The History of “I Want Candy”

In the early years of MTV,  New Wave was drawing a variety of musical acts and associated videos in a sort of new British Invasion.  At the same time, punk music like The Clash, Dead Kennedys, and Bad Religion, were cranking out angry, raucous music. Then there were plenty of bands who kept things more mainstream and melodious.

In 1982, a band made up of members of Adam and the Ants, along with 13-year-old Annabella Lwin released a cover that would find itself in heavy rotation on both radio and MTV.  It was released as a single from their album The Last of the Mohicans and reached #62 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

But while being the most popular version of this song to date, it was actually a cover of a 1965 release recorded by The Strangeloves, a group created by American songwriters Bob Feldman(“My Boyfriends Back”), Jerry Goldstein (“Come On Down to My Boat”), and Richard Gottherer (“Hang On Sloopy”) so that they could release some songs themselves rather than writing for other artists.  Their other successful singles included “Cara-Lin” and “Night Time.”

The three songwriters concocted a fake backstory of being from Australia, raised on a sheep farm.  With the success of “I Want Candy”, the group was forced to perform live, enlisting the help of session musicians. Their original version of the song reached #11 on the US Billboard Hot 100, outperforming the Bow Wow Wow release coming 15 years later.

The song was purportedly written about a dancer named Candy Johnson whom the group saw at the 1964 World’s Fair.  Candy Johnson appeared in a number of 1960s beach party movies (“Muscle Beach Party”) and was credited as a “perpetual motion dancer” in that she could dance nonstop and vigorously through long beach party songs, especially the ending credits. Here’s a taste of why she was so “inspirational.”

Even this first version of the song delivered a form now termed the Bo Diddley beat, an Afro-Cuban 3-2 (clave) pattern that may be most familiar in the classic knock “shave and a haircut, two bits” or used in the southern performance style called “hamboning.”  With a simple but fast guitar riff over the aforementioned Bo Diddley beat, the song accurately calls out wanting candy on the beach or wrapped in a sweater, both common performance accouterments of Candy Johnson.

Around the same time, a cover of the song was released by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, a UK band that took the song to #25.  It had a slightly heavier beat and a more frenetic guitar treatment but was basically the same structure.  Almost 20 years later, Bow Wow Wow would find success covering the song with generally the same structure.  Candy Johnson having long passed out of the public eye, the song was thought of at the time as being more about sex on the beach than an actual person.

“I Want Candy” would become an easy way for a group to find success, as indicated by the cover by Candy Girls, a British duo, in 1996.  This version serves up a techno treatment of the tune that is only peripherally associated with the previous two releases.

And in fact, the duo created multiple versions titled “Candy’s Disco Dub”, “Jon the Dentist’s Mix” and “Beat Barons Mix”.  It’s an interesting version but not in the spirit of the original, and more about providing space in the melody for the club crowd to “raise your hands!”

The latest release of “I Want Candy” is Aaron Carter’s version on his 2000 debut album Aaron’s Party (Come and Get It).  Aaron is the brother of Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter, and as such helped Aaron produce the song and album.  This version is truer to the original, with a surprisingly guitar-heavy but catchy style.  It eschews the traditional guitar riff and sticks to a more straightforward power-chord employment. A remixed version was released in 2018 that appears on his LøVë album.  Aaron’s young (high) voice sounds similar to Annabella Lwin’s Bow Wow Wow version.

About every 15 years a cover of “I Want Candy” seems to appear, but the Bow Wow Wow version is the one most of us remember as “the original.”

The tune delivers a simple but catchy melody, and between the shout-outs and slinky guitar riff, it continues to provide groups with a nice filler release that will likely see some chart success.

-Will Wills

Photo: Bow Wow Wow, “I Want Candy” single cover (fair use)

PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…

Other Posts You Might Like


Will Wills — a native-born Italian, raised in the US — does a killer impersonation of Mario (“a-letsa-go!”). Generally, you’ll find him frenetically bouncing between software development at a large US firm, leading a local dance/pop band, playing COD and watching MST3K. Yes, he’s sleep deprived, but you can follow his resulting incoherence at @WillrWills or his band at @WillsAndTheWays or his blog, "A Day in a Monkey's Life," if you’re suffering from insomnia, too.

0 comments on “The History of “I Want Candy”

Leave a Reply (and please be kind!)