Toni Wine started her career as a teenager, collaborating with songwriters at the famous 1650 Broadway in New York (don't call it the Brill Building). We started the interview talking about what it was like to write a groovy hit song at the age of 17, and how she ended up performing incognito with Tony Orlando.
Carl Wiser (SF): "A Groovy Kind of Love," you were very young when that came out, right? Can you tell me all about that song?
Toni Wine: Well, I was very young. Donnie Kirschner signed me when I was 14, to what was then Allegro Music. And then later it emerged into Screen Gems, and now it's EMI. Carole Bayer and I wrote the song for Screen Gems. I was 17, she was 22, and there it was. Jack McGraw ran the Screen Gems offices in London. He thought it would be a perfect song for The Mindbenders, and they recorded it. It was amazing. It was Number One for that year, and then a year later it was released in America. And it was huge here, also.
SF: So it was a while before you heard it in America.
Toni: Oh yeah.
SF: That must have been interesting for you.
Toni: Yeah, but I knew that it was a hit because we would read Cashbox, and Billboard, and Record World, and we would see on the charts, "Oh my God, it's Top 30. Oh my God, it's Top 20. Thank God it's Top 10."
SF: Now, is this in the Brill Building where you're writing this with Carole Bayer Sager?
(Toni with Valerie Simpson and Leslie Miller)Toni: There were really two huge buildings that were housing publishing companies, songwriters, record labels, and artists. The Brill Building was one. But truthfully, most of your R&B, really rock & roll labels and publishing companies, including the studio, which was in the basement and was called Allegro Studios, was in 1650 Broadway. They were probably a block and a half away from each other. 1650 and the Brill Building. But we were all at 1650.
SF: But you were associated with the Brill Building?
Toni: Well, music from those days, people kind of condensed the area to the Brill Building area. That always bothered me, because the Brill Building is its own building and 1650 is its own building. It's New York City… there are lots of streets, but these two buildings happened to be, basically, diagonally from each other. And the Brill Building housed different organizations. They were more of the Tin Pan Alley building. According to a lot of interviews and a lot of stories, they say that all the music was in the Brill Building. We weren't. We were in 1650. Carole King, Barry Mann, Gerry Goffin, Cynthia Weil, Howie Greenfield, myself, and tons of people, a lot of times are written as being housed in the Brill Building. We weren't. We were in 1650 Broadway.
SF: I guess what I'm getting at is the songwriters were not associated with each other in those two buildings. So it's not like you would get sent over to one building from the other or anything.
Toni: No. Wherever their companies were, that's where they were basically housed. I mean, we all loved each other, we were all brothers and sisters going to each other's offices. We just didn't work in each other's offices. And a lot of people refer to the Brill Building, because the Brill Building has gotten great publicity, where 1650 did not get great publicity. But boy, we had a lot of music coming out of there.
SF: So what was it like going to work at Allegro Studios?
Toni: Allegro was great. Allegro was a fun studio. It wasn't "our" studio. It just happened to be a studio that was for rent in 1650 Broadway. A lot of people recorded there, not only from the building, but from all over. I remember the first session I ever saw at Allegro was Dion And The Belmonts. That was very cool. You'd walk in and there was just music in every elevator, in the lobby, and everywhere you walked in. That whole area of the city… you'd walk on the street and there was just a lot of music.
(Toni with Neil Sedaka, 1963)SF: So when you were actually writing the song with Carole Bayer Sager, would you go into an office? Or what would happen?
Toni: No. There were offices that everyone refers to as "the cubicles," and they were incredible. A lot of just wonderful feelings would come out of those cubicles, as well as an awful lot of wonderful songs that we would hear the writers writing.
But Carole and I never wrote in the offices. We would always write at her house, because she lived four blocks away from the office. It would be just very easy and more private, and really comfortable, in a very, very wonderful way. She was a schoolteacher, and I was still in high school. So sometimes I'd come down after school, which would be around the same time that she'd be getting out of school. And then of course as we were older it didn't matter. But we had our hit, and then she stopped teaching. And then we could write at will, whenever. Whoever I would be writing with, or whoever she would be writing with. We wrote in her house, it was great. It was a wonderful atmosphere, and very easy.
SF: Did one of you write the lyrics and another the music, or was it more of a collaboration both ways?
Toni: Carole is a very musical person as well as verbal, and I am a very musical person as well as verbal. So with she and I, it was a wonderful thing. I'm mainly music, she's mainly lyrics, but I can say that whatever we've written together, we would write truly together. So that was a beautiful writing situation. It was always the best. It was always wonderful.
SF: Now, was this an early use of the word "groovy"?
Toni: Yeah, it was.
SF: Can you tell me how you came up with the whole lyrics and the song idea and all that?
Toni: Well, we were talking about "Groovy" being the new word. The only song we knew of was "59th Street Bridge Song," by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. You know, "Feelin' groovy." And we knew we wanted to write a song with that word in it. Because we knew it was the happening word, and we wanted to jump on that.
Carole came up with "Groovy kinda… groovy kinda… groovy…" and we're all just saying, "Kinda groovy, kinda groovy, kinda…" and I don't exactly know who came up with "Love," but it was "Groovy kind of love." And we did it. We wrote it in 20 minutes. It was amazing. Just flew out of our mouths, and at the piano, it was a real quick and easy song to write. Those are incredible things when those songs can get written. Like some you can just be hung on for so long, and then others just happen very quickly. And that was one of them. And it's been so good to us.
SF: And then years later you wrote "Candida," correct?
Toni: I wrote "Candida" with Irwin Levine probably four years later, maybe five years later, and we had a wonderful record with Tony Orlando. It came out as Dawn, and that was a great thrill for both of us, because I go way back with Tony. I was signed at 14, and he was signed at 16, both by Donnie. So it was really nice that we could have a hit together.
SF: So the "Candida" song that you wrote with Irwin Levine, "Candida" is the name of the girl, correct?
SF: So how did you come up with the whole idea for naming a girl "Candida" and writing a song around her?
Toni: Well, I came up with the name "Candida." We knew we wanted a Spanish girl's name. Rosita had been taken. Juanita was a hit. Maria had happened. We knew we wanted to write a Latin-flavored song, because of the areas that we grew up in. A lot of Latin and R&B music were being combined, and I grew up in Spanish Harlem. Loved the music, just loved that whole feel. We needed a three-syllable word, and all those girls were gone. So "Candida" had been a name that I had toyed with, and there she became a reality.
SF: Did you actually know anybody named Candida?
Toni: No, but my first boyfriend was Latin, and we had thought, 'Oh, maybe in the future if we'd ever gotten married and had children, maybe we would name her Candida.' Ah, to be young.
SF: Were any of the events in that song, like the gypsy, based on any kind of personal experience?
Toni: No, we just immersed ourselves into that feel, that vibe, that time period, and just flowed with it. They were all beautiful images that we thought would be interesting. It was a musical lilt, the way it was phrased. We just rolled with those lyrics and music, and it worked for us.
SF: Okay. And what is the story about how Tony Orlando came to record that song?
Toni: What stories have you heard?
SF: Well, I've heard plenty of stories, but I'd like to get the real one.
Toni: Okay. Well, Tony had a couple of hits, big wonderful hits. "Halfway To Paradise," "Bless You," in the northeast region, and actually all over the country. They were big, big records. Then he went to work as what a lot of people refer to as a song plugger, but he truly was more than a song plugger. He ran the New York offices of April Blackwood Music, which at that time was headed by Clive Davis. Tony not only is a great singer, but he has great ears. He really does. As a person that could marry a song to an artist. And that was what he did. So he had a very successful career as a music publisher/rep, but he still had that great voice, and he wasn't singing.
"Candida" had been recorded by a group. It really was a nice record, but the lead singer was not adored by the record label. Hank Medress and the Tokens had produced it. Hank asked Tony to re-do that record, to sing lead. And Tony, of course, did. But he was very, very skeptical, and very worried that it would be found out by Clive, or the offices, and he would lose his job because it could be a conflict of interest. He didn't want to put his job in jeopardy. You know, the music business... you just can't tell if it's going to work for you.
Well, Tony put his lead on. Myself, Jay Siegel from the Tokens, and another singer out of New York, Robin Grean, did the background vocals. The record was released by this group called Dawn, which had been named after the daughter of one of Bell Records' promotion men. So Dawn came out with "Candida," and just incredibly, it was this huge record. And we then wound up doing the album. And of course there still was no "Dawn," meaning Telma and Joyce. The entire first album, really, was Tony and myself and Jay and Robin Grean, or down the road, some other singers: Linda November. But there was still no real Dawn.
It was after the first album, which included "Knock Three Times" and "What Are You Doing Sunday?," which I also wrote with Irwin, that Dawn became a true reality. Joyce and Telma and Tony became Tony Orlando and Dawn. At that point, after "Candida" and "Knock" were as huge as they were, Tony was not worried about losing his day job. So that's the story on that. And I don't know if you know this or not, but it's funny. We're talking about Tony, but for the last three years I've been having a blast. I've been playing keyboards and singing with Tony on the road. We're just having the time of our lives. He, and the guys in the band… it's a ball.
SF: Sounds like fun.
Toni: It's great. We've been friends for… oh my God… since we were children.
SF: So you sang on "Knock Three Times?"
Toni: Uh-huh. I sang on the entire first album with Jay Siegel. Robin did several songs, Linda November did several songs. It was an interesting time. It was a great time.
SF: So what about the song you wrote ("What Are You Doing Sunday?") that ended up on that album? Can you tell me how you and Irwin put that together?
Toni: No. I have no earthly idea. We just wanted a happy, feel-good song. You know, "Hey, what are you doing Sunday? You wanna marry me? Cool." You know, and we did it. Really, we just wanted to have these two young people in love. Young love is always great to write about, and just very positive. That was a very positive time. There weren't really many songs of sadness. Sure, love gone wrong, and things that didn't work out, but I guess that whole period had a lot of uplifting songs. So we just joined it.
SF: Was that written specifically for the Tony Orlando album?
SF: But when you did "Candida," you weren't sure who was going to record that? Or you did have somebody in mind?
Toni: No, I had nobody in mind. "What Are You Doing Sunday?" we wrote because we knew the album was coming up, and we said, "Let's pitch some songs and cross our fingers." So we did that. But "Candida" we wrote just to be writing, just to do a song, and we did it, and it happened.
The mood of "Black Pearl" is a stark contrast to many of the other songs in Toni's repertoire. In the next part of our interview, Toni explains the meaning behind the song, and why it is one of her favorites. She also tells us about "Sugar, Sugar," and the roles she played in the Archies.
SF: Going back a little bit, the song "Black Pearl" that you wrote, can you tell me the story behind that one?
Toni: There wasn't really a story other than that was written by myself, Phil Spector, and Irwin, and most of it was written in my apartment in New York. Actually, just about all of it was, I guess, in the apartment. They came up to the apartment and we wrote it.
SF: The black pearl's kind of an interesting image. Do you remember how that came about?
Toni: The times. The very difficult times. It was disturbing, everything that was going on at that time period between people. All of our people. Just people. And segregation, differences. It was heartfelt. And that's how that song came about. We did that song and Phillip did an incredible record with The Checkmates. You know, Sonny Charles has a great lead. It was Sonny and Sweet Louie. It was a great record.
SF: So the black pearl is about a black girl?
Toni: It was about a black woman. The male is singing to her, she is his sweetheart. She is his world, and she is his black pearl. They're dreaming of better times, better days, and he is saying, "Black pearl, pretty little girl, let me put you up where you belong. Black pearl, precious little girl, you've been in the background much too long." At that time, with segregation, you had black students, white students, but older people, a lot of the black women, were depicted as being housekeepers, cooks, rather than having positions in companies, whether they were capable or not. It was a very difficult time period. They really weren't given the chances that their counterparts, the white women, may have been given. And it was time to have a song putting them on a pedestal. Because it shouldn't be "they" or "us" or anything. We are all capable of doing the same job, and should be given that chance. If we do a job well, we should be given the opportunity to do it, regardless of black or white. And in those days it wasn't as easy.
SF: It's interesting, when you're talking about "What Are You Doing Sunday?" you talk about how it was a lighter time. And then just a year earlier it was, I guess, a much heavier time, where you had these social issues.
Toni: Absolutely. I mean, these social issues, they would be more prominent in certain times than others, even if they were a few years apart. We still have social issues. It's still a drag. You know, we're still not all as equal as we should be.
SF: But when you guys are trying to write hit songs, you don't think too often that you're going to put, like, some social commentary in the songs?
Toni: It's not that we don't think that we will do that. But most writers, they do have views, politically or socially. At times a lot of us will want to slip something into a song purposely so that it might give a double meaning. If it's too touchy a topic, maybe we will deliberately not put something in, or remove something that might be controversial, although I love controversy. It doesn't bother me.
SF: Are there any other songs that come to mind that you've been a part of where something like that happened?
Toni: Not that I can think of. No. I think "Black Pearl" certainly speaks for the way the three of us feel. I love that song, it's very dear to me. And even though I've had success with other songs, I'm very grateful for what success I've had, but I think "Black Pearl" has always been and will be my favorite. It's very dear to me.
SF: And what was it like working with Irwin and Philip?
Toni: Well, Irwin and I wrote together for a long time. He was just one of the greatest, most wonderful… he was hilarious. He passed away several years ago. He had a fabulous family, and I mean, he was wonderful. Always was. And Philip is incredibly talented, great sense of humor, and he's a musical genius. We all know that he's created some incredible memorable songs, as well as records.
SF: "Sugar, Sugar." Can you just give me a little background on what really happened there?
Toni: It just was a very easy session. Donnie Kirchner wanted to bring the Archies to life, which he did. Jeff Barry was going to produce this fictitious animated group called The Archies. We went into the studio. Jeff and Andy Kim wrote "Sugar, Sugar." Ronnie was Archie, and I was Betty and Veronica. We went in, we did the record. It was a fun session, it was a blast. We just knew that something huge was going to happen. We didn't really know how huge, but it was huge. In fact, a friend of mine had been in town, Ray Stevens, who's an incredible songwriter, singer, producer, musician. We were going to grab a bite to eat, so I told him to just meet me at the studio, pick me up, and then we'll go eat. And he wound up handclapping on "Sugar, Sugar."
SF: Are any of the lyrics a bit subversive, or a bit more sexual in nature than…
Toni: In "Sugar, Sugar"?
Toni: Like what?
SF: Well, when they're doing the whole "pour some sugar on me," and that kind of thing. I didn't know if there was any kind of thought…
Toni: No, sugar… "give me some sugar" is a very old-fashioned saying. It can refer to people kissing each other, that's sugar. Dogs licking you, that's "gimme some sugar." Sugar is just a form of love.
SF: So it is as innocent as it sounds?
Toni: Oh, absolutely. There was nothing… oh yeah, my goodness. I want you to know that that's the first time I've ever been asked that.
SF: Really? All right. The Def Leppard song that I'm pretty sure was actually inspired by the lyric in your song, "Pour Some Sugar On Me," is of course just laden with sexual innuendo.
Toni: No, "Sugar, Sugar" is very sweet and innocent. You know, "pour a little sugar on me, honey, pour a little sugar on me, darling," it was "give me some sugar – give me some lovin'." Give me some lovin', good lovin'. I mean, it's just exactly what it says, gimme some lovin'.
SF: Was that song then promoted on the TV show? With the Archies?
Toni: I don't remember what came first, the chicken or the egg.
SF: Okay. Somehow that song just became an enormous hit.
Toni: It was huge. Probably one of the bubblegum songs of all time. There were several huge bubblegum songs, that was one of them. But I just don't remember what came first. I know that when it was released it just took over like wildfire.
SF: All right. And did you ever have to perform as Betty and Veronica again?
Toni: Oh, no, no, no. It was a secret who we were. In fact, the New Year's Eve countdown of trivia -- for years one of the questions would be "What group never appeared together, never went on the road together, never interviewed together, and had a #1 song?" People wouldn't get it. It was hilarious. But Ronnie and I, in the last few years we've actually done 3 performances as The Archies. We didn't do it for 30-some-odd years, but in the last 3 years we did for the MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon, which of course Tony Orlando hosts out of New York, and has been hosting since day one. It was very, very cool. And we also did it when I did a one-woman show at Genghis Cohen in West Hollywood. And then about a month ago we did a special part for David Gest. And we did it there. It was a hoot.
SF: Toni, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.
Toni: Don't be silly. This is truly my pleasure.
SF: I'm looking forward to getting this online.
Toni: I'm calling Ronnie and I'm gonna tell him you wrote we did a dirty song.
SF: I had to ask.
Toni: Ronnie also started out with Donnie Kirchner. A lot of us started together, and we've all been very, very close for all these years. Can you imagine? Over 30 years, we're all… we're family.
We spoke with Toin on May 8, 2007. Get more Toni, including great photos, at www.toniwine.com.