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'I Want Candy' Is About A 1960s Singer From The World's Fair

Icons | September 3, 2019

Left: Candy Johnson commanding attention in 'Muscle Beach Party' (1964). Right: Sleeve art for The Strangeloves' 'I Want Candy,' released in 1965. Sources: eBay; discogs.com

“I Want Candy,” the strangely timeless song released by The Strangeloves in 1965 (and Bow Wow Wow in 1982) has been said to be about everything from sex, to drugs, to actual candy. The Strangeloves were a group of producers who'd had a big hit with “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels. They were inspired to write "I Want Candy" in 1965 after they took a trip to the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, New York. While at the World’s Fair the producers saw a performance by Candy Johnson, a dancer known as “Miss Perpetual Motion.”

Even though she’s the inspiration behind this incredibly popular song, Johnson has fallen through the pop culture cracks. Who was Candy Johnson? And why did The Strangeloves want her so badly? 

Candy came from suburban Los Angeles

source: pinterest

Born on February 8, 1944, Candy Johnson didn’t start out so sweet. She came into this world as Vicki Jane Husted in suburban Los Angeles, but when her mother remarried she took the last name of her stepfather and at some point before high school she started going by the name “Candy.” While living in the San Gabriel Valley Johnson studied tap as well as Afro-Cuban hot stepping which helped her gain a foothold as a go-go dancer.

Johnson started dancing professionally at the age of 17 almost by chance. She was standing in line and waiting to see Chubby Checker when she was picked out of by disc jockey Norton “Red” Gilson. Throughout the ‘60s Johnson was most well known for her manic ability to do the twist. Even though she didn’t invent it, she definitely helped popularize the dance. 

Her trademark wasn't just the twist -- Candy was famous for doing it in a dress covered in fringe. The fringey threads hanging off her whipped to and fro constantly as she danced, thus earning her the "Miss Perpetual Motion" nickname.

She was a fixture in AIP’s beach party movies

source: AIP

After working as a go-go dancer Candy transitioned to working in film. She appeared in four beach movies by Roger Corman’s American international Pictures, the preeminent distributor of B-movies and schlock throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Johnson first appeared in 1963’s Beach Party as the “Perpetual Motion Dancer,” and she went onto appear in three more beach movies all in 1964: Muscle Beach Party, Bikini Beach, and Pajama Party.

Johnson was reportedly so popular as a dancer in party films that she was initially considered for Goldie Hawn’s go-go dancing, sock-it-to-me role on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, although that never came to fruition. 

Candy fronted a band called The Exciters

source: pinterest

Johnson had a busy year in 1964. Aside from appearing in three AIP films, she also released two LPs on her own label with a band called The Exciters. The albums The Candy Johnson Show, and The Candy Johnson Show at Bikini Beach, put her singing abilities at the forefront, and allowed her to tour the Catskills circuit as well as Europe.

Candy and her band played wherever anyone would have them. Aside from appearing in Vegas and Palm Springs, and of course the band took “The Candy Johnson Show” to the 1964 World’s Fair where they played originals as well as tracks like “Hound Dog” and “Baby What You Want Me To Do.”

When The Strangeloves saw Candy at the World’s Fair they knew she was their muse

source: AIP

The writers behind “I Want Candy” have never discussed exactly what they saw in Candy Johnson during their trip to the World’s Fair, but it had to have something to do with her bodacious moves. Whatever the impetus, the songwriters went back to the studio from the World’s Fair and wrote a song about Candy that not only out livedits muse, but outshone the band that originally recorded it.

Candy and The Exciters rocked the 1964’s World Fair so hard that they were invited back to the fair the next year for New York’s Bourbon Street Review where they were advertised with a life size recreation of Candy dancing on the building. 

Her final years were spent in California

source: pinterest

Even after she and her band took the World’s Fair by storm and inspired one of the most prevalent hits of the 20th century Candy called it a day in 1968. She retired from the entertainment industry and settled in Corona, California. There’s no word about how she spent her life after the late ‘60s, but she was known to pop up now and then at viewings of AIP’s Beach Party movies.

Unfortunately, Candy passed away at the age of 68 in 2012 after she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Johnson lives on in the hearts of everyone who loves to twist away on the beach and turn themselves into perpetual motion dancers. 

'I Want Candy' Became An Early MTV Hit

Source: Pinterest

When Malcolm McLaren, most famous as the impresario behind the Sex Pistols, set out to build a pop group in 1980, he was obsessed with a rhythm called the "Burundi beat." It turned out that the quirky old Strangeloves song was a perfect fit. The band he'd formed, called Bow Wow Wow and fronted by teenage singer Annabella Lwin, recorded "I Want Candy" and released it as a single in 1982. The song went to #8 on the UK pop chart, and though it didn't break the Top 40 in the U.S., it became an MTV hit and has stood the test of time as a truly catchy specimen of '80s new-wave pop.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Bow Wow Wow | Candy Johnson | I Want Candy | Rare Facts And Stories About History | The Strangeloves

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.