roni? “Lonely Queen” is a vintage 1965 Girl Group beat ballad, put over with a heapin’ helpin’ of Nashville Sound gloss.

Plain And Simple
Written by Gary Geld and Pete Udell
Sung by Gene Pitney
Some folks call Country music “the White man’s Blues” . . . we wouldn’t swear to that! However, we do know Country has always been tinged with the Blues, especially nowadays with artists like Wynonna Judd and Mandy Barnett on the scene. The Blues certainly isn’t alien territory for The Archies: “Hide And Seek” and several other of their early recordings fairly reek of Mississippi Delta influence (no, we're not kidding). In fact, the flipside of their first single was a bonafide Blues number: The fabulous Jeff Barry ballad “Truck Driver”! Sixties Pop star Gene Pitney was no stranger to the genre, either, as you know if you've heard him sing this hard-to-find album track. Pitney’s reading of “Plain and Simple” is quite torrid, the kind of performance guaranteed to get a female concert crowd screaming and sobbing uncontrollably! Archie Andrews could easily duplicate his passionate delivery, but we hear Arch voicing the ballad far more gently, and with more of a folksy accompaniment.

Walk A Mile In My Shoes
Written by Joe South
Sung by Brenda Lee
Many different artists have recorded this tune; it's a musical interpretation of the Bible teaching “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”(John 8: 1-11). The most successful recording to date belongs to the songwriter, Joe South. Believe it or not, though, a woman can put the sanctified lyrics across just as well as a man, if not better! In fact, Brenda Lee’s 1971 version is definitive! Little Miss Dynamite showed the big boys how this sermon-in-song ought to be delivered, and Janis Joplin wannabe Betty Cooper could do the same thing.

When I Stop Leavin’, I’ll Be Gone
Written by Kent Robbins
Sung by Charley Pride
The great Charley Pride closes our Archies demo with the boot-scootin’est big band Country number he ever recorded. For years, Charley used “When I Stop Leavin’” to close his stage show. It’s a blow-the-roof-off blend of honky tonk and Disco (yes, Virginia, we said Disco) that would give Archie, Reggie and Jughead an opportunity to do some flashy vocal trade-offs. We think it would adapt quite well to a Bluegrass interpretation, and we’d recommend this Kent Robbins tune for the album’s final track.

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Of course, there are hundreds of other Country songs out there that would suit The Archies: Alternates like BJ Thomas' "No Love At All", Olivia Newton-John's version of "If Not For You", Stampeders' "Sweet City Woman" and Gallery's "Big City Miss Ruth Ann" spring to mind. This sampling just gives you a rough idea of how an Archie Country album could come together. Admittedly, it reflects the Pop Culture Cantina’s broad definition of what Country music is; a hardcore C & W purist would surely decry the eclecticism of our list! There’d be no end of objections to the Rockabilly inclusions, and the Pop selections would draw criticism, too. A floor-shaker like “When I Stop Leavin’, I’ll Be Gone” would probably induce a coronary!

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However, Country music has greatly expanded its range over the last 40 years. That has a lot to do with the emerging Americana movement that embraces any musical genre with down-home roots: Folk, Rockabilly, Gospel, Tex-Mex, Country/Pop, even Dixieland Jazz. This new openness makes possible the entry of a cartoon vocal group (namely, The Archies!) into the growing circle of artists who dabble in the Country idiom.

So, how does that grab you, Jon Goldwater? Are you down with the Nashville sound, Victor Gorelick?  Do you dig that twang thang, Mike Pellerito? What would happen if established Country stars like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and/or Asleep At The Wheel were contacted and invited to take part in an Archie Country music project? Might Hal Lifson and Tod Smith’s Nashville story prove prophetic? Might there even be an “Archie in Nashville” comic book series? Archie executives might find themselves generating as much publicity as they did with the recent introduction of Kevin Keller! Why not give it some thought, folks? Keep our demo on the CD player while you’re thinking . . . just a suggestion!

Nothing would thrill us more than if Country-music-loving Archie fans all over the Web would lobby to make this longtime dream of ours come true. All you Red Staters and Blue Staters . . . let's get together and git 'er done! If you crave an Archies Country Music album as much as we do here @ the Pop Culture Cantina, then tweet @archiecomics, @bmi and @CountryMusic right now!  Make your enthusiasm known!!!

On behalf of the Pop Culture Cantina . . .
  Don Charles “Stuffed Animal”
Liner notes writer for the 1996 Mercury/PolyGram Records CD compilations Connie Francis Souvenirs, The Best Of The Angels, The Best Of The Shangri-Las and Growin’ Up Too Fast: The Girl Group Anthology; contributor to the 2001 Feral House anthology Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth

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Original fanart by Don Charles "Stuffed Animal",
imagining Archie, Betty, Jughead, Reggie and Veronica as adults.
Teenage Archie character likenesses created by Bob Montana
(and perfected by the great Harry Lucey)!!!

The Archie characters and images are copyrighted by
Archie Comics, Incorporated.