Thursday, November 4, 2021

Candy/Sweets: I Want Candy

Bow Wow Wow
: I Want Candy


In 1980, Malcolm McLaren, who was either officially or unofficially managing Adam and the Ants (depending on the source), did something that you don’t usually expect a band’s manager to do (although you might have expected McLaren to do it)—he convinced all of the band other than the titular Adam to quit and form a new group for him to manage. Lacking a lead singer, because they had walked away from Adam, they unsuccessfully auditioned singers until they found the obvious choice—a 13 year old Anglo-Burmese girl named Annabella Lwin, who had been discovered singing along to the radio in the dry cleaners where she worked. A second singer, George O’Dowd, briefly was also in the band, but left to form Culture Club, and rename himself Boy George. 

From this unlikely alliance, Bow Wow Wow was formed, releasing their first single, "C·30 C·60 C·90 Go!" shortly thereafter, to no support from their label, because it promoted home taping, which was going to destroy the music business. It didn’t (and not because of the postcards to Congress I was “asked” to fill out and sign during the summer I worked at Atlantic Records)—it took the Internet to really destroy, or at least radically disrupt, the music business. Although, the last time I checked, the music business was still standing. 

Later in 1980, the band released another cassette only album that included a song featuring, as Wikipedia describes it, “suggestive moaning and heavy breathing performed by then 14-year-old Lwin.” It certainly seemed that McLaren was up to his usual provocateur business. And in 1981, Bow Wow Wow released its first full-length album, the wonderfully titled, See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy. The cover art featured the band recreating Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe with the 14-year-old Lwin nude, with her pose and arm blocking what the Pythons usually referred to as the “naughty bits.” FWIW, the photograph is now in the collection of the British National Portrait Gallery. At the time there was controversy, because, you know, 14, and Lwin’s mother instigated a Scotland Yard investigation into allegations of exploitation of a minor for immoral purposes. Nothing came of that, although McLaren reportedly agreed not to promote Lwin as a “sex kitten,” and then promptly used that, and other semi-nude pictures of Lwin on other covers (see the above single cover, for example). And, the controversy probably sold records. Duh. 

One of those other covers that the controversial picture was used on was a follow-up EP, Last of the Mohicans, released in May, 1982, which included “I Want Candy.” As this was right around the time that I was graduating from college, I have no recollection of whether I ever played it on the radio, but I know that I saw the video on MTV many, many times. The song was infectious, featuring a jaunty melody over Burundi style drumming, and along with Lwin’s hairstyle, made the video a “must-watch” despite its otherwise utter ‘80s cheesiness. And you have to believe that the idea of an underage girl singing “I want candy,” was part of McLaren’s marketing plan (I mean, there’s a closeup of Lwin slowly licking an ice cream cone in the video, for chrissakes). It was the band’s most successful song, and prompted the label to issue an album called I Want Candy, including songs from prior releases and a couple of b-sides. And yeah, it used the same Manet-influenced picture. 

After one more moderately successful album and a stressful tour, Lwin was fired from the band—she claims to have heard about it by reading in NME, which I guess was the ‘80s version of breaking up by text. The remaining members formed Chiefs of Relief, which I’ve never heard of, and the members went on to play with other bands that I’ve never heard of, and get into production work. Lwin started a solo career, with some limited success, mostly as a dance act. 

There have been various reformations of Bow Wow Wow, some with, and some without, Lwin, over the years, but most recently, bass player Leigh Gorman was fronting a band called Bow Wow Wow using other singers, while Lwin performs, billed as “Annabella Lwin of the original Bow Wow Wow,” warning on her website, essentially, not to accept any substitutes. 

As usual, I’ve rambled on, but frankly, I didn’t really know much about Bow Wow Wow or “I Want Candy,” and thought you might be interested, too. And one thing that you might not know about “I Want Candy,” which I didn’t know until fairly recently, is that it is a cover of a song originally released by the Strangeloves in 1965 and written by Bert Berns, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer, possibly after seeing dancer Candy Johnson performing at the 1964 World’s Fair. (I attended that same World’s Fair, when I was 3 or 4 years old, and was more likely to have enjoyed actual candy than any dancer. Not surprisingly, I have no strong memories of the visit.) The Strangeloves version, which was a hit, was based on the “Bo Diddley beat,” an altered version of the clave rhythm, which is probably derived from Yoruba drumming, as opposed to the Burundi drums of the cover, so either way, the musicians were paying homage to (or ripping off) African music. Because that’s rock ‘n’ roll. 

There’s a whole additional thread to follow about how the original song led to Rick Derringer’s career, but you can look that up yourself, if you want.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021


 I have never quite worked out whether my love for 10,000 Maniacs stemmed more from their name than their music. Certainly it was the name that first caught my eye, before their songs caught my ear. Like Cowboy Junkies*, another band I adore, emerging at much the same time, they had the canny ploy of linking their often downbeat and distinctly unaggressive music with an edgy sounding name. Hell, it was for that reason alone I owned T-shirts emblazoned with their band names. But, of course, I did love the music, discovering here that they were, sort of, the subject of one of my debut posts for this site, a galling 8 plus years ago. (Gulp, so, at a conservative estimate of of, say, three posts a month, that's north of 300 posts I've inflicted on you poor devils, should any have lasted the pace.....)

'Candy Everybody Wants' was the striking 2nd single from the 5th and final studio album the band did whilst Natalie Merchant was still a member, and was a commentary on the then prevalent US audience taste for sex and violence on screens big and small. (I say then prevalent, wondering if that has ever changed? As mainstream TV and films have become less reliant on at least the sex side of things, cable networks are eagerly, um, thrusting that opportunity on their hungry subscribers. Violence has never been out of taste, the flavours increasingly now for the graphic.) Merchant was never afraid of sociological polemic, and has remained a fierce and outspoken critic of many of the ills she perceives in society, from the military and guns to child abuse, alcohol and the environment, sometimes to the point of being perceived as almost  unbearably liberal and politically correct. 'Candy Everyone Wants' was co-written with the keyboard player, Dennis Drew, one of the co-founders of the band still with them today. It hit a respectable 67 on the singles chart, the album, 'Our Time in Eden', faring better, at 28. The band had also hit a vein of popularity in the UK, where it peaked at 33, figure a slight drop down from the more successful Blind Man's Zoo, which preceded it. Still enough for it to eventually go double platinum, mind.

I don't often print out chunks of lyric but think it is warranted here:

"We give them what they want
If lust and hate is the candy,
If blood and love taste so sweet,
Then we...
We givem what they want.
Hey, hey, We givem what they want".

Something I hadn't appreciated ahead of this piece, despite having the disc on my shelves, and generally being an avid reader of the credits, is that the brass on the song, and on the whole parent album, is provided by the JBs, surely finding this literate fare a world apart from the exacting schedule of their usual employer, James Brown. The fact raises both they and the Maniacs up in my estimation.

For a slightly different mood, below is the version from the MTV Unplugged concert, an orchestra providing the backing, but otherwise little different.

Whereas, from another live performance, old chum Michael Stipe turned up and joined in. Again, clearly not the JBs, but it looks a lot of fun. It was performed, hello again, for the MTV Inaugural Ball for Bill Clinton. (At the risk of descending into smut, with a title like that, I wonder if they did?!)

Finally, given the comments around the ongoing longevity of the band, how does it sound these days? Replacement singer, Mary Ramsey, was already within the wider pool of band associated musicians, featuring on viola and backing vocals on both 'Our Time in Eden' and 'MTV Unplugged.' As also the musical partner of the Maniacs erstwhile guitarist, John Lombardo, who had left the band in 1986, they were together performing as John and Mary, so it seemed logical to have them both incorporated back/fully into the band on Merchant's exit. Here is the song as performed on the 'Playing Favourites', which had the new version of the band play old and newer songs from both per and post Merchant days.

Here's the sweetshop.

*Hope you SWIDT! Candy? Teeth? (I'm here all week!)