American History and antiwar protest spark two unusual records from that ‘toon teen who has less than a month to live.
THE U.S. OF ARCHIE
Peter Pan Records #8154 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono / 1976 / 34 minutes)
TV Series Producers: Lou Scheimer, Norm Prescott, Hal Sutherland. Creative Director: Don Christensen. Writers: Jim Ryan, Bill Danch, Marc Richards.
Performers: Dal McKennon (Archie, Chuck); Howard Morris (Jughead, Moose, William Clark, York, Alexander Graham Bell); Jane Webb (Betty, Veronica, Sacagawea, Mrs. Sanders, Mabel); John Erwin (Reggie, Meriwether Lewis, Charbonneau, Sanders, Watson) Lou Scheimer (Mandan Indian).
Archie comics exploded on Saturday morning TV, earning over a 40 share for the initial CBS half hour, The Archie Show. With each successive season, there were as many format changes to Archie cartoons as there were to The Doris Day Show until the CBS-Archie association ran its course after the last series, The U.S. of Archie, premiered in anticipation of the Bicentennial.
In 1976, Peter Pan Records released a handful of Bicentennial-themed records, including The Great American Cowboy and Our Country ‘Tis of Thee, but their Archie dialogue soundtrack record was particularly exciting to Saturday Morning TV fans in 1976, even if it was based on the least-exciting Archie series. Being educational is all fine and good, but U.S. of Archie seems kind of stodgy when compared to Schoolhouse Rock and Sesame Street. It’s more akin to those 16mm Coronet Films we saw in school.
It is great though, to have an album of any Archie series at all, with the voices of Dal McKennon, Howard Morris, Jane Webb and John Erwin doing all the voices—as was the common Filmation practice. Each U.S. of Archie episode is framed with a brief present-day story. Then Archie, as host, transitions to the past, where the characters’ ancestors—with the same names—somehow experience great moments in history (This is America, Charlie Brown had a similar premise.) From 1968 to 1974, the TV himself had become more of a figurehead, with Reggie and Moose taking center stage for almost all the wacky hijinks.
Since Peter Pan Records did not spring for the music fees, the album does not include any of the songs from the end of U.S. of Archie (which were produced by Jackie Mills, who did the same for The Brady Bunch and Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm). The background music by “Yvette Blais and Jeff Michael” (actually Ray Ellis and Norm Prescott) is also missing, replaced by a small combo.
The album contains Episode 14, “The Great Divide,” about the Lewis and Clark Expedition (first aired December 7, 1974) and “Mr. Watson, Come Here” (November 24, 1974). The album cover lists “Watson” as Side Two story and the record label lists it as Side One. “The Great Divide” was also released as a 7” 33 1/3 RPM record as part of Peter Pan’s cartoon series in the late ‘70s.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“‘Mr. Watson, Come Here’ Excerpts”
This is a sampling of the way The U.S. of Archie opened with a present-day situation related to the historic subject and closed by tying up both stories. Listen for when John Erwin as Watson, upon the success of the phone experiment, pitches up his voice in elation and sounds more like Reggie. With only four actors playing several dozen voice roles, it was bound to happen once in a while. (The versatile Erwin also voiced He-Man and Morris the Cat.)
Kirshner Records KES-107 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo / 1970 / 30 minutes)
Lead Vocals: Ron Dante. Music Supervisor: Don Kirshner. Producer: Jeff Barry. Recording Engineer: Mike Moran. Recorded at Sound Ideas Studio, The Hit Factory and RCA’s Studio C in New York.
Songs: “Sunshine” by Jeff Barry and Mike Bloom; “Who’s Gonna Love Me,” “Love and Rock ‘n Roll Music,” “Suddenly Susan,” by Jeff Barry, Ron Dante and Gene Allen; “Mr. Factory,” “Comes the Sun,” “One Big Family,” “Dance” by Jeff Barry and Neil Brian Goldberg; “Over and Over” by Jeff Barry and Ron Dante; “Waldo P. Emerson Jones,” “It’s the Summertime” By Jeff Barry and Andy Kim; “A Summer Prayer for Peace” by Jeff Barry.
Sunshine is the fourth of five albums by the most successful pop band never to exist. Following his explosive and implosive experience with The Monkees, pop impresario decided to form a group that couldn’t start making demands.
Singer/musician/composer Ron Dante sang the lead on all but one of The Archies’ records — with Toni Wine as backup on many of them — plus Joey Levine, Jeff Barry, Andy Kim, Mareatha Stewart, Bobby Bloom, Ellie Greenwich, Lesley Miller and Susan Morse also lending their voices. All their identities were kept confidential, so that when “Sugar, Sugar,” became the Number One song of 1969, the cartoon characters were the artists—at least as far as the public was concerned. They even performed in animated form on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Dante was — and still is — one of the most prolific studio singers in the entertainment business, heard in thousands of commercials, on records and various soundtracks, with an inexhaustible ability to recreate a variety of tones and musical attitudes. For The Archies, Dante assumed a Donovan-like style, but he alternated his voice depending on each song. The multi-tracking is truly remarkable, even when compared to today’s technological capabilities. Of all The Archies’ albums, Sunshine offers the greatest spread of Dante variations, especially evident in the low tones he uses in “One Big Family.”
The title song got some radio airplay but was not the hit that “Sugar, Sugar” and “Jingle Jangle” were. But, if my theory is correct, it might have also had another life as a commercial jingle—the melody is almost exactly the same at that of a series of Wheaties TV spots in which sports stars—including Hank Aaron and Willis Reed—messed up because they “didn’t have their Wheaties.”
According to LJworld.com, the jingle originated in a 1971 Wheaties commercial starring NBA Hall-of-Famer Willis Reed with the lyrics, “[Sports star]/You didn’t have your Wheaties/So long/We hate to see you go/Too bad, you didn’t have your Wheaties/So sad, you didn’t win the game.”
LJworld.com explains: “In the commercial, [band director] Stidham said, Reed missed a dunk because he didn’t eat his Wheaties. Jim Barnes, who directed the pep band at the time, wrote an arrangement of the song, and KU fans sang along while waving the wheat. General Mills even sent Wheaties boxes to Houston for KU fans to wave during their team’s Final Four appearance that year. Fans eventually stopped singing the words, but the band kept playing the song.
Only a few songs from “Sunshine” were featured on Archie’s Funhouse, the CBS iteration of Archie and the Gang on TV at the time of this album’s release. They included “Mr. Factory,” “Comes the Sun,” “One Big Family” and “Dance.” The oddest thing was how Archie’s Funhouse showcased other Archies songs that were never released on records, like “”Puppet On a String” and “Love Vibrations.”
A nice shout out is due to Archie comics writer Paul Kupperberg for working “Waldo P. Emerson Jones” into a recent issue of Life With Archie: The Married Life. This graphic novel magazine has been in the news for several months, because in two weeks, it will depict Archie will be passing away (at least in this comic book series) and the gang dealing with the loss. He will, of course, live on in the other current Archie series comics (Life with Archie was a “what if?” kind of title). And so will the music of The Archies.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“A Summer Prayer for Peace”
That’s Jeff Barry reciting the numbers to Ron Dante, who is calling off the countries. The song may be dated as far as the world population tallies up today, but it’s still powerful and magnificently presented. “I thought it was a little unusual for The Archies,” Ron Dante told Jeanine Kasun of Baby Boomer Favorites at stusshow.com. “So they never did any animation to it, but it was released with a huge single—picture sleeve with a peace sign on it—and it was number one in South Africa for many, many weeks. In fact, some of my South Africa fans think this is The Archies’ big hit…we got played on U.S. Military radio in Vietnam, so all the Vets who came back have a big affinity for The Archies’ music. They were really into “Sugar, Sugar” and anything else we did. They come to my shows.”