The Evolution of Bubblegum Pop

One of the biggest rock n roll explosions occurred in 1954 when Elvis recorded “That’s Alright Mama.” That tune is one of the many songs in the running for the first rock song ever. This music and the dancing that came with made people concerned; they thought it might lead to the downfall of society.

Obviously, that didn’t happen, and 10 years later in 1964, four lads came into the limelight with their fresh pop-rock tunes, and once again society panicked. Their long hair was too dangerous (seriously their hair was a huge deal)! However, during that first decade of rock, the money continued to pour in, especially with Beatlemania. And due to the power of money, this convinced the rest of society to get on board and follow the trends.

Beatlemania in full effect

Acceptance of Rock and Transition to Bubblegum Pop

If rock was no longer taboo, why not specifically market it to teens and pre-teens? Indeed, record labels always made bands write songs that would sell to the younger generation, and bands like the Beatles were cross marketed everywhere. However, these mass promotions always dealt with the most popular bands and the personalities of the members. Eventually, record producers realized they could cut a real band out of the picture.

By having session musicians record catchy and upbeat pop tunes, they could churn out enough hits to get all the spare change of a generation with plenty to spare. Thus was born “bubblegum pop”, mass-marketed in haste for the teenage masses. If you would like to know the BEST example of bubblegum pop, it is “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies. A song to this day that you can hear in commercials, movies, or even the 24/7 grocery stores at 3 AM!

What Makes It Bubblegum?

The key feature of bubblegum pop is that it’s deliberately created and marketed for teenagers. It is contrived, and it has a specific musical formula. Rarely are “real bands” used, since session musicians recorded the music.

Occasionally these folks would gain some fame but was a rarity. Along with session musicians, they would also use songwriters from places like the Brill Building. This was an office building in New York City known for being a center for music like Tin Pan Alley. In this building were lyricists who were paid to churn out hits daily regardless of artist or band.

With this corporate approach, musically bubblegum pop is made up of simplistic chords, basic melodies, and repetitive hooks. There is no mention of politics or social distress, it’s all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows for all. Topics include love (romantic and platonic), colors, and sugar.

It even reached a point to the songs being cross marketed with candy and bubblegum. Additionally, a lot of bubblegum pop portrays the vibe of a teenage girl smilingly chomping away on gum! The story goes that the music producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz coined the phrase bubblegum pop when producing a song while chewing on gum.

Purpose of Bubblegum Pop

Most bubblegum pop was based on selling singles, and not an album. Considering these were not real bands creating music, there was no artistic visions or dreams of grand production. Most of the music was created in an assembly-line fashion. There was no heart, soul, or agony in bubblegum pop. This is one of the main reasons that it is often derided by critics.

An early example of fake bands was The Monkees, a band created for a tv show, records, magazines and other commercial items. Hardcore music lovers saw this as an affront to the incredible rock bands and albums of the 60’s; music that was created with more insight and care.

However, it’s unfair to have this vision of bubblegum pop as manufactured garbage. These songs were recorded by session musicians, the REAL musicians who record on a ton of records for “legitimate” bands. The Monkees had Brill Building songwriters like Carole King and Neil Diamond, and were at the top of their profession.

Maybe these musicians and songwriters made the teen pop music just for the paycheck, but it doesn’t change the fact that they were still very talented. If you find yourself tapping or singing along to some of the bubblegum pop out there; it’s ok, the music isn’t THAT bad!

A Little Bubblegum History

The beginning of bubblegum pop started with the song “Green Tambourine” by The Lemon Pipers. This song is not like post bubblegum, as it has a very heavy psychedelic sound to it. At first, society was up in arms about psychedelia and hippies, then suddenly it became all the rage. There is a famous British movie that takes place in the late 60’s called “Withnail and I.” At the end of the film, one of the characters says:

“Their selling hippie wigs at Woolworth’s, man. The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over.”

It’s a wonderful quote as it nails the fact that the hopes and dreams of the decade were basically mainstreamed and every penny available was squeezed out. (This sellout cycle has since repeated itself a few times over the past 50 years!)

Along with psychedelic pop, bubblegum was also heavily inspired by novelty music. In the 50’s and 60’s when someone wanted to release a quick hit that appealed to the masses, they would write a comedic novelty song. Novelty and pop tunes had much more inspiration on bubblegum than psychedelia.

Songs like “Simon Says,” “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” and “Chewy Chewy” were a lot less psychedelic and mostly straight pop. Notice how light and bubbly this music is, similar to the Archies. Like the Monkees, the Archies were not a real band, considering they were presented as the comic book characters on TV.

Cartoon Bubblegum Pop Bands

With the success of the Archies, executives realized fictional cartoon bands could be profitable. The Archies were followed by the Banana Splits, which ironically had a horror movie made about them recently. Josie and the Pussycats were one of the better-known bands. On a side-note, the teenage group for Scooby-Doo was originally supposed to be a band as well!

Bubblegum pop took from a variety of styles to make some quick cash, and it was natural that even well-known artists would also start to cash in. Popular bands like the Jackson 5, The Rascals, The 5th Dimension, and The Cowsills all recorded tunes that fit the style of bubblegum. And just like The Monkees more live-action fake bands were on TV like The Partridge Family.

Branches of Bubblegum Pop

Not all the musicians of bubblegum were destined for obscurity. The Monkees decided they wanted to have more creative control over their music (like most real bands out there).

Bubblegum pop band: The Monkees

After a long fight they gained ownership and were able to play their own music. Today they are known as any other band despite their fake origin. Otherwise, one of the few names to be remembered out of bubblegum pop songs was Tommy Roe, who had multiple hit songs like “Sheila,” “Sweet Pea,” and “Dizzy”. With so many hits you could say Tommy Roe was the king of bubblegum pop.

Bubblegum pop didn’t last long into the 70’s, and died down in 1972 with a brief resurgence around 74-75. One of the last bands to produce a bubblegum pop type hit was the Bay City Rollers with songs like “Saturday Night.”

By the early 70’s another genre of music that was heavily inspired by bubblegum pop was reaching its peak; glam rock. Glam rocker took the basics of teen pop and added some harder guitar riffs and of course a lot of fashion. Unlike bubblegum pop, Glam rock is made up of creative musicians like David Bowie, T.Rex and Sweet, who were creating genuine art.

Short Death of Bubblegum Pop

Unfortunately, the feel-good laid back style of bubblegum pop was killed the same as many other genres, by disco. Disco wasn’t just a music fad, but a lifestyle, it was the stake in the heart of many musical genres. However, the spirit of bubblegum remained, waiting to possess any group of musicians and producers looking to make a quick buck.

Besides glam rock, it inspired euro pop, dance pop, indie pop, and of course teen pop. In many cases, these genres have a mix of inspiration but there’s no denying, songs with basic chords, happy lyrics, and catchy riffs were inspired by bubblegum pop.

Bring in the Boy and Girl Bands

And perhaps the lasting legacy is the most controversial of all; bubblegum pop is responsible for the phenomenon of boy and girl bands. Depending on your sensibilities this may be a blessing or maybe the worst curse in music history! Early proto boy bands were those with bubblegum hits like the Jackson 5 and the Osmond’s. With the success of manufactured bands, later groups like Menudo, New Edition, and New Kids on the Block followed the same successful formulas.

In some cases, people were chosen based on looks, not even music ability. Like early bubblegum pop, it was all about the image and ability to get money out of teenager’s pockets. By the 90’s this specific boy band planning had become a science with bands like the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync. Also in the 90’s, we saw the rise of girl power, where producers took the same formula, except now with attractive girls instead of boys.

The 90's high point of bubblegum pop boy bands - N'Sync

The key difference to remember between girl band and boy band music is the way they are packaged and sold. With bubblegum music the key is to make a wholesome product that will fit a certain stereotype and appeal to the young masses. Remember no politics or grisly subjects; the only sadness can be a broken heart, which can be alleviated by the many rabid fans.

Bubblegum Pop Today

In recent years, the mantel of bubblegum pop is carried on by One Direction and a myriad of K-pop groups.

As long as there are teens with spare money, there will always be a beautiful boy or girl band to sing meaningless happy pop songs. Even without boy or girl type bands bubblegum pop will always be waiting to poke its head out in popular music.

Conclusion

It can’t be denied, the legacy of bubblegum has created terrible music in the guise of boy bands and teeny pop. However, don’t discount the music too much. Like the session musicians of the 60’s, there is often talent behind the image.

Another positive to bubblegum pop is its lasting appeal. People to this day still love the music they listened to in their teen years. Usually, it’s caused by nostalgia, but clearly, it is also music that other generations still enjoy.

Now that you have heard the song examples in this article you will notice how often you hear them in the future. Bubblegum pop is incredibly abundant across all mediums and still being discovered by younger generations. It is quite amazing how basic “assembly line” music meant for quick cash grabs have stood the test of time.

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