#31 – Reunion – Life is a Rock But the Radio Rolled Me:
Between 1964 and 1967, a subset of pop music that generated a huge following was labeled “Bubblegum”. It’s upbeat vibe with simple lyrics and singable melodies were targeted at the pre-teen / teenager market. 1910 Fruitgum Company, Ohio Express, The Lemon Pipers, and The Archies were the best known purveyors, but there were echoes of the Bubblegum style in the work of mainstream acts like Tommy Roe, Gilbert O’Sullivan, The The Sweet, The Jackson 5, ABBA, The Osmonds, The Partridge Family, The Turtles, and Boyce and Hart.
The Archies, a studio band that provided the soundtrack for the TV cartoon series that showcased the erstwhile comic book icon marked the pinnacle of Bubblegum popularity as late as 1969, with their number one hit, the saccharine “Sugar Sugar“.
Those of us disc jockeys who were forced to play the tune over and over on the radio, endured it. And the Bubblegum genre disappeared soon after as audience tastes continued to evolve.
Fast forward to 1974. Joey Levine, who was the front man for The Ohio Express’s hit “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and produced a number of Bubblegum classics, joined an ad-hoc group of studio musicians who called themselves “Reunion”. The band had a pre-Levine existence, but generated little buzz with their art before Joey took a deep breath and gave us a ride down memory lane on the Norman Dolph / Paul DiFranco composition, “Life is a Rock But the Radio Rolled Me”.
The lyrics race through artists, cliches and song titles from the 50s, 60s and 70s, taking a brief break for a singable four sentence chorus about every 45 seconds. Joey’s illusion of singing each verse in a single breath is broken by some clear edit points. But the essence of the lyrics resonated with those of us who grew up listening to the music he’s singing about.
The song peaked at number 33 on the Billboard charts and is dismissed by many as a novelty record. But I include it at Number 31 in my 31 Days of Faves as a tribute to the many artists who contributed to the Soundtrack of our Lives.
Song references include Elvis Presley’s “Wear My Ring Around Your Neck,” the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” Sly & the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher,” The Castaways’ “Liar, Liar,” Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion,” The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Wanda Jackson’s “Fujiyama,” The Edsels’ “Rama Lama Ding Dong,” Little Anthony & The Imperials’ “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop,” Hank Ballard’s “Finger Poppin’ Time,” The Monkees’ “Mary, Mary,” The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Frankie Avalon’s “DeDe Dinah,” Ma Rainey’s “CC Rider” (a hit for The Animals in the ’60s), Stephen Foster’s “Camptown Races,” The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Surfer Girl” and “Little Honda,” Alive N Kickin’s “Tighter, Tighter,” ABBA’s “Honey, Honey,” The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar,” Ohio Express’ “Yummy Yummy Yummy,” The Shangri-Las’ “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” Les Cooper’s “The Boston Monkey,” The Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving,” Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” and Three Dog Night’s “Celebrate.”
Musicians and songwriters mentioned by name (in order of appearance) are: B. Bumble and the Stingers, Mott the Hoople, Ray Charles Singers, Lonnie Mack, Twangin’ Eddy (Duane Eddy), Poco, Deep Purple, Sam Cooke, Lesley Gore, Ritchie Valens, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Richard Perry, Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, The Righteous Brothers, The Archies, Harry Nilsson, Fats Is Back (Fats Domino), Brenda & the Tabulations, Carly Simon, Noddy Holder, Johnny Cash, Johnny Rivers, Mungo Jerry, Peter, Paul and Mary, Dr. John, Doris Day, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Bonnie Bramlett, Wilson Pickett, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Dale Hawkins, Ronnie Hawkins, John Denver, Donny Osmond, J. J. Cale, ZZ Top, David Bowie, Steely Dan, Edgar Winter, Joanie Sommers, Osmond Brothers, Johnny Thunders, Eric Clapton, and Stephen Foster. Legendary disc jockeys Alan Freed and Murray the K also earn nods.
The lyrics also mention record labels Kama Sutra, CBS, Warner Bros., RCA (“and all the others”), dance crazes like The Fish and The Swim, and tools of the rock trade like slide guitar, Fender bass, and the wah-wah pedal.