This month in 1969, Montreal singer/songwriter Andy Kim’s life changed. A song he wrote for a comic book band became a #1 hit single. That song, Sugar Sugar, went on to become the biggest selling single of the year and was recognized as Billboard’s Record of The Year.
We had a chat with Kim on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the song hitting the top of the charts.
What do you recall about writing the song? Why were you so darn happy?
It was basically a moment in time where I felt like you’re given an opportunity to write for comic book characters. I never thought about it in any other form. Usually when you write for a band, or you write for an artist, you get to know the artist, you get to know them, you get a feel for their range. You’re writing a song thinking about how to help their career. This was, I grew up with, as most of my friends did, with RC Comics and a whole bunch of comic books. It was a time to just kind of be free form. You need to understand that you’re talking to me now 50 years after the fact. When it really happened, it just happened pretty quick. There was no thought. I’ve always said I never take a bow for inspiration, and that was really an incredible moment of inspiration.
What do you remember about the recording session?
The recording session was fun. I love being in the studio and I love recording sessions. Recording sessions are different today than they were then. Then they were in clips of three hours. You were either in from 10 am to 1, from 2 to 5, or 7 to 10. This one here was just kind of … it got off to a funky start because nobody really had what one would call, we weren’t in the pocket yet. It just didn’t have a groove going to it. The genius of Jeff Barry, who’s been my song writing mentor and co-writer, he was also the producer. We kind of looked at each other and took a break, and I kind of played him what was on my cassette player. When we wrote the song, I recorded everything. Everything sounded so great, I had this great cassette player that made me sound like I was the greatest guitar player in the world and the best singer in the world. It had some kind of condenser to it that I just loved the sound of it.
We took this break and realized, oh yeah, that’s really … we had captured the sound when we were writing it. It was just a moment in time of inspiration. Sometimes when you’re inspired to do something and you do it, I think, at least for me, you have to now learn it. You’ve got to take the time to say, oh, that’s how I played this. That’s how I sang this. We just went back to square one and we kind of recreated, not so much to demo, because it just had guitar, vocals, and Jeff playing percussion in the writing room. But as soon as we went back to the idea of what the demo sounded like and the spirit of it, the record came together. And what a record it was. I was really excited about the song to begin with. To actually make the record is a different story.
What is it about songs like that that resonate so well with generations of people?
It’s hard to ask me because I just love the sound of the words colliding, the melody, just on a personal level. Here’s the truth. The truth is, on May 24th, 1969, Baby I Love You, a song that I recorded, hit the charts. On that same day, May 24th, 1969, Sugar, Sugar was released, but didn’t make the charts for two months. Radio didn’t want to play it because it was really the kind of comic book that came to life on television. I think they were after songs with a little more meaning, and the fact that they played The Monkees and then stopped playing The Monkees because The Monkees started to kind of break up for a lot of reasons. I think that there was an issue, especially when you look at what was happening. We were going to the moon. The Vietnam War was raging. There was Woodstock. There was the Sharon Tate murders. There was Beatles breaking up, their last concert on the roof. There was so many things going on that were really meaningful, and I think radio thought that comic book characters would not be meaningful on the radio. That’s just me thinking, talking to you right now.
I think about the fact that it took just one spin from a radio station in San Francisco, and it ignited, I guess it was just lightning in a bottle. It traveled all over the world. I think a better answer comes from the people that I sing the song to in concerts. Everybody sings the song. I start with the word, “Sugar,” and that’s it. It becomes an … I don’t know, just kind of a big, big choir singing the song. It’s really just filled with love, happiness, naivety. I think if you did a survey as to why people really like it, I think they’ll have a better answer than I have. I didn’t even know if people were going to like it when it came out.
Do you have any memorabilia, like the acetate or promo items from Sugar, Sugar?
I used to, but I come from a time when I didn’t think anything would mean anything. Now I’m trying to find Andy Kim items that I don’t have. I do have the gold record for Sugar Sugar and Jingle Jangle, and some stuff. A lot of that stuff went by the wayside. I wish I’d have kept the cereal box cutout where you could cut out the 45 and you can play it. That would have been really cool. Those are just memories now.