Who’s to say what will fan the flames of inspiration?
John Wozniak, lead singer for the alterna-rock band Marcy Playground, was cavorting with his girlfriend in her college dorm room in the late 1980s. Her roommate walked in on their post-coital glow and commented, “It smells like sex and candy in here.” Wozniak found this unlikely observation “weird and cool” and it resided in his brain for close to a decade, when he utilized it in his band’s deliciously peculiar 1997 hit single, “Sex and Candy.” It’s neither a love song nor an appreciation of confectionery. It’s not really about anything specific, Wozniak ultimately admitted. But it became a legit hit in short order, reaching #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Songs chart, where it lingered for an impressive 15 weeks.
“Sex and Candy” has been described as a “post-grunge song with psychedelic elements,” which seems on the money. Wozniak’s laconic voice and its overall vibe are often compared to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. It has a great 1990s time stamp in its musical elements, but Wozniak stirs the pot with vintage 1970s references in an arcane, erotic way. He describes the alluring woman who appears to him and breaks his self-involved reverie as “double cherry pie,” “disco Superfly,” “disco lemonade” and “platform double suede.” His lyrics are pure stream of consciousness; not a ton of literal narrative but lots of sensual evocation and dreamy trippiness. It’s delivered in a slow, downbeat manner that still has a quiet kick to it.
It contains a tail-end 20th-century James Joycean vibe, where the words are far less about their literal meanings than the feelings they kick up below the surface. In many ways, the words are the music.
Marcy Playground also served up a fantastic video for the single, a wild and wooly dreamscape with lead singer Wozniak’s head popping out of a surreal checkerboard hill as he interacts with a shape-shifting spider. There are ghostly men and Salvador Dali-esque furniture, plus images that evoke everything from Sigmund Freud to Peter Gabriel’s 1986 “Sledgehammer” video. The broody instrumentals and vocals play well against Wozniak’s blank-ish expression as he performs in his PJs.
The artful video was created by Jamie Caliri, a maestro of the surreal. Among many other striking videos he directed was the opening sequence to the short-lived but much-admired series The United States of Tara. His work is uniquely identifiable and an inspired match to the esoteric track.
While Marcy Playground (John Wozniak on lead vocals, Dylan Keefe on bass, and Shlomi Lavie on drums) continue to record and perform, they remain best-known for “Sex and Candy.” It’s one of the most embraced one-hit wonders of the 1990s. And while Marcy Playground has other singles which might seem more radio-friendly and conventionally accessible, it’s “Sex and Candy,” with its air of hallucinogenic cool that topped the charts. It continues to be cherished as a piece of 1990s post-grunge fabulousness.
Photo: Cover of “Sex and Candy” (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…