If you’re going to spend your mis-spent years hanging out with musicians and such, it has to start somewhere, and mine started with the Strangeloves. Remember them? Heard of them? They had three hits in the mid- 1960’s, and I loved dancing to them. The beat, man, the beat was so strong, so… Bam! You could stomp your foot on the beat, and when your foot hit the floor... yeah! You were Stompin’! For me, it was a song of exuberance, and I liked to dance. I was secretly pretty good at it.
I have to say I don’t know what dancing looks like today. I see stars dancing on TV and it’s mostly intricately choreographed routines, which makes for a great show, but what do kids dance like today? Are there still dance parties or am I the oldest man in Baja? You can go to YouTube and see how we danced on American Bandstand, but does anyone dance like that anymore? The kids I saw dancing at Coachella... it was like watching people in various trance states, and that wasn’t just the techno, emo or whatever other forms that were there, this was for the rock acts, too. (Okay, that’s it- I’m going to write an article on the dances we did when I was in public school. It seemed that every few weeks there was another new dance. I’ll write about the Watusi, the Hully Gully, the Stroll and the Hitch-Hike, but there were others. It started with the Twist, and ended with the Freddy, which I believe was the last of them, praise Whoever you prefer, but I need to get back to the Strangeloves, because therein hangs a tale.)
If you were listening to the radio in 1965, you heard “I Want Candy,” “Cara-Lin,” and “In the Night-Time.” These were before heavy metal, and they were heavy rockers for their time. “I Want Candy” took the beat identified with seminal rocker Bo Diddley and then pushed it. If you don’t know Bo, or the beat, please check out “Bo Diddley.” Please do it now. I’ll wait here.
Thanks. Here’s how it started. Phil Spector packed the studio for his “Wall of Sound,” and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys started making the studio as important as the group, and groups and singers abounded and owned the radio until the Beatles ate their lunch and all you’d hear on the radio seemed to be English groups or singers. Good for the teens, but a big bummer for music producers like Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer, whose career had been upended by all those English acts. Also, from now on, the three producers will henceforth be called FGG. Thanks. Their biggest hit had been in 1963 with “My Boyfriend’s Back,” by The Angels (and which for some reason I remember dancing to with my neighbor, Susan, which is strange), but by 1965 the times had changed, the old-style hits had dried up. It was that quick.
Able musicians, Feldman and Goldstein had already recorded themselves as Bob & Jerry, and been in other unsuccessful groups. By 1964, the “girl group” thing they’d specialized was stale and they went looking for what the market was asking for. I’d love to know what the conversation was like, but in the end they decided not to find a group, but to create one. It had to be foreign because that’s what was selling. Something English-y would be good; they could play the instruments, but singing in an English accent would be beyond their skill, so they decided the new group would be from… Australia?
Then they went looking for the song, and this is where legendary songwriter Bert Berns enters the studio. The guy was a hit-song-writing machine, and with FGG, they came up with the lyrics and named the girl after a fictional coquette from the novel “Candy,” by Terry Southern. Then they chose a beat, and their choice could not have been better. I mean that! Remember Bo Diddley from up there? They took his beat, put it up front to make it a little more powerful and added the lyrics, cut it a few times and bang! It was a hit. (inside joke alert: their label was “BANG”)
I don’t know where the Strangeloves’ name came from, I’m guessing from the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.” I think they chose the name because the film was hip, controversial and well-known, and because they wanted to be hip, controversial and noticed, right? The competition for airplay was as fierce as ever and they needed a hook for the band, they needed a story, so FGG became three brothers named Niles, Miles and Giles Strange from Wilmot, Australia. Their father had (ahem!) invented the famous Gottehrer Sheep, which produced some kind of….ummm… I forget the rest. There was something about their father wanting them to stay at home and run the business, but they were rockers at heart so they had to leave their home and father behind to make their musical mark in the world. Yes, crap like that was passed off regularly to teen mags. This was before Rolling Stone, you understand, and rock journalism was just rock gossip for teens. Anyway, they had the hype about the band ready to go, but it wouldn’t matter if the band didn’t rock. They used session musicians and they rocked! Thanks, Bo!
Okay, so they had a hit, and the next step was to tour, but FGG were not touring musicians. So now we meet The Sheep, a four-piece unit out of New Jersey. Rockers, they were, and the album cover featured all three of FGG, so they fired the Sheep bass player, kept the guitar, drums and keys, and gave them a story to tell and a tour to perform on. And away they went. They were a trio in a time when trios were almost unheard-of, and that was going to hurt after the hits were over. But what a show! And no one ever missed the bass, and I’ll tell you why after I tell you that in concert they made quite an impression on impressionable minds: anyone from Australia was exotic to the teens, and onstage they were bare-chested, wore tight black leather pants, zebra-skin vests and zebra-skin belts. They wore bear’s teeth necklaces and rarely smiled. Dangerous. Cool… Very cool, except when one of the Strangeloves came to pick me up for one of their gigs in his stage clothes, which caused my father to despair mightily about what was happening with his son and with the world. Good times…
But the bass! Yes, you need bass in your band, and they had it. The keys player had a Fender Rhodes Piano Bass on top of the organ, over on the left, and he’d play the bass line with his left hand and the chords and breaks with his right hand. But it gets better: Hanging off each side of the organ was a huge drum, and the drum head was made of… wait for it… zebra skin! He played the organ and bass lines with a mallet strapped to each wrist so his hands were free to play the keys, and at the right moment, he would take his hands off the keys, flip his wrists up like a high-five, catch both mallets by the handle and pound on both of the drums off the sides of the organ. The drums were almost conga-size, but wider and louder. Properly miked, they made a sound like… Boom! sending out concussive pulses that were felt as much as heard throughout the room. Boom! Boom Boom! Boom Boom! Yowza!
In the song, the music and singer would play on “I want Caa-aandy!” then Boom! Boom Boom! Boom Boom! It was powerful. It was electric. It was primal and it made you wanna dance! Here, listen to the song as you read the rest of the article: I Want Candy.
So three-fourths of the Sheep were now the Strangeloves and they toured regularly in rock ‘n’ roll revues, and FGG and the Sheep (who I think were recording the tracks) had two more hits with “Cara-Lin” and “In The Night Time.” But FGG lost interest in the Strangeloves at a gig in Ohio when they found Ricky Z and the Raiders, the promising kid group they’d been looking for. But while the kids showed promise, they had to be brought along by FGG before they could play in the studio, and the music tracks for their first release, “Hang On, Sloopy” had already been recorded by the Strangeloves. In fact, if you listen to the Strangeloves’ version of the song, you’ll hear the same tracks being used, including the same mistake in the lead break at 2:13. FGG were never going to tour and Ricky Z and the Raiders—soon to be called the McCoys—already existed and were the future. When FGG lost interest, the Strangeloves hired someone to get them gigs, but the gigs were hard to find because they had no new hits and booking agents were wary of trios. This was before Cream, Hendrix, Rush, Grand Funk Railroad and Blue Cheer, and booking agents and club managers felt that trios couldn’t make enough noise to fill a venue.
I found out they were wrong, but my opinion had little impact on the bookers, and the gigs got smaller. And further apart.
Where I came in to this discourse was when the keys player of the touring Strangeloves left the band and a friend of mine from high school got the gig, but only after their string of hits had run out, which in this case means three. When Pete joined them, they were doing dates in the New York area. Dates they could drive to and drive away from.
Jeez, they were good! Pete was great on keys, Jack Raczka played journeyman guitar and Joey Piazza was the hottest, hardest, cleanest drummer I maybe ever heard. Well, he’s certainly up there. Dino from the Rascals was awesome and you might not know that, and there are drummers extraordinaire out there and let’s not start a fight, but Joey Piazza was one hard and tight drummer. Jack played the simple licks with conviction, which was what the gigs called for. I was so proud of Pete up there, and when he flicked his wrists up and caught the mallets, I could see the crowd sway or nod their heads in time with his Boom! Boom Boom! Boom Boom! They rocked a simple rock ‘n’ roll and they rocked everyone in the hall.
(At one Strangeloves show I attended a young man who’d seen me talking to the band before they went on came up to me and said he’d seen them before and he liked them and all… but wasn’t that organ player new? I told him, hey, man, they’re brothers, of course he’s the same guy. He nodded, thanking me, and walked away. And the myth was maintained. I wouldn’t try that now.)
But wait! There’s more! The English New Wave group Bow Wow Wow was in the studio recording their first album with producer Kenny Laguna. They’d already recorded their live set, but Laguna didn’t hear a single, and they needed one for their upcoming release; the band wanted one, Laguna and the label wanted one, but they didn’t have one. Then Laguna remembered “I Want Candy” and had already begun working on the arrangement when he realized he didn’t know the lyrics. He made some calls and found Richard Gottehrer, who sang it for him. Laguna wrote the lyrics down and went back to work until he realized that he didn’t know the lead guitar break, and he’d liked it and wanted it. So he called back, and Gottehrer sang it for him. Laguna recorded it over the phone, the group worked on it, they released it in May, 1982, and I Want Candy became their only hit single in the U.S.
Then, in 2004, I was the backstage manager for a concert that included Bow Wow Wow, so I hied myself over to their dressing room, introduced myself, and told them about my times with the Strangeloves. They knew nothing about the band and were happy to be regaled with the information. Leather pants? Those drums on the side of the organ? A trio? Wow, they didn’t know any of that; they loved it. They were great people, they roared at the stories and they were deeply grateful for the information, but frankly I left their dressing room with the impression that even though it had been their biggest (and only) hit, they’d never heard the recording by the Strangeloves. I hadn’t asked. Wouldn’t.
Really? Hadn’t heard it? That was my impression then, and when I looked into this story, I saw what Kenny Laguna said about the night he called Gottehrer: "I learned the song, then I took what I had gotten over the telephone and I recorded it on a little tape recorder. Then I went in the studio and taught it to the band Bow Wow Wow. We cut it and learned it right on the spot. I've never compared it to the original." And apparently neither had Bow Wow Wow. When you get a minute, think about that.
Quick fun facts:
- “I Want Candy” by the Strangeloves went as high as #11
- “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow went to #26 in the U.K. and #123 in the U.S.
- Please don’t ask what an African animal skin has to do with Australia. I never asked, and now it’s too late
- The song doesn’t seem to go away. A few months ago a commercial came on TV for the game Candy Crush that used “I Want Candy” as background music, and just yesterday I heard it in a commercial for the realreal.com, and Party City used it in an ad. Old Navy used it and there are others, but that’s almost enough about the Strangeloves and “I Want Candy”
- Because it was the mid-1960’s, there are no videos of the group I knew
- Joey Piazza was a motherfucker of a rock drummer
- That’s enough about the Strangeloves and “I Want Candy”
Gilbert Klein has enough degrees and not enough stories. He’s been a radio talk show host, a nightclub owner, event producer, and has written three books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, FOOTBALL 101 and God Watches Over Drunks and Fools. He threatens to write one more. He spent 25 years in New York, 25 years in San Francisco, and is now purportedly retired in Baja.