Saturday, April 02, 2005

Candy & The Kisses: The 81 Scores 100%



Imitation is the sincerist form of flattery...usually. That is until the imitator surpasses the original. That's exactly what happened when an obscure young soul trio named Candy & The Kisses scooped Motown with their recording of a signature '60s dance tune called The 81.

New York sisters Beryl "Candy" Nelson, 16, and Suzanne Nelson, 17, formed a singing group called The Symphonettes, with their 17-year-old cousin, Port Richmond High School student, Jeanette Johnson. Their first studio work, as unbilled session singers on vocalist Ernestine Eady's The Change, brought them to the attention of producer Jerry Ross who signed the trio to the R&L record label in 1963. Though a stellar effort, Candy & The Kisses' initial release, A Good Cry, failed to chart and the threesome slipped back into the shadows of no-hit-wonders until two enterprising Philadelphians, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, brought the group to Philadelphia's Cameo Records.

Gamble and Huff, hoping to cash in on a new dance craze (there seemed to be one just about every five minutes in the early '60s), spawned by a Martha & The Vandellas recording called In My Lonely Room, quickly penned a lively, bombastic song, The 81 (the inexplicable name of the new dance). Candy & The Kisses emerged from the Cameo Records studio with a 2 minute, 33-second gem which they simply hoped would be a hit. Little did they know they had just laid down a dance classic that would be remembered over forty years later.

The 81 opens with a rapid, two-chord plinkety-stringed guitar riff, immediately followed by an egaging cacophony of booming horns and driving drums which borrow, merge, and transform the beginning of the (Martha & The Vandellas) tunes In My Lonely Room and Heat Wave. Pure Motown sound all the way, even down to Candy's powerhouse, Reeves-ringer lead vocal ("There's a new dance goin' around they call The 81") which led many to assume it actually was Martha Reeves. The sound pouring from radios and turntables coast-to-coast was an innocently infectious brand of dance-line spontaneity that made it almost impossible for a listener not to take to the floor. What Candy & The Kisses achieved under the tutelage of Gamble and Huff, was an effect which equalled Motown's most danceable recordings, including the dynanism of the blockbuster hit Dancing In The Streets.

Failing to recreate the success of The 81 with either their next recording, Soldier Baby (Of Mine (a cover of an unreleased Ronettes' song), or Shakin' Time (recorded live in concert), the group attempted to score under the alias of Honey Love & The Love Notes (releasing We Belong Together b/w Mary Ann). Disappointed, Candy & The Kisses left the Cameo label, spirited away by Scepter Records producer Florence Greenberg (who had achieved mega-success with top female act The Shirelles).

Keep on Searchin', Candy & The Kisses' first Scepter release, brought the group into contact with the legendary team of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who penned the tune along with Josephine Armstead (a former member of The Ikettes). Despite the superlative songwriting and production skills of Ashford and Simpson, who supplied Candy & The Kisses with enough material to fill an album, the group failed to recreate the magic of The 81.

The one-hit-wonder moniker, when applied to Candy & The Kisses, is only technically accurate. Artistically the trio soared with soulful gems like Are You Trying To Get Rid Of Me Baby and Out In The Streets Again, as well as masterful renditions of The Last Time (a hit for The Rolling Stones), and Tonight's The Night (a smash for The Shirelles). The group continued on until 1969, recording pure soul, such as If You Love Him b/w Oh No, Oh No, under the name Sweet Love.

Though Candy & The Kisses will go down as a footnote in the Billboard charts of the 1960s, The 81, which scores a 100+ esthetically, esconces them as major contributors to the evolution of pop, soul, and dance for time and eternity.

CANDY & THE KISSES DISCOGRAPHY:

The Change (Junior 994; 1963) (unbilled backing as The Symphonettes)
The 81* b/w Two Happy People (Cameo 336; 1964)
Soldier Boy (Of Mine) b/w Shakin' Time (Cameo 355; 1964)
We Belong Together b/w Mary Ann (Cameo 380) (billed as Honey Love & The Love Notes; group also included singer Harriet Laverne)
Keep On Searchin b/w Together (Scepter 12106; 1965)
Out In The Streets Again b/w/ Sweet And Lovely (Scepter 12125; 1965)
Baby Baby You b/w Beg Me (Scepter 12125; 1966)
Tonight's The Night b/w The Last Time (Scepter 12136; 1966)
Chains Of Love b/w Someone Out There (Decca 32415; 1968)
If You Love Him b/w Oh No, Oh No (Mercury 72415; 1969)

2001 compilation tracklist on the Sanctuary/Castle label:

The 81 (2:33)
Two happy people (2:18)
Soldier baby (of mine) (2:31)
Shakin' time (2:31)
Keep on searchin' (2:30)
Together (2:15)
Let love win (2:08)
Smokey Joe's (2:10)
Sweet and lovely (2:31)
Out in the streets again (2:04)
The last time (2:15)
Tonight's the night (2:25)
Are you trying to get rid of me baby (2:40)
You did the best you could (2:02)
I'll settle for you (3:19)
Lookie, lookie (what I got) (2:03)
All you gotta do (2:20)