Recording information: RCA's Studio A, New York City.
The Archies were perhaps the most popular animated band in the late '60s, with a cartoon that aired every Saturday morning and one chart-topping single, "Sugar, Sugar." With songs written by big shots like Jeff Barry and Andy Kim, the smooth vocals of Ron Dante, and a cadre of talented studio musicians helping guide the way, the Archies weren't only popular, they made a lot of good records too. While most of the albums are probably easy to find in thrift stores around the U.S., Goldentone did people who want all the albums in one handy place a favor with the release of 2016's Sugar, Sugar: The Complete Albums Collection. Housed in a heavy-duty box with the original album covers reproduced, there are none of the skips and smells associated with beat-up old albums. Just great bubblegum mixed with the occasional weird moment and even, as the decade wore on, a little bit of social commentary. Released in 1968, The Archies is the purest expression of the simple, fun sound Jeff Barry was aiming for, with songs about teen love, dancing, grooving, and having a good time. The following year's Everything's Archie contains "Sugar, Sugar," plus "Feelin' So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y.-D.O.O.)," a hard-to-type song, but one that is almost the equal of their big hit in the hooks department. It's also where Barry and company really capture the balance of silly pop and insistent soul that drove the group's best songs that came after. Also arriving in 1969, Jingle Jangle is the strongest-sounding album of the bunch, with some gnarly distorted guitar, a real rhythmic punch, and great songs like "She's Putting Me Through Changes," the title track, and "Get on the Line." This album is where Ron Dante really comes into his own as a vocalist; he puts lots of soul into some really silly lyrics. Sunshine was released in 1970, and it suffers by comparison to the preceding Jingle Jangle. Featuring stilted songs about ecology and religion, it had no real hits, and the tough sound is cast aside in favor of an ultra-clipped, inoffensive approach. That album marked the end of Jeff Barry's involvement with the project, and Dante took over for 1971's This Is Love. The album features lots of good bubblegum, especially the title track, some almost country ballads, and more care given to the arrangements, not to mention the songs themselves. The increased effort didn't yield any hits, and no more albums were released under the Archies' name. While the packaging and sound could have been better -- a little remastering would have gone a long way -- the set is still a vital document of one of the most important bands of the '60s. Well, maybe not exactly important, but almost always fun and that's pretty important in its own way. ~ Tim Sendra