In 1969, something astounding happened in pop music. “Sugar, Sugar” was the number-one single on Billboard’s Top 100 and the UK Singles Chart.
A song reaching these heights is not groundbreaking. What is groundbreaking is that “Sugar, Sugar” was “performed” by a musical group of animated TV characters.
The success of this song highlights just how popular The Archie Show (which gave us the now iconic earworm) was and still is.
The Archie Show celebrates its 55th anniversary this fall, but tales of Riverdale High School student Archie Andrews began in 1941 as a comic book from publisher John L. Goldwater and his publishing partners, Louis Silberkleit and Maurice Coyne. The Archie Comics, inspired by the hit box-office Andy Hardy films starring Mickey Rooney, were very popular. In 1943, Archie and the other characters from the comics inspired a long-running Archie Andrews radio series.
In the 1960s, the comics caught the attention of the Filmation animation studio, who sought a change from the shows of the time. In Joe Garner and Michael Ashley’s book, It’s Saturday Morning: Celebrating the Golden Era of Cartoons, Filmation Producer Lou Scheimer told the authors, “We did a ton of superhero shows, and by ’68 it was obvious there were just too many of those types of shows around. So, we got the rights to Archie Comics, and it was interesting because it was the first of the non-superhero comic books that we brought to television, and it was an extraordinarily successful show.”
The show combined music with the adventures of Archie and the gang. Wrapped around the stories were the segment “Dance of the Week,” and the “Song of the Week,” where Archie and friends, known as “The Archies,” would perform in a sequence that played like an early form of music videos.
This is where “Sugar, Sugar” (written by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim) was introduced by “The Archies”, who, in real life, was lead singer Ron Dante with Toni Wine on backup vocals.
On The Archie Show, the group was led by Archie with fellow cast members: narcissistic Reggie Mantle, and genial Jughead Jones, who lived for hamburgers, as well as Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, providing audiences with pop culture’s greatest and most innocent love triangle, with Archie.
There was also the comic relief canine, Hot Dog, Mr. Weatherbee, the principal, Miss Grundy, the teacher, Big Moose, the school’s athlete, and “brainiac” Dilton Doily, just to name a few.
Debuting as part of the CBS Saturday morning line-up on September 14, 1968, The Archie Show was so popular that Filmation revamped it and expanded it to an hour in 1969 as The Archie Comedy Hour, bringing Sabrina the Teenage Witch into the show.
The Riverdale gang was “re-booted” in other formats, as well: in 1970, there was Archie’s Funhouse, followed by Archie’s TV Funnies, in 1971, where Archie and the gang introduced animated versions of newspaper comic strips, like Broom-Hilda, Dick Tracy and Moon Mullins. Then there was the patriotic-themed The U.S. of Archie in 1974 (just in time for the Bicentennial) and The New Archie and Sabrina Hour in 1977.
The characters would return to television animation in 1987 with The New Archies, produced by DIC television, which also launched the new Sabrina animated series, and Archie’s Weird Mysteries (which brought the series into a Scooby-Doo-like format).
Archie has played a continuous, long-running role in our pop culture, being passed down and rediscovered by different generations. Archie Comics continues to be published, and in 2017, the characters were re-imagined, with a darker tone, for the popular live-action CW series Riverdale.
But, for many devotees of Archie on television, nothing beats the original iteration, The Archie Show, and the oh-so-singable strains of “Sugar, Sugar.”