[Betcha never thought you'd se the name Miley Cyrus on Robert Frost's Banjo! Check out Audrey's rollicking account of her early life as a bubblegum queen! Be sure to stick around to watch Audrey's hand-picked bubblegum vids, too.]
Virtually every significant romance in my life has revolved around music. My first boyfriend was a singer/songwriter, my first girlfriend was in a band with me, and my wife rocks my world on a daily basis (they were/are all guitar-players, but I’m sure that’s beside the point!). Each relationship has had its soundtrack, the sharing of tunes, and much musical exploration.
But my earliest loves were those bubblegum boys with their bright pop melodies, who made me long for who knows what when I was seven-to-twelve years old. At that time, in the 1960s, there was no shortage of amazing music on the radio and in the air. You could turn on a local station and hear Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and The Stones side by side with Frank Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, and Tom Jones, followed perhaps by Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, and The Supremes.
The Beatles were a band my older cousins listened to, and I really dug their songs. I twirled my hips as a toddler to “Twist & Shout,” and at four, I could sing along to “She Loves You” (I liked the “yeah, yeah yeah” part). Even as a kid, though, I felt that there was something edgy and adult about their material. I couldn’t believe they were singing to me, and images of Beatlemania on TV were worrisome. Why were those girls screaming? Bands like The Doors actually scared me, with their moody organ riffs and sensual vocals. “Riders On The Storm” seemed to come into my head whenever my family was on a camping trip. I’d worry about that “killer on the road,” whose brain was “squirming like a toad.” I think the lines, “Take a long holiday/Let your children play” that followed must have fused the idea of camping and this psychopath in my mind, and Jim Morrison sounded like he sided with the bad guys. Don’t even get me started on “Paint It Black”!
I can’t remember when I first heard Davy Jones singing “Daydream Believer,” but I know that by second grade, I was a dedicated Monkees follower. I watched the show—even though I had no idea what those madcap fellows were up to. Innuendos, drug references, criticism of the Vietnam War—I couldn’t have cared less. I just wanted to hear that soft English accent and get to the part where they played a song. I’d shut myself up in my bedroom and play their music on my portable turntable with its lift-up lid and pull-out speakers. I’d stare at their pictures on the record covers. I’d even make up scenarios in which I was included in those tangled story lines. Even though I now know many devoted Monkees admirers (and am even friends with the person who wrote the definitive day-by history of the band, which you can check out here), I have to confess that in my single-digit years, I never questioned whether they were real artists or not, all I wanted was more of those sugary pop songs.
In 1968, I discovered Bobby Sherman on the TV show Here Come The Brides, and later I swooned over his hit “Julie, Do Ya Love Me?” He wasn’t as deep a crush as Davy Jones had been, and I’d like to think this had something to do with their relative merits, but that’s definitely my adult self talking (and I know there are those out there who would fight me on this). When I looked this song up on YouTube to refresh my memory, I couldn’t quite believe that this sort of song appealed to a fourth-grader. It sounds incredibly schmaltzy and like it’s aimed at bored middle-aged housewives, so I’m just guessing there must have been a crossover audience. Suffice it to say, this infatuation faded fast.
1970 was also the year that launched another TV music sensation, and this time I was the perfect age for the both the show and its tunes. By the end of the year I turned ten, “I Think I Love You” by The Partridge Family was at the top of the charts, and I was, to put it mildly, obsessed. For two years I practically embraced the television set on Friday nights. David Cassidy was dreamy. Those eyes! That smile! The shag haircut! I wore out their records. I studied the lyrics. Every word was, I felt in the deepest fiber of my being, meant for me. I read in Tiger Beat that David was moody, and I took that to mean he was thoughtful and sensitive (I wouldn’t have thought then that moody meant he didn’t want ten-year old girls to be his major fan base, but apparently that was closer to the truth).
I don’t remember how I fell out of love with David. I only know that when, for my 12th birthday, my parents gave me a life-sized poster of him, I felt awkward and embarrassed by it. I’d moved on by then. The last of my bubblegum crushes was already underway. Donny Osmond’s “Puppy Love” had set my heart pounding. Like my former idols, he was soft-featured and sweet-voiced (effeminate?). I resented my mom’s references to the Annette Funicello version that, coincidentally, charted the year I was born. That was then, Donny was now. Not yet there myself, I nonetheless felt the pain of being mocked, as the song put it, “just because we’re in our teens.”
Times had changed for me by this point, though. I didn’t obsess over Donny. Maybe I recognized that the magic window was closing. What might at first have seemed like an advantage—he was only a few years older than me—was actually a liability. In retrospect, I think I could see him more clearly as not fully genuine. By 1972 I was listening to The Carpenters, Elton John, Neil Diamond, and even Janis Joplin. I made mix tapes off the radio with songs like Melanie’s “Brand New Key,” Three Dog Night’s “Joy To the World,” and Paul Simon’s “Me And Julio Down By the Schoolyard.” I started actively working to cultivate taste and became acutely aware of what was considered cool and what wasn’t.
In spite of the four decades that have passed since I last gave my heart to a teen idol, I still can’t resist a strong melody, a solid hook, and soulful pop vocals. Long before the Spice Girls co-opted girl power as a PR slogan, at a time when the real teens were turning on and tuning out, female preteens became a powerful force to be reckoned with. Speaking as one of those girls grown up—and this probably holds true for those who love Miley Cyrus and, you know, whoever else it is that kids listen to these days—bubblegum introduced me to the basic way music can move and validate you. Rather than feeling embarrassed by my early addiction to silly love songs, I like now to think back to when I danced around my room with the volume up high, singing at the top of my lungs, my heart an open book and my spinning turntable the center of the universe. To blow another bubble from those bygone days, “Sugar…Oh, honey, honey”!
© Audrey Bilger 2009
This doesn’t do justice to the truly lovely production quality of the album version, but it’s the only clip I could find that shows young Davy performing it.
They seem to be at a feminist rally in this clip from the show, check out the POWER OF WOMEN sign over the stage.