By Richie Unterberger

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, rock music was splintering into many new directions, including psychedelia, blues-rock, funk, socially conscious soul, country-rock, bubblegum, progressive rock, and more. Yet in the midst of this turmoil, a fair amount of well-crafted pop-rock continued to be generated, not so much concerned with bold stylistic innovation as a catchy, commercial melody and finely honed arrangement. As both a recording artist and a songwriter, Andy Kim was one of the most commercially and artistically successful figures working in this field of light but substantial pop-rock. Though he co-wrote the most successful bubblegum hit of all time, both his hit singles and his rarely discussed albums show him not only to be an engaging singer with a winning upper-register vocal style, but also a worthy exponent of the last gasp of Brill Building pop.

    Born Andre Youakim in Montreal, the singer had his sights firmly set on cracking the Brill Building when he journeyed to New York as a teenager. "I was one of those kids that would not only buy the record, but I would be excited and interested in who wrote what, and where did this originate," Kim explained in an interview with Gary James on the website. "I kind of connected on two levels, one of them being from a visceral feeling of what a record sounded like, but also on who created it. What was the song? So, I basically knocked on could buy Billboard magazine at the time, or you could look at a Billboard magazine, and it would give you addresses of where the record companies were. So, that's what I did."

    Admitted Kim in the same interview, "I had earmarked Jeff Barry before I left. There was something about the records he was involved in, the songs he had written and also the songs he had produced. The Dixie Cups' 'Going to the Chapel,' part of the Phil Spector sound, '[Da] Doo Ron Ron,' 'Then He Kissed Me,' obviously 'Be My Baby' and all of those hits. And also the great sounds he was producing with Neil Diamond. I went on a fact-finding tour because in Montreal in those days, I could not find anyone to tell me what to do. So, it was basically a fact-finding trip for me. I was lucky enough to be able to play a song for Jeff Barry, and he loved what he heard."

    Jeff Barry, of course, was one of the most successful Brill Building movers and shakers, as both a songwriter and a producer (and as an occasional recording artist, particularly as part of the Raindrops, who had a big 1963 hit with "He's the Kind of Boy I Can't Forget"). Detailing all of his notable accomplishments before he worked with Andy Kim would take up several liner notes. But certainly he co-wrote many classic hits in the early and mid-1960s with his wife of the time, Ellie Greenwich (and sometimes with both Greenwich and Phil Spector). Those included the Crystals' "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me," the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and "Baby I Love You," Tommy James's "Hanky Panky," the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" (on which both Greenwich and producer Shadow Morton had co-songwriting credits), Manfred Mann's "Do Wah Diddy Diddy," Lesley Gore's "Maybe I Know," the Dixie Cups' "Chapel of Love," and (with Phil Spector) Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High."

    In the mid-1960s, Kim did a decent, obscure single on Cotique/Redbird (Redbird being the label for which Barry and Greenwich did a great deal of work at the time), "I Hear You Say (I Love You Baby)." Around this period, Barry's romantic and professional relationship with Greenwich was coming to an end, and Jeff was also becoming more established as a producer, working in that capacity on some Monkees sessions and (with Greenwich) Neil Diamond's first hits. In the late 1960s, Barry and Kim would frequently work as a songwriting team for both Andy's releases and other artists, with Barry handling the production duties on Kim's records. Andy's first three albums would also appear on Barry's Steed label, founded in April 1967 and distributed by Dot Records.

    Kim's first hit single, "How'd We Ever Get This Way," bore several of the trademarks of Barry-Kim's late-'60s work: a hand-clapping rhythm, a catchy easygoing melody, and a faint Caribbean feel to the arrangement. It made #21 in mid-1968, with its follow-up, "Shoot'em Up, Baby," doing almost as well, climbing to #31. "Somebody wrote an article about it in Seattle, Washington saying that 'Shoot'em Up' was a reference to drugs, which I wasn't then and never have been involved in," clarified Barry in Sean Egan's book The Guys Who Wrote 'Em: Songwriting Geniuses of Rock and Pop. "It's like on a Saturday night the cowboys would go to town and fire their guns in the air and get drunk and just kind of have a crazy old time and that's what 'Shoot 'Em Up' meant to me. But this guy wrote a big article on this record saying what a bad person I am and horrible to do to kids. I wrote him a nice thank you letter because the record broke out of Seattle. It brought so much attention to it that it became a hit."

    Both of the hit singles were included on Kim's first LP, How'd We Ever Get This Way, all of whose songs were penned by the Barry-Kim team (except "Pretty Thing," a Barry-Greenwich composition); Barry even wrote the brief back cover liner notes. Unlike many albums by singles-oriented pop-rock artists of the period, the material was pretty consistently strong throughout, though there were strong echoes of Barry's work with Neil Diamond on the "Solitary Man"-like "Just Like Your Shadow." Likewise, "Love That Little Woman" and You Girl" bore the Latin-tinged swinging rhythms of early Diamond hits like "Cherry, Cherry." Kim could take a moodier turn, however, on tracks such as "Ordinary Kind of Girl" and, most impressively, the album-closing "Resurrection." With its uncharacteristically funereal tempo, majestic sad orchestral grandeur, and circus-like links between the verses, it was perhaps the most overlooked track on the record, if not of Kim's entire career.

    Kim's subsequent album Rainbow Ride, as the title itself signified, was far more influenced by late-'60s rock trends than How'd We Ever Get This Way was, if rather mildly so. There was twangy electric sitar (the title track, which was a mild hit single, reaching #49 in the charts), fuzz guitar ("Please Be True"), wah-wah guitar and fatalistic lyricism ("Nobody's Ever Going Anywhere"), fishbowl vocal effects ("Baby While You're Young"), and even two detours into disorienting, dissonant instrumental psychedelic breaks on the otherwise basic soul-rocker "I Want You." And that was just side one, though the remaining track on that side, "I Found Her" (as well as side two's more bittersweet "Gee Girl") proved that Kim hadn't lost his touch for more straightforward romantic pop-rock tunes. Though still often writing together, Barry and Kim also contributed solo compositions to Rainbow Ride, and opted to pull in an outside cover with the Everly Brothers' "I Wonder If I Care As Much."

    While Rainbow Ride contained its share of experimentation, pop was where Kim's greatest strengths lay. And it was pop that brought him back to the upper reaches of the charts in 1969, both as the featured artist (with his Top Ten hit "Baby, I Love You") and as the writer (with Barry) of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar." His third and final album for Steed, Baby I Love You, would tilt in a decidedly poppier direction, though with his fourth album, he'd leave Barry's wing for more introspective material on the self-produced Andy Kim. Both albums have been combined by Collectors' Choice onto a single-CD reissue, where the Andy Kim story continues. -- Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger, 2000-2010
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