Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lest we forget: A Halloween Tribute To Sweet Lady Sugar

"I got hooked on the white stuff in the '70s" - DISCO STU

Witches, vampires, ghosts... sure, these things are fine. But let's not forget what Halloween is truly all about. I'm referring of course to sugar! It's a holiday devoted to consuming as much candy as is humanly possible.

And what better way to pay tribute to Sweet Lady Sugar than with a bunch of versions of that all-time classic song, "Sugar Sugar"? Written in 1969 by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, the song has gone on to become one of the cornerstones of Western Civilization, as evidenced by the truly astonishing variety of remakes there have been over the years.

Journey back with me, won't you? BONUS: How often has this song been recorded in the key of D?

1. The Archies/Ron Dante

This was the original version, a massive #1 hit for a band which didn't really even exist. In truth, the lead singer of the Archies was Ron Dante. Don Kirschner, the music mogul behind the Monkees, had the bright idea to turn the familiar Saturday morning cartoon characters into real-life pop stars, and this was the result. Incidentally, I don't know what dance Betty and Veronica are doing in the video, but I love it.

That's it, Miss Lodge. Give your body to the dance.

What key is it in? D. A nice, sensible key.

Here's Ron Dante performing the song on the 2006 Jerry Lewis Telethon with fellow Archie Toni Wine.

What key is it in? Still in D. Let's not reinvent the wheel here.

But that was just the beginning. After "Sugar Sugar" became the top song of 1969, there was an onslaught of cover versions.

2. Wilson Pickett

Soul legend Wilson Pickett had one of the first, biggest, and best remakes, a Top 10 hit in its own right. He slows the song down and gets rid of the familiar instrumental "doo doo doo doo doo doo" hook. As a result, his version actually has an urgent sexuality totally missing from the Archies version.

What key is it in? G. Oh, Wilson, you rebel!

3. Mary Lou Lord with Semisonic

From the now-mostly-forgotten tribute album Saturday Morning's Greatest Hits, here's the '90s alternative rock version. This is such an artifact of the irony-drenched "slacker" era of pop culture that it ought to be in a museum. Future generations looking to study the 1990s could learn a lot from this clip.

What key is it in? E. These crazy kids!

4. Jonathan King (recording under the name "Sakkarin")

Not nearly so famous here as in England, Jonathan King is an infamous pop music impresario known for his outsized ego and absolutely lunatic approach to self-promotion and music. Unfortunately, King's sexual escapades in the 1980s (eventually) landed him in prison from 2001 to 2005. But this single is a souvenir of happier times.

What key is it in? D. Back to basics.

5. Magneto

Sometimes, when you're a Mexican boy band who share a name with an X-Men villain, you wind up recording Spanish-language versions of old bubblegum songs from the 1960s. It's just something that happens occasionally, and you have to deal with it. These kids seem fine. I mean, relatively speaking. Under the circumstances.

What key is it in? D. These kids respect history.

6. Bob Marley

Who figured that Bob was into this kind of stuff? Imagine this song coming out of your older brother's pot-smoke-filled bedroom!

What key is it in? C. Bob did it his way.

Is your mind blown yet? Well, how about this...

7. Kurt Russell

That's right. Snake Plissken covers the Archies. Someone thought this was a good idea.

What key is it in? D, of course. Kurt's a newbie at this. Naturally, he's going to ape the Archies version as closely as possible.

And Need a Nickname Scott (of such podcasts as Disney Indiana, Mail Order Zombie, and the new 1951 Down Place) informs me that Kurt took a shot at this song more than once. Here he is performing the song live at Disneyland, back when he was making live-action comedies for the Mouse Factory. (I think of these as Kurt's Barefoot Executive years.) Enjoy:

8. Homer Simpson

This is from a 1993 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Boy Scoutz 'n the Hood." You remember that one, right? Bart joins the Junior Campers, and he, Homer, and Ned all get lost on a white water rafting expedition. I'm guessing this show reintroduced the song to a whole new generation.

What key is it in? E flat. What the hell?!?

9. The Germs

Sarcastic punk covers of pop songs are probably as old as punk music itself, so it only stands to reason that a version like this should exist. I wish it'd been the Ramones instead, though. That would have been awesome.

What key is it in? G. For Germs, I guess.

10. You!

That's right! Thanks to the magic of karaoke, you can perform your very own version of "Sugar Sugar" without leaving your home! Go ahead! Don't be shy! If it helps, you might want to get really jacked up on candy before pressing the play button.

What key is it in? D. They're going for authenticity here!