Rock and Roll Reads Rock History

Chew On This! An Ode to the Banana Splits and Bubblegum Pop

Being a father, one can’t help but get nostalgic about something every week or so, especially when I compare what I experienced as a kid to what my son experiences today. A perfect case in point is cartoons. I love cartoons almost as much as I love rock and roll and one day as I was watching some cartoons with my son I suddenly blurted out “This show is terrible! Whatever happened to The Banana Splits?” Well my son turned to me and asked me what the heck I was talking about and I explained to him that the Banana Splits was a psychedelic live action/cartoon show that was really cool when I was a kid and the four guys in the Banana Splits were in a band and every week they played a new song, just like The Archies, Josie and the Pussycats and The Monkees. As he tried to hide that confused look that kids often betray when they have no clue what you are talking about, we started talking about the kind of kids shows I use to watch and after listening to “The Tra La La Song” the topic eventually turned to Bubblegum Pop, a much maligned but fun rock and roll diversion. Now Bubblegum is kind of like a car wreck. You don’t want to look but damn you can’t help yourself! Deep down I should reject it out of hand due to the undisputed fact that it’s a cynical manufactured “product” by people that don’t even perform the actual music (Monkees fans relax, I know, I know…) but for every “Sugar Sugar” there is a “Stepping Stone” so take it for what it is and relax. Even that media darling and rock critic God Lester Bangs had some good things to say about Bubblegum. According to his essay on Bubblegum Pop published in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll he opines “The basic bubblegum sound could be described as the basic sound of rock & roll–minus the rage, fear, violence and anomie that runs from Johnny Burnette to Sid Vicious…[T]he wonderful irony was that it worked.” And the Banana Splits’ theme song, “with its strange imagery–‘Four banana, three banana, two banana, one/Five bananas playin’ in the bright blue sun’–will be in my head unto the grave.” (Thanks to Rock Critics Daily and Rickey Wright for the quote).
If you’re looking to bone up on your Bubblegum knowledge, start with this excellent history and discography. For extra credits you might want to read Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubescent Pop, from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears which is an exhaustive survey of Bubblegum Pop from the sixties to today. Now I’m not going to argue whether Bubblegum Pop still thrives (are Britney Spears and ‘Nsync Bubblegum? This must be debated by all concerned immediately!) even though I think its’ heyday was in the close of the sixties and the early part of the seventies. What you have today is I suppose a hybrid of Pop/bubblegum or as I like to call it “pap” but I digress. Bubblegum pop is as much a part of the rock and roll landscape as punk (shock!) and garage (horror!) and there is no doubt in my mind that when sung by a giant beagle named Fleagle, it was the coolest stuff on TV, and perhaps still is. Tra La La, La La La La…..