John M Donovan
Here's That $5 Essay
This is the essay I referred to in the previous blog post. I’ve updated it slightly and had to do some sleight-of-hand to correct my wrong assumption that Betty was the keyboard player in the Archies. Enjoy!
Their debut single went to the top of the charts. They had their own television show. They were adored by young people who loved their music, and by an older generation who saw them as clean-cut throwbacks to a quieter, more respectful time.
Yet life wasn’t all burgers and malts for the Archies, whose meteoric success and equally rapid collapse is the subject of Betty Cooper’s new book, I’m Not Your Candy Girl: The Rise and Fall of the Archies ($18.95, 336pp, Riverdale Press). Betty, who played keyboards for the group, paints a vivid picture of a band torn apart by in-fighting, creative differences, and the inevitable pressures of fame.
“People still think of us as bubblegum music,” notes Betty, “but our original sound had more of an edge. The idea in the beginning was to be a real in-your-face, screw-the-establishment band--the kind our parents hated. But Archie’s mother put the kibosh on that.
It was Archie’s mother, Mary Andrews, who strongly suggested the group record “Sugar, Sugar,” the treacly pop number that reached the top of the Billboard pop chart in 1969. “She didn’t like the raw, revolutionary stuff she was hearing from the garage,” recalls Betty. “She thought we should be playing nice, happy, non-subversive music like Ohio Express. So Archie came in one day with the arrangement for ‘Sugar, Sugar,’ and after one rehearsal, Jughead literally puked all over the garage floor. The rest of us hated it, too, but it was a losing battle. Archie’s mom had a really perverse sense of control over him, and he wouldn’t go against her wishes for anything. After we bitched about it for a while, he asked us very calmly to look and see whose name was on the drums. That was always his answer when things didn’t go his way.”
To the surprise and dismay of the others, “Sugar, Sugar” became one of the most popular songs of the year. That success, coupled with Mrs Andrews’ pervasive influence, led the group’s follow-up hits, “Bang-Shang-A-Lang” and “Jingle Jangle.” Betty remembers derisively asking Archie if he had plans to cover “Inka-Dinka-Doo” as well.
Rolling in money after their initial success, the band found itself facing a rift that would become irreparable. “It was like, ‘OK, we’ve made our commercial stuff, so now let’s get back to making the music we set out to make in the first place,’” says Betty. “But Archie didn’t see it that way¾he liked being able to buy those $500 sweater-vests.”
Betty had already penned seven songs for a concept album. Grundyland, that would showcase Jughead Jones’ jazz-influenced percussion solos and her own psychedelic keyboard improvisations. (She is unfailingly modest about her talents throughout the book, and only reluctantly confirms that Paul McCartney once called her “the undisputed queen of rock keyboards.”) The other Archies--Reggie Mantle in particular--laughed at the idea of a concept album, though none of them could agree on an alternative. Archie insisted on sticking with the bouncy, innocuous three-minute pop songs that were proven sellers, while Reggie wanted to plunge into Yardbirds-style blues rock. Betty dismisses Reggie’s guitar-hero pretensions: “Reggie never played a single riff that Clapton hadn’t already done, and done better.”
With Archie standing pat, Reggie leaning toward the blues, and Betty and Jughead hoping to take the band in a more innovative musical direction, the lone band member with no expressed preference was heiress Veronica Lodge. In public, Veronica said she was ready to get started on the next album, “whatever it turned out to be.” In private, however, she typically contributed to the dissension by playing one band member against another, taking sides, Betty notes, “according to whether it was Archie or Reggie wearing the tighter slacks that day.”
That turns out to be one of the most positive things Betty has to say about her former bandmate. “In the first place,” she points out, “Ronnie had no reason to care what kind of songs we were playing. All she had to do was bang a tambourine on her ass, but even that was too much for her to handle. When we were in the studio, the sound engineer made sure there wasn’t a live mike within ten feet of her.”
What about the countless publicity stills that show Veronica and not Betty behind the keyboard? Simply a ruse to fool Veronica’s wealthy father that his daughter’s piano lessons were money well spent, says Betty. She explains that while Veronica never got past middle-C, her piano teacher always went home smiling.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Veronica was two-faced,” notes Betty. “She needed the extra face because the first one was usually busy, if you know what I mean. It was like having a groupie right there in the band.” While Veronica’s affairs with Archie, Reggie, and even the woman-hating Jughead are well documented, she has neither confirmed nor denied Betty’s other claims. “Ronnie did it with Fred Andrews [Archie’s father], a roadie named Moose, and our booking manager, Mr Flutesnoot,” she says. “There are rumors about her and two-thirds of Josie and the Pussycats as well.”
With the band in constant turmoil, it was Archie himself who delivered the group’s death blow. In late 1970 he had shed the influence of his mother, but had taken up with model-turned-race car driver Penelope Pitstop, described by Betty as “platinum blonde trash.” Pitstop sat on a stool next to Archie during practice sessions, and gradually began making critical comments about the musicianship of the other band members. “At one point she told Jughead to lay off the high hat, and Juggie just went berserk,” Betty recalls. “He was so mad he actually opened his eyes.”
Though there was no official breakup, the rest of the Archies simply stopped coming to rehearsals, and by the end of the year had gone their separate ways. Reggie formed the blues rock ensemble known as Mantle is God, but his ponderous, arty arrangements and egocentric lyrics failed to find an audience. The group’s only album foundered at the bottom of the Top 100.
Jughead toured briefly with the Banana Splits, but the association ended disastrously after his famous on-stage fight with Fleagle in Monterey in 1971. Archie and Penelope Pitstop recorded one album together, a gooey collection of flower power mush that failed to chart. After the two split up, he turned to writing commercial jingles.
Betty continued her work on Grundyland, finally releasing the collection of trippy organ solos at the worst possible time: at the height of disco in 1977. “Unfortunately,” she says self-deprecatingly, “sixties retro hadn’t become cool yet.” In 1980, Jughead persuaded Betty to join him in a band called Corporate Castration, which was fronted by their former Riverdale classmate and budding anarchist Big Ethel. The group proved to be too punk-oriented for Betty, who left in protest after Big Ethel gave the audience a one-finger salute during an appearance on Saturday Night Live.
Ironically, Veronica Lodge has enjoyed the longest uninterrupted post-Archies music career, working steadily as a session tambourinist since the 1970s. “Yeah, right,” comments Betty wryly. “What do you want to bet there’s still not a live mike anywhere near her?”
Betty notes that Archie has approached her several times with the idea of reuniting the group and doing a nostalgia tour. “But nobody’s interested,” she says. “Because even after all these years, he’s not going to let us forget whose name is on those drums.”