“Candy Girl” stands alongside the early Jackson 5 hits as a song made by kids that’s still enjoyable to listen to as an adult. I’ll fully admit that it could be my nostalgia talking. I was 6 when “Candy Girl” was released and have mentioned before how the New Edition fellas served as style guides for us black kids in the ‘80s. Granted, the song is a barely disguised rip of “ABC”-a NYC radio station even mixed the two songs together at one point. But it’s also full of youthful energy, it’s one of Maurice Starr’s best songs (which ain’t saying much, but still), and it had the foresight to include a rap break at a time when R&B and hip-hop were very much mutually exclusive. Come to think of it; depending on whether you count “Double Dutch Bus” as a rap record, “Candy Girl” was the first hip-hop/R&B record to top Billboard’s R&B charts (not to mention the UK singles chart.)
NOT QUITE FIVE STARS…
“Candy” by LL Cool J feat. Ralph Tresvant & Ricky Bell (1997): Well, looka there!
LL Cool J was on a hot streak going into his 1997 album Phenomenon. His previous album, Mr. Smith (1995) was the biggest pop success of his career, scoring three top ten hits, winning a Grammy, and re-establishing LL’s seat at the throne of hip-hop after the flop of 14 Shots To The Dome (1993). With a jiggy new image courtesy of new manager Puffy Combs, a hit TV show (In The House) and an autobiography on the way, there were high hopes for “Phenomenon”. Especially when its first single, “Candy” dropped. It seemed like a no-brainer. It interpolated a classic (New Edition’s “Candy Girl”) and even featured 2/5 of the group that sang the original song. Plus, N.E. had just scored a double platinum comeback with 1996′s Home Again.
And the song flopped. Def Jam quickly scratched the idea of making “Candy” a focus track and skipped ahead to the Puffy-produced title track instead. Too bad, because “Candy” finds LL at his most emotionally honest. The song has at least one foot in real life, as LL delivers a message to his childhood sweetheart (and now bride) Simone. The “Candy Girl” quotes add to the song’s sepia-colored nostalgia, as does the third verse, which begins with LL reciting the opening lines of his 1987 smash “I Need Love’. The song has a warmth that lifts it above most LL songs as well as most hip-hop records made in the bling-saturated ‘90s.