Blame it on the Archies. By the summer of 1969, the group was already a huge success, with two LPs landing in the Top 100 on the Billboard album chart and a monster hit single in “Sugar Sugar.” But animation studio Filmation felt it could have been bigger. Why? Because Archie and the gang were cartoon characters; they didn’t exist in the real world. Appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show notwithstanding, they didn’t have the same promotional opportunities as other pop artists of the day.
So when Filmation started developing a new cartoon about a group of teenagers who play in a band — The Hardy Boys — they adopted a different approach. “This time we’ve got a live group to back up the animated subjects,” Lou Scheimer, president of Filmation, told a Los Angeles Times writer in December 1969. And not only did they assemble a Hardy Boys band they could send out on tour, auditioning more than 150 people in the process, they made sure the musicians resembled the characters already sketched by Filmation artists.
“The group was selected to match the drawings of the characters,” Scheimer said, “and not the other way around as most people suspect. The next thing we considered was their individual musical ability.”
Five musicians made the cut to portray Frank and Joe Hardy and their friends Wanda Kay Breckinridge, Pete Jones and Chubby Morton. Despite Filmation not really caring about musical ability, all were either professional musicians or had studied music seriously, or both:
- Reed Kailing (Frank Hardy) had co-hosted the weekly TV show The Swinging Majority — a Chicago-based version of American Bandstand — and led a group called the Destinations, which had the distinction of entertaining the guests at Lucy Baines Johnson’s wedding in 1966.
- Jeff Taylor (Joe Hardy) had played in a Milwaukee-based band called the Messengers.
- Deven English (Wanda Kay Breckinridge) had studied voice at the University of Colorado and sung in productions with the Denver Civic Opera. She had also performed with big band singer Vic Damone and appeared on his TV show.
- Bob Crowder (Pete Jones) had attended the University of Chicago and the Chicago Conservatory of Music. By the time he joined the Hardy Boys, he had already recorded albums with Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble and with the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble and played drums for Jerry Butler, Fontella Bass, the Shirelles and the Esquires.
- Norbert (Nibs) Soltysiak (Chubby Morton) had been offered the John Phillips Sousa Award Scholarship from Roosevelt University but instead attended Mayfair City College and Loyola University, where he studied music and psychology.
The five musicians had never performed together prior to getting the Hardy Boys call but, as they told it, they soon discovered they worked well as a unit. “We’ll be a success as we all jell together,” Reed said in a December 1969 interview with the Minneapolis Tribune. “Our music is rock gospel. Our voices just blend together that way. We sing rock tunes that come out like gospel.”
In the Studio
The Hardy Boys cartoon debuted on ABC-TV on September 6, 1969, and ran for 17 episodes. In the series, the five teenagers — led by Frank and Joe — solved mysteries while playing in a rock band as cover. Each episode included two crime-busting stories with a performance by the animated version of the band serving as a sort of intermission. The opening and closing credits played over footage of the in-the-flesh version.
A show about a rock band, of course, requires a steady hand on the wheel of song selection and production. For the Archies, Filmation had teamed up with music supervisor Don Kirshner, who had most recently proven his hit-making mettle by overseeing the Monkees. Now, the studio turned to Bill Traut and Jim Golden of Chicago-based Dunwich Productions. Traut and Golden not only produced the band, they also handled the roughly 16 minutes of incidental music requested for every episode. In keeping with the theme of the show, the incidental music was arranged for a rock band.
As with both the Monkees and the Archies, the songs for the Hardy Boys came from songwriters working in the Brill Building tradition. Ellie Greenwich, whose long list of songwriting successes included “Be My Baby,” “Chapel of Love,” “Leader of the Pack” and “River Deep — Mountain High,” contributed half a dozen songs with partner Mike Rashkow. Even more prominent on Hardy Boys releases, though, were relative newcomers Ed Fournier — one-time guitarist with the surf rock group the Challengers — and Ricky Sheldon, who together contributed eight songs.
Fournier and Sheldon were just beginning their association with Saturday morning cartoons. Fournier would partner with Filmation again for the Groovie Goolies show and album in 1970. In 1972, He and Sheldon together would write the theme song for Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
In the Marketplace
The Hardy Boys’ debut LP — Here Come the Hardy Boys — and single “Love and Let Love” were released on August 15, 1969, three weeks before the debut of the Hardy Boys cartoon. Record label RCA Victor pulled out all of the stops in marketing the group; according to Scheimer in the December 1969 Los Angeles Times interview, RCA put $100,000 behind the release of the single alone. Following the release of the album, the Hardy Boys embarked on a 10-city promotional tour with concerts and television appearances.
The members of the band never broke character in public. They were only ever known by their Hardy Boys names. And as a not-so-subtle reminder of their connection with the TV show, they often performed in front of larger-than-life renderings of their cartoon selves.
Other plans in promoting the Hardy Boys seem not to have come to pass. In May 1969, Billboard reported that RCA was both packaging the band for appearances on The Jackie Gleason Show, Hollywood Palace and The Music Scene and preparing a short documentary film — The Birth of the Hardy Boys — to be shown in theaters across the US coinciding with the launch of the Saturday morning cartoon. The internet, at least, has no record of any of these happening.
It’s likely the plans were scrapped when the album and single failed to meet expectations. Here Come the Hardy Boys barely cracked the Billboard 200 album chart, clawing its way to No. 199 for two weeks before disappearing from view. “Love and Let Love” spent some time bubbling under the Hot 100 in Billboard but never graduated to the chart itself.
A second album — Wheels — followed in April 1970. It fared even worse than the Hardy Boys’ debut. Neither the album nor either of its two singles charted. Subsequently, with little to no traction in the marketplace and no further Hardy Boys cartoons in production, the group quietly disbanded.