Thursday, February 25, 2021

Ron Dante "Ron Dante's Funhouse"

GUEST REVIEW BY GENTLEMAN JOHN BATTLES
(Sunset Records, 2020) If anyone deserves a career retrospective it's Ron Dante, even if he had to produce it himself, which he did. Known primarily as the voice of The Archies, Dante also has many TV commercial jingles and solo recordings under his belt. Fittingly, this set kicks off with "Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies and "Tracy” by The Cuff Links, another manufactured studio group patterned around Dante's strong Pop vocals. Both songs made the Top 10 simultaneously in 1969, and I'm still not thoroughly convinced "Tracy” wasn't partly the inspiration for XTC's "Life Begins at The Hop." "Sally Ann” by The Cuff Links appears here, too, and it's good enough to convince me I need to pick up The Cuff Link's album next time I see it on the cheap. This two CD set also contains several songs by The Archies that appeared on TV, but never made it to vinyl, solo Dante recordings, and a half dozen of his commercial jingles (I could go for a half dozen more, I love this stuff.), the best being The Archies' breakfast drink, plus duets with Andy Kim, Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys and Toni Wine (the female voice on Archies hits like "Jingle Jangles” and, of course, "Sugar Sugar”). The newer recordings are predictably more high tech sounding, especially the "2020 Euro Dance Mix” of "Sugar, Sugar," but they lose none of the Dante charm. Dante knows how to sell a song, he has a voice just made for television, but he was and is a pretty good looking guy, too. He gives "Happy Together” a rockin' overhaul, and the liner notes inform us he's now the lead singer for The Turtles (but, what happened to Flo and/or Eddie?). "Let me Bring You Up” and "Umbrella Man"(credited to Starbird) are fine examples of modern day Bubblegum Rock, and did you know Dante had a song in "the Little Mermaid"? Me either. The 1980 single, "God Bless Rock'n'Roll” would have been a welcome addition, but Ron is covering all the bases, here. Three songs by The Chan Clan, the house band for the early '70s cartoon show, The Amazing Chan and The Chan Clan turn up here, and they're good (especially "Number One Son"), but they haven't got The Archies beat on a good day. There's also two Spider-Man songs not from the Ralph Bakshi Saturday morning cartoon show, The Electric Company's Spidey segments, or even the late '70s live action series. Dating from 1972, these songs might have been slated for use in a TV pilot that never came to be. In any case, "Theme From Spider-Man” is a kick, with it's Shaft-inspired wakka-takka-guitar, and lyrics boasting of Spider-Man's status as a sex machine with the ladies ("Shut your mouth” "I'm just talkin' about Spider-Man” "We can dig it”). Along with thirteen Archies songs, there's the opening and closing themes to Archie's Funhouse, the second of many Archie cartoon shows, which made me wonder why some of the other Archie show themes aren't included here. Surely, Dante sang at least some of them. There's seventeen (count 'em) Archies dance intros, as well. You see, on the original Archie Show the songs were preluded by brief instructions on how to do the new dance of the week. Most had Archie-themed names like "The Jughead," "The Betty,” and "The Veronica Walk,” and cool instrumental vamps behind the Dante-sung dance instructions. Kids would dance in front of the TV set, trying not to step in their bowls of cereal when the song came on. I don't think my brothers and I did, though. Unfortunately, the sound quality takes a serious dive on these tracks, like they were recorded off the TV with a handheld microphone, as do the commercial jingles, but that's my only complaint, and it's probable that the masters no longer exist. Overall, this collection is fun to have, though it probably won't make believers out of people who aren't already Archies fans. Then again, who can say? The packaging is cool, the first disc had a repro of the orange Calendar records (the Riverdale gang's alma mater) label and the second bears the artwork from an Archies cereal box record (for those too young to remember, they used to put cardboard records for acts like The Archies, The Monkees, and the Jackson 5ive on the back of cereal boxes). The cover art was done by latter day Archie artist Dan Parent, who's no Dan DeCarlo, but it's a nice touch. To cap it off, Ron Dante is donating a dollar from each sale to The Shriner's Hospital for Children, so everything's Archie!



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