By Karen Bliss
“Sugar, Sugar,” the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted song co-written by Canadian Andy Kim and American Jeff Barry, and popularized in 1969 by the animated pop group The Archies from the T.V. series, continues to be a monster hit with over 300 million streams on Spotify alone. The “bubblegum pop” original has sold more than 13 million copies worldwide, according to the CSHF.
While Kim performs it in his live set, the Archies singer was mainly a jingle singer named Ron Dante, who recorded about 100 songs for the fictional band and went on to produce numerous albums for Barry Manilow.
Of the song, which was inducted into the CSHF in 2006, Kim told Boom 97.3’s Behind The Vinyl, “We wrote this song in about 10 minutes,” but went on to explain how it was far from quick to nail down the magic in RCA Studios in New York, with Barry producing.
“It was rough going at the beginning,” Kim remembers. “I recorded everything on this little Sony cassette player that I had, that made everything that I wrote sound like a hit — at least to me. Sounded like it was coming out of a transistor radio. And after about an hour of it not working, my producer Jeff Barry saw the look in my eyes and we took a break….
“He said, ‘So?’ and I said, ‘Well, it just sounds so great on my cassette player and when we were in the office writing and you were doing what you do — which is just a great percussionist, kind of banging on the desk and just making sounds to my guitar playing, it sounded like a record then.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’ll just play it for you.’
“It was kind of like the groove that I was playing that wasn’t happening because someone else was actually playing the guitar, I mean the acoustic guitar version…so finally through everybody listening to my guitar playing, we finally got this pocket, as they say, which meant that everything sounded great. We were all excited about the record.”
It turns out radio was not excited. Famed record man Don Kirshner, whose label Calendar was releasing The Archies material, hired an independent promotion man, who decided to “blank label so that nobody knew it was the Archies,” Kim says. That little trick worked.
The story is backed by an interview Dante did for The Washington Times in 2017, which included a few other fun tidbits.
“Jeff told Andy we needed a song for The Archies, and Andy came up with it on the phone. Jeff wrote the verse, Andy wrote the chorus. We recorded it in about two hours, and I knew there was something cool about that song. Andy didn’t have a pick; he played the guitar with a matchbook. You hear it flapping on the recording. Vocally I was imitating Donovan a bit,” Dante told the newspaper.
He also said the single was white labelled to radio. “Radio didn’t want to play it. It was the third single from this group, and the D.J.s were getting kind of antsy since there was no touring group. A promotion man in San Francisco took the label off and took it to the top radio station there. He said, ‘Just play it! It’s a mystery group.’ The guy played it, and the phones lit up. That record went around the world as No. 1.”
Released in the summer of 1969, by September, the single had sold a million copies in the U.S., and by the fall, had reached No. 1 in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. — spending four weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, eight weeks on the U.K. Singles Chart, and three weeks on RPM 100 singles chart in Canada. It also peaked at No. 1 on at least one chart in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Rhodesia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.
The song was covered a year later by Wilson Pickett, charting at No. 4 on Billboard’s R&B chart and No. 25 on the Hot 100 pop chart. That version of the song was included in the soundtrack to Ang Lee’s 1997 film The Ice Storm. The single has also received placements in The Simpsons, was performed by The Brady Bunch (band) in A Very Brady Sequel, appeared in Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth, the Shrek II DVD, the theme song to Cake Boss, and countless ads.
“Sugar, Sugar” is just one of those timeless classics for all ages.