Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Kim was in his teens when he co-wrote the top-selling song of 1969: The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar.”
Born Andrew Youakim in Montreal, Kim was trying to make it on his own as a singer in New York when he set his sights on the Brill Building, the famous Broadway home of some of the best songwriters of the 1960s. He joined forces with songwriter-producer Jeff Barry and together they crafted one of the most memorable pop songs of the rock era.
Signed to Barry’s Steed label, Kim finally had enough cred to become a solo star: He recorded hit remakes of The Ronettes’ “Baby, I Love You” and “Be My Baby,” plus some of his own songs, such as “Rainbow Ride” and “Shoot ‘Em Up, Baby.”
By 1974, he was on top of the world with “Rock Me Gently,” his only No. 1. Then, in a flash, he disappeared, only to re-emerge in the early 1980s under a new name, Baron Longfellow.
He returned to Andy Kim in the 1990s and discovered that, at least in Canada, his fans hadn’t forgotten him. One of them was Barenaked Ladies member Ed Robertson, who coaxed him into writing with him. His first album in 20 years, “Happen Again,” was released in 2010.
Kim’s voice remains vibrant and unmistakeable well into his 60s, but with the help of Drew and Co., he also has a wholly contemporary sound. Even his remake of “Shoot ‘Em Up,” Baby” has a beautiful new arrangement.
He has an impressive story to tell, and he does so in an interview with Pause & Play. He also plays “Five Songs With …” with us.
P&P: Fans and critics may think you vanished after the million-selling “Rock Me
Gently,” but actually you took a step back for a few years. What prompted it?
Kim: “My dad got ill and passed on. I had a really hard time with his passing and, by the time I stopped being in denial, the music world had changed and I was no longer able to get my footing. I soon realized that sometimes one’s shelf life is out of date. Although I continued to write and record, I never was able to get to the glory of the mountain top again.”
P&P: You returned in the ’80s under the moniker Baron Longfellow. Why the name change?
Kim: “I met Gordon Mills. Gordon managed three male artists whose names he changed … Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck and Gilbert O’Sullivan. He loved the songs I’d been writing and suggested I be called Baron Longfellow. After much thought, I agreed to the name change. I received more press about the name change than any press generated by my hits … No hit records though.”
P&P: You never really retired, did you?
Kim: “Never retired. I became irrelevant.”
P&P: Ed Robertson reached out to you in the early 2000s, you collaborated with other artists, and now you’ve hooked up with Kevin Drew. How did you approach “It’s Decided”? What was your manifesto for it, a goal you wanted to achieve?
Kim: “Loved working with Ed. He helped open a door and it gave me another chance. When I met Kevin, we both discovered kindred spirits. We didn’t go into the studio with a plan. I agree with Kevin when he says it was about friendship, ‘We’ve been saying this and it’s really the truth. It was just: ‘How can we hang out? How can we hang out more? Maybe we should make a record.’ ‘ We loved hanging around with each other and the studio gave us an opportunity to not only hang out but to create an album based on love and friendship.”
Five key songs in Kim’s career:
1) “Sugar, Sugar”
“Wow. Nobody wanted to play ‘Sugar, Sugar’ when it first came out. We all believed in its magic and worked hard to get it on the radio. It finally traveled around the world and back and around the world and back again and again and again. Lightning in a bottle.”
2) “Rainbow Ride” (referred to by many as an anti-drug song)
“Never did I ever think this was anything other than a search for love. Maybe it’s best that every heart hears what it wants to hear.”
3) “Baby, I Love You” / “Be My Baby”
“I had never heard the original version of ‘Baby I Love You’ so I was able to add my own interpretation. ‘Be My Baby’ … iconic. I was hesitant. There are certain songs one should never try to cover. Thank God for my producer Jeff Barry. He wrote those songs along with Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector. He knew it was time and I’m obviously thrilled with the results. Still hope that everyone knows that I’ve always felt the Ronettes’ version was and is forever iconic.”
4) “Rock Me Gently”
“I met her the day I arrived, to start my new life, in L.A. I had packed up my dreams and left New York City. I needed a fresh start. Didn’t know what anything meant anymore. She made me believe in love again. A beautiful moment for a songwriter when love and inspiration come together.”
5) “Shoot ‘Em Up, Baby” (the 2015 version)
“Kevin’s idea. It’s the first song Ohad (Benchetrit), Kevin and I recorded. I didn’t feel that we should go back in time and rerecord a song I had originally written too many years ago. But Kevin loved the song and asked that I try and go with him on this. If in the end I still felt the same way, then, it would not see the light of day. It’s such a cool version that I’m glad we did it.”
BTW: Kim and Drew will perform “Sister OK” on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” on Thursday, March 12.
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