When I was a child, music was music. I didn’t know anything about labels such as rock, pop or even country. And I really knew nothing about sub genres such as power pop and bubblegum. I just liked what I liked, which was songs by Three Dog Night, The Carpenters, ELO, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Wings and The Archies. I guess it’s safe to say that I’m a fan of pop and in later years, I became an even bigger fan of power pop and bubblegum — maybe even borderline obsessed with the styles.
I grew up listening to AM radio and all its many joys — the fore-mentioned acts and songs like “The Most Beautiful Girl” by Charlie Rich, “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis and “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies.
“Ah, sugar (do do do do do do), ah honey honey” is the jam. It’s the best 2:47 of music, almost 40 years after it was first released in 1969. It’s short and, no pun intended, sweet. It’s a delightful pop song that’s layered with a great bass line, organs, hand claps and the vocals of Ron Dante and my friend Toni Wine.
As a child, there was the song and there was “Archie Comics,” which followed the antics of Archie Andrews and his friends Betty, Veronica, Reggie and Jughead as they navigated the world of Riverdale High School. And then one Sunday morning, my life changed — I was watching “Dick Williams’ Magic Land” on WWMC in Memphis (Channel 5) and I saw “The Archies” cartoon for the first time. It was cool. But then, they sang “Sugar, Sugar.” Wait. What? One of my favorite songs was actually performed by my favorite comic book characters? This was a magical moment when my two worlds collided.
When I became a teenager, I found out that the band The Archies was actually a real life group that featured Dante and Wine, who has been performing with Tony Orlando for many years. It was group put together by musical genius Don Kirshner as an answer to The Monkees, which was also a TV group, although The Monkees ended up kind of becoming their own thing.
I started listening to “The Archies” greatest hits and was turned on to great tunes like “Who’s Gonna Love Me” and “Bang-Shang-A-Lang.” Later in life, I was turned on to The Archies album “This is Love,” which is Dante and Wine’s “Pet Sounds,” It’s a great record.
Dante will be at the IP Casino Resort on Friday as part of the Happy Together Tour, which also features Chuck Negron, The Box Tops, The Cowsills, The Association and The Turtles. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets start at $45.
Are you looking forward to doing the Happy Together Tour for the first time?
This is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to do this tour. When I was asked, I said yes before they even finished the question. The Turtles have such great hits — everyone has such great hits. I am thrilled. We are doing some dates of five shows in a row. But I’m ready. It’s going to be great meeting the fans.
Everyone gets to play three or four songs. Do you know what you are playing yet?
I’m going to do three Archies songs and a Cufflinks song, “Tracy,” which was hit at the same time as “Sugar, Sugar.” I was also a jingle singer — I sang commercials, so I’m going to do a medley of some of those. I sang on things like “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” for Coke — I did 30 or 40 versions of that commercial. It’s in the Smithsonian.
Do you mind telling me about how Don Kirshner brought The Archies to fruition?
Jeff, I never get tired of talking about this because every time I talk about, I’m able to remember another memory about it.
I had worked for Don Kirshner at age 17 — I sang demos for people like Neil Sedaka and Carol King. A few years later. a friend of mine said that was Don was doing something like The Monkees but based on the “Archie Comics.” My friend said they didn’t have a lead singer. I called Don Kirshner and told him I would like to audition because I thought I would be good for the voice of Archie.
I went over and auditioned with “Bang-Shang-A-Lang” and they signed me up. We did over a hundred songs over the next few years. Donnie was a great guy. He was the PT Barnum of the music industry.
Toni Wine, I think, told me that Ray Stevens did the hand claps on “Sugar, Sugar.” Is this true or did I imagine it?
Yes. She brought Ray in. We always put hand claps on all our records. Ray said, “Can I do something?” and we had him do some hand claps. We went out and did the hand claps and then doubled the track and tripled the track. Our hands were as red as anything by the end of it, but Ray was there. He brought his luck to it, I think. He was quite popular at the time.
“Sugar, Sugar” is still a very popular song.
I feel very lucky and blessed that I got to sing such a cool little song. It’s such a cool song that any language could understand. It was number one in almost every country in the world that played pop music. I feel great about it. I knew the writers, Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, were really good writers. Jeff Barry was one of the top writers of hits in the 1960s. I knew being in the studio with Jeff Barry and Don Kirshner. I was shocked that it become such a huge number one hit. People were getting sick of it, but I was very happy. I think the fact that it’s still popular has a lot to do with the quality of the song and people still love it. It has a life of its own.
I really have an affection for that style of pop music or AM radio music. I love “Who’s Gonna Love Me” and Together We Two” from “This Is Love.” Do you have a favorite Archies song?
“Sugar, Sugar” is at the top. I did this thing with Jeff Barry called “Summer Prayer for Peace” and it’s an interesting record. That’s a quite favorite of mine because it’s always a good thought. “Sunshine” is a good one — “Get on The Line” is another one that pops out. “This is Love” is one of my favorite albums. It’s a little more sophisticated but it has really cool songs.
We just finished season one of “Riverdale.” Have you seen it?
I saw the new “Riverdale” show and kind of liked it. It's not really aimed at the original Archies crowd. This is a much darker version using the Archie characters names and the place they grew up in. I miss the kinder and more friendly version of the old comics. But that's just me.