Rock 'n' roll on television is virtually at a standstill. Sure, Dick Clark continues to package the pap while Wolfman Jack recycles it, but most rock artists avoid TV as if it were a medium with the mange.
Nevertheless, rock 'n' roll has managed to sneak in the back door. There are numerous commercials in which rock "oldies" have been assimilated into the advertising message, instantly becoming new jingles (e.g., Doris Troy's "Just One Look," Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman"). In many ads, rock artists themselves appear: The Cadillacs croon about cars, Fats Domino shakes his blueberries.
But it is in the kitsch approach of direct-response ads in which the rock 'n' roll spirit has truly been preserved on television. Aimed at armchair consumers, these commercials (all filmed in Fred Sanford's junkyard) attempt to sell voluminous record-packages in 120 seconds; hence, the images are fast, the snippets of songs brief, and the impact startling. The breathless urgency of these ads is as concise and as captivating as a three-minute hit from the dawn of rock 'n' roll.
Candelight Music creates the classiest ads; their Drifters collection is still definitive, and their current Fats Domino ad astounds with its blaring joviality. Yet the best bargains usually are offered by Lake Shore Music, a chintzier company perhaps but one that at least has the insight to package in terms of genres instead of individual artists. A couple of their recent three-record compilations bear this out remarkably well. Both are superbly designed for collectors and dancers alike -- "Super Bubble" (Warner Special Products OP-3504) and "Super Girls" (Warner Special Products OP-3507).
Bouncing from the radion in '68 and '69 with a smacking resiliency, bubblegum music hit the charts at a time when kids were grooving to the perpetual doodling of the Grateful Dead. It was a formula conceived almost as a business maneuver between Buddah Records' manager, Neil Bogart, and two Long Island producers, Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz. This partnership developed the first "official" bubblegum record -- "Simon Says" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, based on the well-known children's game. Here was a record with universal appeal -- selling more than five million copies internationally -- an anthem to the inocence of childhood's idle hours.
Unfortunately, the word "bubblegum" began to acquire a derisive connotation, probably adopted by the rock press/industry to express displeasure over a musical genre so artlessly wholesome. (In all fairness, the term "bubblegum" was merely a tag identification for a production sound that began with the 1910 Fruitgum Co.)
"Super Bubble" erases the aesthetic snobbery that has tried to squelch the bubble gum style throughout the years by simply being jam packed with skip-a-rope dynamics. Included are many samples of the original Kasenetz-Katz sound (Ohio Express' "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy" and "Chewy, Chewy") as well as its antecedents (Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now"), its offspring (the Sweet's "Little Willie," Daniel Boone's "Beautiful Sunday"), and its video versions (the Monkees' "I'm a Believer," the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar"). The beauty of "Super Bubble" is that it reveals the obvious reason for the genre's popularity in the late '60s -- bubblegum rock created the sensation of carefree playfulness, expanding like a gigantic bubble being blown by Bazooka Joe.
Like bubblegum artists, each immortal girl group or singer in the early '60s was molded by a producer. The Ronettes and the Crystals bowed before the presence of Phil Spector. The Shangrilas looked to Shadow Morton for guidance. The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and the Marvelettes most assuredly had to knuckle under to the corporate demands of Berry Gordy's Motown empire. Essentially every female singer had to resign herself to a male's formula: that nothing can take the place of my guy.
To feminists, this may seem shocking, yet there was an undeniable charm, almost a sense of liberation, in the way girl groups vocalized self-denial, usually at the mercy of some male producer. Years before Aretha Franklin demanded "R-e-s-p-e-c-t," there was an era litterally overflowing with desire and heartbreak, a time when it seemed that indeed girls were made to sing.
"Super Girls" collects 30 recordings by angelic voices from the heavenly past, precious yearnings and romantic fantasies of unrequited love.
In one way or another, each girl group of singer expresses blind allegiance to her boyfriend. Marcie Blane wants to be "Bobby's Girl." Little Peggy March declares "I Will Follow Him." "Don't Say Nothin' Bad (About My Baby)" dare the Cookies. And like every lover on the album, Betty Everett knows that "It's n his Kiss."
The triumph of "Super Girls" is its avoidance of Spector's groups altogether -- anthologies of his work have been done to death. Its main drawback is the reliance upon overly familiar Motown hits, but that can be a plus at a dance party.