Are you a fan of the new TV show “Riverdale,” which chronicles the misadventures of high-schoolers Archie, Jughead, Reggie, Betty and Veronica? Would you be shocked to know that is based on a comic book? Would it further surprise you to learn that the funny page fiction spawned an animated series that ran from 1969 to 1972 and showcased the characters as a groovy band? Or that The Archies released a half-dozen catchy albums — one of which featured the megahit “Sugar Sugar”?
That tune was the No. 1 song of 1969, selling more than 6 million copies. And the singer behind the fictional band was none other than studio pro Ron Dante, who has also produced nine Barry Manilow albums and recorded a disco LP under the name Dante’s Inferno.
Mr. Dante discussed his animated life in music.
Question: What was the music scene like in the ‘60s?
Answer: There were two main music centers in the ‘60s in America — New York and Los Angeles. I was part of the New York group of guys, singer/songwriters who all worked with each other and knew each other. We had this camaraderie.
My friends I have today go back to the ‘60s: Peter Noone, Micky Dolenz, Gary Lewis.
Q: What’s that bond that keeps you friends over the decades?
A: It’s a common history that connects us because we’ve experienced similar things. The highs and lows. We’ve had our really great years and then some years where nobody wanted to return a phone call. We bonded in those years.
Q: Is it true you almost didn’t end up the lead singer of The Archies?
A: Yes. My friend Joey Levine, who was the singer and songwriter behind the Ohio Express and had hits with “Yummy Yummy Yummy” and “Chewy Chewy,” auditioned for The Archies before I did. But he struck too tough a deal. I wanted to work on, this so I gave them a better deal.
Q: How then did you end up as the voice of The Archies?
A: I knew Don Kirshner, the very famous music mogul. He was a friend. He had singed me in the ‘60s to his publishing company when I was a teenager. Then I left and went out on my own.
I heard he was doing, not the new Monkees, but something just as big. I called him up and asked him if I could come over and audition for the part of Archie. I said, “You need a lead singer.” He said, “Come over.”
I met the songwriter Jeff Barry (“Be My Baby,” “Hanky Panky”). I sang. They said, “We like that sound.”
I recorded that day and went on to do a hundred songs for The Archies [and] five albums. The show was on for four years.
Q: Did anyone know it was your voice?
A: Nobody knew it was me at the time. I was completely incognito. That was fine. I was a jingle and background singer at the time. I was just happy to be working and using my voice.
When The Archies went No. 1, Ed Sullivan played the cartoon on his show. My mom called me and said, “You’re on Ed Sullivan!” I said, “Not quite.”
Q: Was there any frustration in creating this body of work that people thought was a cartoon?
A: There was no frustration because it was set up in front. I don’t have a big ego. I just was happy to be working.
I was also singing for Dr Pepper, Coke, Pepsi — you name it. I sang commercials for everybody during those years. When I had a hit record with The Archies, my commercial business went through the roof.
Q: Were you also the voice of other groups?
A: I was the voice of three or four “ghost groups” at the time. I was the voice of The Cufflinks and we had a big hit called “Tracy.” That was No. 9 when “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies was No. 1 on the charts.
Q: How did “Sugar Sugar” come to be?
A: It was written very quickly by Jeff Barry and Andy Kim. Andy also wrote “Rock Me Gently.” Jeff told Andy we needed a song for The Archies, and Andy came up with it on the phone. Jeff wrote the verse, Andy wrote the chorus.
We recorded it in about two hours, and I knew there was something cool about that song. Andy didn’t have a pick; he played the guitar with a matchbook. You hear it flapping on the recording.
Vocally I was imitating Donovan a bit.
Q: How did it become a huge hit?
A: Radio didn’t want to play it. It was the third single from this group, and the DJs were getting kind of antsy since there was no touring group. A promotion man in San Francisco took the label off and took it to the top radio station there. He said, “Just play it! It’s a mystery group.”
The guy played it, and the phones lit up. That record went around the world as No. 1.
Q: What is the reaction when you play that song live?
A: Everybody smiles, everybody sings along. People love it. It’s a song people get married to. They work out to it. Those are the things that make life worthwhile.
That song led me to jingles, which led me to working with Barry Manilow. I produced all his albums for 10 years. People don’t know it, but the background group on all those Manilow records is The Archies. (Laughs)