- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” was the bestselling single of 1969, yet the singing group was never photographed together, never gave an interview, never appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, never headlined in Las Vegas, and never traveled the lucrative tour road.
The reason was simple: Beyond the walls of the recording studio, the Archies didn’t exist. The outfit was as fictional as the absurdly wholesome teenagers from John L. Goldwater’s Archie comic books that had been around since 1942 and upon which the TV series was based.
In 1968, Filmation Studios released a Saturday morning CBS-TV cartoon program called The Archie Show and featured the whole clean-cut gang from mainstream Riverdale High.
Music mogul Don Kirshner, a savvy businessperson who knew the youth music market inside and out — he had managed the Monkees’ career — was hired to supply tunes for the prepubescent-oriented show.
He brought together virtuoso studio musicians, a 19-year-old singer/songwriter named Toni Wine (who, at 16, had co-written the Mindbenders’ “A Groovy Kind of Love”), and 23-year-old vocalist Ron Dante.
Dante’s musical career had begun at age 11 after he had fallen out of a tree. To exercise a fractured wrist, he took up playing the guitar and mastered the instrument so quickly that he formed a rock group called the Persuaders just one year later.
Dante had worked for Kirshner for years, mainly as a demo (demonstration) singer, although he had briefly tasted fame in 1964 as a member of the Detergents. They had enjoyed a Top 20 novelty 45 with “Leader of the Laundromat,” a spoof of the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” that had resulted in a lawsuit from its composers.
But later attempts at finding success in the entertainment world had eluded Dante until the day that Kirshner signed him as the lead voice of the nonexistent Archies.
Pop-music fans probably thought they heard the entire group of Riverdale chums — Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Moose — vocalizing on “Sugar, Sugar,” but in truth the recording Archies consisted only of Dante’s multi-tracked voice and Wine’s simplistic two-line contribution of “You make life so sweet!” and “I’m gonna make life so sweet!”
She would later tell the website Songfacts, “It was just a very easy session … it was a blast, and at the session we just knew that this was something, and something huge was going to happen.”
Kirshner knew that Top 40 radio stations probably would steer clear of a single by a cartoon band, so he directed his promotion men to visit radio stations and play “Sugar, Sugar” for the program directors but not reveal the group’s name until proper interest had been shown and the 45 had secured a place on the station’s playlist.
The strategy worked, and “Sugar, Sugar” subsequently reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts and sold 3 million copies.
And Ron Dante? Later in the year he became the lead singer of the one-hit wonder Cuff Links, another studio-only group whose 15 minutes of fame included the little-remembered 1969 Top 10 winner “Tracy.”