‘Sugar, Sugar’ — The Archies, 1969
The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” was the best-selling single of 1969, yet the singing group was never photographed together, never gave an interview, never appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” never headlined in Las Vegas and never traveled the lucrative tour road.
The reason was simple — beyond the walls of the recording studio, The Archies didn’t exist. The outfit was as fictional as the absurdly wholesome teenagers from John L. Goldwater’s “Archie” comic books that had been around since 1942 and upon which the series was based.
In 1968, Filmation Studios released a Saturday morning CBS-TV cartoon program called “The Archie Show.” It featured the whole clean-cut gang from mainstream Riverdale High. Music mogul Don Kirshner, a savvy businessperson who knew the music youth market inside and out, was hired to supply tunes for the prepubescent-oriented show. Kirshner had managed the career of the Monkees.
He brought together virtuoso studio musicians Toni Wine and Ron Dante. Wine, a 19-year-old singer/songwriter, had co-written “A Groovy Kind of Love” for the Mindbenders at the age of 16.
Dante, a 23-year-old vocalist, had begun his musical career at the age of 11 after falling out of a tree. To exercise a fractured wrist, he started playing the guitar. Dante mastered the instrument so quickly that he formed a rock group called the Persuaders, just one year later.
Dante had worked for Kirshner for years, mainly as a demo (demonstration) singer. He had briefly tasted fame in 1964 as a member of the Detergents.
The Detergents put out a Top 20 novelty 45 with “Leader of the Laundromat,” a spoof of the Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack.” This prompted a lawsuit from its composers.
Later attempts at finding success in the entertainment world had eluded Dante until the day that Kirshner signed him as the lead voice of the non-existent Archies.
Pop-music fans probably thought they heard the entire group of Riverdale chums — Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Moose — vocalizing on “Sugar, Sugar.” But, in truth, the recording Archies consisted only of Dante’s multi-tracked voice and Wine’s simplistic two-line contribution of “You make life so sweet!” and “I’m gonna make life so sweet!” She would later tell songfacts.com, “It was just a very easy session … it was a blast, and at the session we just knew that this was something, and something huge was going to happen.”
Kirshner knew that Top 40 radio stations probably would steer clear of a single by a cartoon band. He directed his promotion men to visit radio stations and play “Sugar, Sugar” for the program directors but not reveal the group’s name until proper interest had been shown and the 45 had secured a place on the station’s playlist.
The strategy worked, and “Sugar, Sugar” subsequently reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts and sold 3 million copies.
And Ron Dante? Later in the year, he became the lead singer of the one-hit wonder Cuff Links, another studio-only group whose 15 minutes of fame included the little-remembered 1969 Top 10 winner “Tracy.”