Jun 09

NEW EDITION – “Candy Girl”

FT + Popular39 comments • 4,452 views

#521, 28th May 1983, video

“Candy Girl” is one of those irritating records that I feel I ought to like more than I do. Certainly within the schema of Popular it should be a pretty ‘important’ single – it’s the first number one with rapping on, for goodness’ sakes. The only problem is that Maurice Starr’s use of the old Jackson 5 playbook is so flagrant and calculated it overshadows anything else going on in the track.

Should that even matter? Possibly not. On paper, after all, electro squelch plus “ABC” equals awesome. And it’s not like New Edition do the Jacksons badly or anything: while nobody will ever have quite the heartbreaking enthusiasm of the young Michael Jackson, Ralph Tresvant’s opening rap comes close. Tresvant indeed is a fizz-bomb throughout, but “Candy Girl” only really takes off with the deliciously dumb mid-song interplay, offering a vision of a version where New Edition had got leave to be goofier, freer, more of a gang than a troupe. What we have instead is far from bad, but for me it’s a little straitjacketed by its own hand-me-down joy.



  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Mm, like you my enjoyment of this is too theoretical to be open-hearted.

    It was a lot more popular with most of my ten year old peers than with me, though, I remember, and the idea of New Edition as being a youth gang was embraced with enthusiasm.

    It’s the sort of thing that when I’m in a bad mood, I condemn as “headache music”, the squelches and rapping all feel a bit trebly and buzzy in the mix and leave me wanting something a bit less excitable.

  2. 2
    Tom on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Oh, we have linked videos now, just after the date info. Thing to watch out for in this one is that all the “candy girls” look CONSIDERABLY older than New Edition. Lovely early 80s NYC cityscapes too.

  3. 3
    Pete Baran on 19 Jun 2009 #

    I didn’t like New Edition because I thought they were some sort of US rip off of Musical Youth! Also I don’t think they did Top Of The Pops, so they were one of the first ones I remember being repped by this not very good video: which marked them out as LAZY. Also I hated the seeming co-option of the word Candy for Sweets in the rap, playing into a young anti-American sentiment. And probably a raft of other not at all relevant or appropriate reasons.

    Unfortunately the similarity between names meant I also coloured New Order with much of this ire until True Faith.

  4. 4
    Erithian on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Yep, those early Jackson Five singles were great weren’t they? NEXT!!

  5. 5
    Steve Mannion on 19 Jun 2009 #

    I did like this and again the video’s exotic glitz must’ve added to the appeal for me. Fun as this may be the real trick is how all of New Edition’s members went on to make arguably better records as solo artists. BBD’s ‘Poison’ being the strongest example but I rep for several Bobby Brown singles, Tresvant’s ‘Sensitivity’ and Johnny Gill’s ‘The Floor’ also.

  6. 6
    rosie on 19 Jun 2009 #

    The title struck no chords with me, although when I listened it seemed vguely familiar. I’d have been hard put to date it – although it bears some resemblance to early Jacksons it clearly isn’t them, and the electronic noises rule them out altogether.

    More than a minute or so just becomes irritating. Not only can I not remember it being number one, I’m also not in the least surprised I can’t remember. Three from me, no more.

  7. 7
    LondonLee on 19 Jun 2009 #

    I bought the 12″ of “Sensitivity” on my first ever trip to New York, along with “Groove Is In The Heart” – must dig it out to see if it still holds up.

    This isn’t as good as I remembered it, sounding a lot thinner than I thought it would but that’s possibly just the passage of time with my ears more used to fuller digital sounds these days. The Jackson Five were the first band I had on my bedroom wall so I had some emotional history with them which colours my enjoyment of this a little. Still, it’s fine. 6 seems about right.

    I loved the video too, I’ve been in a bit of a ’1980s New York’ phase after catching ‘After Hours’ and ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ again recently.

  8. 8
    Steve Mannion on 19 Jun 2009 #

    If you like ‘Sensitivity’ check out Lemon Jelly’s ‘Man Like Me’ which samples it to wonderfully hypnotic effect.

  9. 9
    wichitalineman on 19 Jun 2009 #

    I always bracketed this with Pass The Dutchie at the time. Similarly effervescent, but boy does it sound shrill! To be fair to NE, a lot of electro does to me these days. If I’d been aware of Freestyle at the time I’d have plumped for more Shannon-alikes and less Newcleus nov, but in my Surrey ignorance it was still a thrill to see something as bright, colourful, new and AMERICAN as Candy Girl at the top.

    British pop was losing ground fast at this point, even if (commercially) it was starting to dominate the US singles market.

    I’m now wondering how many American no.1s there had been up to this point in the 80s…. quick check, it looks like 13 in 3 and a bit years, and 4 of those were re-issues. 81 and 82 were particularly US-unfriendly.

  10. 10
    will on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Yes, to a UK audience in 1983 this lot were very much sold as ‘the American Musical Youth’. Ridiculous really, as the only thing they had in common was, well, their youth.

    This is one of those records I’ve done a 180 degree turnaround over. Hated it at the time. A quarter of a century later it sounds effervescent, sprightly and actually quite fun. It’s also, I’d argue, a landmark record in that it marks the start of the modern boyband era.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 19 Jun 2009 #

    I didn’t pay too much attention to this at the time but quite enjoyed watching the video. I find the song interesting for the way in which it both looks back (beyond the J5 for me to older acts like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers) and forward to Hip Hop and subsequent dance music.

    The wikipedia entry for the band tells a depressing tale of management rip-offs – but at least the band members went on to enjoy further success.

  12. 12
    Lex on 19 Jun 2009 #

    This is great, I’m surprised at the lukewarm responses! I can’t remember when I first became aware of it, though that hook is such an integral part of pop history that it’s as if it always existed somewhere in my subconscious. I don’t listen to the og that much and going back to it I was surprised by the squeakiness, which from 2009’s perspective sounds like a foreshadowing of Kanye’s sped-up chipmunk soul samples from a few years ago.

    Key tracks which sampled or interpolated the hook: D4L’s terrific “Laffy Taffy” and Trina’s “Kandi” off her Diamond Princess album, which is not on Youtube OR Dailymotion OR Imeem OR Spotify. Internet FAIL. Anyway, it’s great; takes the original and makes it sweeter, pinker, girlier, but Trina will obv never quite leave that undertow of nastiness out. Features a terrific verse from a child by the name of Lil’ Brianna: “10 years old, the baby diva / The kids at school call me Baby Trina”, “I got more flavors than Starburst / I keep my penny candy in my Prada purse / If I act too sassy, pardon me y’all / I be playing with Barbie dolls in Carnegie Hall”.

  13. 13
    AndyPandy on 19 Jun 2009 #

    Wichita at no 9: I’ve always found the expression “freestyle” to be tantamount to rewriting history… AFAIK no-one (not even Hispanic Americans) called stuff like Shannon “freestyle” as early as 1983/84 (I doubt they were even particulary into the sound anymore than anyone else then)even when tracks like Lisa Lisa “I wonder if I take you home” etc came out a year ot 2 later I’d never heard it and reading ‘Blues and Soul’, listening to the pirates and especially reading James Hamilton (who was always pretty attuned to what was happening in America)I’m pretty he’d have latched onto a name for a genre he along with most Britons called electro (because there was no other name for it back then.

    Suddenly at some time in the 90s people started retrospectively calling certain types of tracks ‘freestyle’.

    Which I could (just about)understand if the tracks had emerged or were made big by the Hispanic culture but they were generally produced by blacks or whites and were made hits by the same people so I’ve always thought it a bit of an imposition that suddenly electro/hiphop/dance (what ever you want to call them) are retrospectively called ‘freestyle’..

  14. 14
    Elsa on 20 Jun 2009 #

    American here. I think AndyPandy is right that it wasn’t called freestyle originally but I would bet that the tag was applied earlier than the ’90s. There was a group from Miami called Freestyle (aka Freestyle Express) who had club hits in 1984-1986 which is where I assume the name derives from, although today we would call their sound electro. “Latin hip-hop” was the name you heard a lot around 1985-86 for what we know now as freestyle & there may have been other terms floating around before freestyle stuck.

    Actually I believe the early freestyle records were indeed made big by the Hispanic culture. It happened at such NYC clubs as the Funhouse, Roseland, the Inferno, the Devil’s Nest, and Heartthrob. The DJ’s pushing electro/freestyle in these places were Hispanic – “Jellybean” Benitez & “Little Louie” Vega among them. Many of the producers were Hispanic, such as Exposé’s Lewis Martinee, The Latin Rascals, Micky Garcia & Elvin Molina, and Ish Ledesma . Countless numbers of the performers were Hispanic as well – Lisa Lisa, Nayobe, Judy Torres, TKA, Sa-Fire, and on & on. The Cover Girls, Exposé, and Sweet Sensation (US version) all had at least one Hispanic member.

    Incidentally, The Cover Girls’ producer was called Andy Panda.

  15. 15
    Elsa on 20 Jun 2009 #

    …and Andy Panda is Hispanic.

  16. 16
    peter goodlaws on 20 Jun 2009 #

    Irritating rubbish, I’m afraid. I agreed at the time with the comparisons with Moozical Yoot but realise now that there was very little common ground there. Much more in tandem with dem pesky Jacksons now, I see. In any case, this was a song which surely could only be of interest to girls of fifteen and under. I’d be surprised if this thing cops many postings, to be honest.

  17. 17
    Rory on 20 Jun 2009 #

    Of little interest to me back then, and not much now. It charted in Australia but didn’t top them there (at the end of May 1983 we were just starting our “Total Eclipse” fixation). When you’re fifteen you don’t want to listen to prepubescent singers reminding you of how peepy-pipey you sounded a few years earlier–or at least I didn’t. Even if they were dressed beyond their years in the video. It would be ages before I got my first leather jacket… which has nothing whatever to do with my mark of 4, honest.

  18. 18
    lex on 21 Jun 2009 #

    The scoring button doesn’t seem to be working for me…

    Really surprised at the lack of love, this is such a pop standard!

  19. 19
    Tom on 21 Jun 2009 #

    It wasn’t working for me either the day I posted this.

  20. 20
    peter goodlaws on 21 Jun 2009 #

    The Curse of Candy Girl!!!!

  21. 21
    TomLane on 21 Jun 2009 #

    I would call it irritatingly catchy. Once they hit you with the title you’ll have it in your head for a while. BTW- I have a friend of mine who has this song on his Ipod, and to this day, when I see him, will sing the opening line just to get a laugh out of me.

  22. 22
    swanstep on 22 Jun 2009 #

    Tellingly, when you do a limewire (or whatever) search on ‘candy girl’ you get many hits on ‘Candy girl’ by the Jackson 5. Does anyone know if royalties were paid? This is surely as blatant a recycling as Brian Wilson did with Chuck Berry for ‘Surfin’ USA’. Anyhow, the file-sharers know the truth!

  23. 23
    intothefireuk on 23 Jun 2009 #

    Pure Jackson 5 rip-off. Thought so at the time and still think that now. Whacking a bit of synth bass in the track surely doesn’t make this electro ? Unfortunately also a sign of horrors to come.

  24. 24
    AndyPandy on 23 Jun 2009 #

    Elsa at 14: yes I take your point and I might be a bit late on the years for “freestyle” being used but I suppose the reason for my post was I’ve found it a bit irritating was the fact that it has been used to describe Shannon’s hits when I’ve downloaded them or read about them in the last few years. And I very much doubt Hispanics put her on the map as they were big hits in the UK as early as late 1983 ie straight away and were definitely viewed as part of the hip-hop/(electro)funk world at the time.

    To describe “Let the Music Play” in wiki articles etc as “freestyle” is akin to a group of for example Tokyo youths discovering the Sex Pistols in about 1979 making their own name up for punk and then in the noughties everytime “Pretty Vacant” is mentioned this Japanese name being used as the genre to describe the track…

    PS and completely unrelated to the above points wasn’t this track (Maurice Starr notwithstanding)looked on at the time as completely irredeemably shite that only kids of about 10 or 11 bought. Sort of a couple of steps up from Little Jimmy Osmond.

  25. 25
    wichitalineman on 24 Jun 2009 #

    “looked on at the time as completely irredeemably shite that only kids of about 10 or 11 bought”

    Yes, in the same way that the heads into Progressive House used to laugh at shite like Shut Up & Dance. The whole Electro genre was dismissed as kids’ music by the Invicta-listening crowd, at least that was the case in white sock Croydon.

    Same thing again with House. A friend of mine once asked “can you imagine listening to Washing Machine in 20 years? Can you imagine sitting there with your girlfriend and saying ‘this is our song’?”

    Re Freestyle, nobody used the term Doo Wop til the early 70s, or Freakbeat til the mid 80s. And then there’s Acid Folk, Free Soul… What we now know as Garage Punk was called Punk Rock in the 60s (even this may not have been entirely contemporary), and the likes of Greg Shaw felt the Sex Pistols had somewhat hijacked the term. He then coined Garage as a replacement genre name around ’77.

  26. 26
    Matthew H on 24 Jun 2009 #

    Wasn’t sold at the time – possibly too similar in age to the lads – but now I think it’s awesome. The electrosquelchfunk sounds fantastic played in a club, as I found out from one of the DJs I played alongside at some 80s revival do a few years back.

  27. 27
    Steve Mannion on 24 Jun 2009 #

    I think often it takes a while for the best term for a sound or genre to emerge and often loathe the terms quickly coined, almost always by critics (because who else needs them?), on the fly to describe new sounds and scenes. Freestyle is an odd one and a bit annoying because it tells you practically nothing about the sound and it’s context specifically (then again House isn’t particularly evocative without prior awareness of the context either) but it’s general strength and likeability as a term seems to have won many over. Electropop itself as a term is applied too broadly (anything where synths outnumber guitars?).

  28. 28
    AndyPandy on 24 Jun 2009 #

    Wichita at 25: yes but those pompous idiots into Progressive House (not that I’m slagging off Prog House itself) who slagged off Shut Up and Dance were looked on back then by a large proportion of the scene as precisely that ie po-faced gits. ‘5,6,7,8’, ‘£10/20 to get in’, even ‘The Green Man’ were staples of the pirates, the raves and a whole undeground world.

    Completely different to ‘Candy Girl’ which really did aim not so much for the lowest comon dominator as for basically a primary school audience (as opposed to the usual mythical 12-16 year old female pop audience…the album even had sort of embarrassing nursey rhyme type things on it according to a horrified 0 star review of it I remember reading at the time- ie 12 or 13 year old boys rather creepily singing stuff more suited to 4 or 5 year olds).

    Very little Jackson 5 and even less electro about it…

  29. 29
    Michael Daddino on 4 Jul 2009 #

    There were a lot of fly-by-night video shows back on American TV around this time, I suppose because the format was pretty popular and very cheap to pull together: a win-win. One of them was a local show on ABC (New York Hot Tracks, I think) that largely concentrated on R&B videos that MTV ignored. I remember being *shocked* at how, in their ’83 year-end countdown, one and maybe even two New Edition videos beat “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” I couldn’t get over that–I was dimly aware of the group but I had no idea they were *that* popular, since MTV didn’t play ’em (at least at first) and I didn’t know many kids who liked them. But if they *were* that amazingly popular, it meant there were large numbers of kids about who were about my age but I had no access to, could not possibly even imagine, except through weird random moments on the TV.

    BTW, their electronic appropriation of Motown seemed very, well, Brit at the time.

    BTw BTW, they reunited for the BET Awards last weekend to sing J5 songs and, wow, they were effing awful.

  30. 30
    koganbot on 5 Jul 2009 #

    I love discussions of nomenclature, even if I can’t tell what freestyle has to do with New Edition, except that “Candy Girl” seems to have struck wichitalineman as sounding like Newcleus, if I’m reading him right. Now, I generally wouldn’t associate Newcleus with what people tend to call freestyle, and this is because “Jam On It” doesn’t have the wailing doleful vocals or the style of melodic riffs piling on melodic riffs that make me think “freestyle.” I can’t define the freestyle sound further than that, since there are plenty of nonfreestyle tracks that also have wailing doleful vocals and that pile melodic riffs upon melodic riffs. But those nonfreestyle tracks don’t have wailing freestyle vocals and don’t pile melodic freestyle riffs upon melodic freestyle riffs. (Dept. Of Tautological Tautologies now open for business.)

    And though I consider Shannon’s “Give Me Tonight” and “Let The Music Play” to be MAJOR as dance tracks, I think of them as peripheral to the story of freestyle, ’cause again they don’t sound all that freestyle. I think of them as basic electrofied New York club music of the time, similar to “Everybody” and “One More Shot.” But here I may well be wrong; I was still in NY until the mid ’80s, but the clubs I went to were TR3 and A7. So this music existed for me mostly on 12 inch or on the radio, and a lot of it I didn’t catch up with until several years later anyway. But my guess now is that “Let The Music Play” and “Give Me Tonight” are considered freestyle classics not just because they made it onto the Tommy Boy freestyle compilations in the ’90s but because in the ’80s the freestyle audience was taking those songs to heart (though I’m also assuming that those songs were also taken to heart by clubgoers who didn’t go near the freestyle clubs and didn’t know Nayobe from Debbie Deb).

    What Newcleus and Shannon and the freestylers have in common is that they all listened hard to Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” and “Looking For The Perfect Beat.” But then, so did a whole slew of people from New Order to 2 Live Crew.

    In response to AndyPandy, I think that – whether you were right or not – you’d have been on reasonable ground if you’d said “I think it stretches the term freestyle too far to apply it to either Newcleus or to Shannon, much less to both, and it confuses history to do so.” But that’s not what you said, and you seemed angrily dogmatic about the history and the terminology without knowing them too well. And in general I agree four-square with Steve’s and Elsa’s and wichitalineman’s responses (well, I have a few quibbles, which I might or might not get around to posting).

  31. 31
    koganbot on 5 Jul 2009 #

    OK, reading back maybe you’re not so dogmatic, but I’m not sure what your complaint is. If you want to say “At the time of ‘Let The Music Play’ neither the sound nor the audience had coalesced for freestyle, so it’s just too soon to be freestyle,” I might be with you on that, but a good counterargument would be that this was one of the records that helped the sound coalesce, therefore it deserves the appellation. That seems to be the assumption the Wiki people are making, and there’s nothing wrong with it – no stranger than calling Cream or Hendrix metal, which makes lots of sense to me even though I’m not sure I would do it. And the fact that “freestyle” wasn’t in use as a genre term yet doesn’t seem relevant to anything. Anyway, I don’t know and neither do you. But, for instance, the term “heavy metal” wasn’t applied to music until Mike Saunders used it in reviewing Sir Lord Baltimore in the May 1971 issue of Creem, but that doesn’t mean you discount early Grand Funk and Zeppelin and Sabbath. And as wichitalineman points out, “doo-wop” was a retrospective term, though its origin is 1962 or 1963, not the early ’70s. As were “punk rock” (the term “punk” was first applied to music by Nick Tosches in Fusion in the summer of 1970, and he was applying it back to Dylan and the Heartbeats; Dave Marsh coined the term “punk rock” in that fertile May ’71 issue of Creem, writing up a ? And The Mysterians reunion gig) and “garage rock” (don’t have an original date on that term, but I recall it as early as 1973, unless my memory is all wrong), again aimed back at earlier music. The advantage of such terms is that they help organize our sense of what’s going on; the disadvantage is that they overorganize. E.g., pretty much all the bands that played ’60s garage rock/punk rock also played sappy ballads and engaged in protopsychedelic progressive guitar explorations, meaning that it’s wrong to hear them as anti-progressive primitives, though that’s how later punks would like to hear them. But I don’t see this distortion happening with those who would call “Let The Music Play” a freestyle track.

  32. 32
    koganbot on 5 Jul 2009 #

    I would peg the beginning of “freestyle” with Debbie Deb’s “When I Hear Music” in 1983, produced by Tony Butler, but that’s because (i) I love the song, and (ii) I don’t really know what relevant tracks might have preceded it. E.g., for all I know, Tony Butler released tracks with his band Freestyle before then, or someone else might have released something that inspired Butler (I mean, other than the obvious “Planet Rock,” which helps inspire the beats but not the vocals or the riffs). Anyway, when I started to pay more than passing attention to this stuff in ’87, the genre terms I was seeing were “Miami Sound” and “Latin Hip-Hop,” but almost every 12 inch I saw contained a “freestyle mix,” this usually in addition to a “club mix,” the freestyle mix being longer and tending towards more and busier synthbeats and blips and more electronic manipulation of vocal syllables.

    But it’s easy to see why “freestyle” became the umbrella term: “Miami Sound” leaves out New York, whereas “Latin Hip-Hop” not only leaves out all the non-Latinos like Tony Butler and Debbie Deb and half of Sequal and two-thirds of Exposé not to mention all the Italian Americans etc. in the audience, it also overassociates the music with hip-hop, from which Latinos in ’80s New York are feeling more and more estranged (at least according to John Storm Roberts in the second edition of The Latin Tinge they are, though he doesn’t connect this to freestyle; in fact – irritatingly – he doesn’t seem to know of the existence of freestyle).

    Which leads to a final point: I get the impression that in the ’80s “electro” was much more a British term than an American – Bambaataa called Soul Sonic Force “electrofunk,” but the term “electro” didn’t have an overall use here. (Again, I could be all wrong about that.) So calling the stuff “electro” now feels wrong, not because the term is retrospective, but because it covers over musical and social tensions: Even though Bambaataa was a prime figure in ’70s New York hip-hop, ’80s New York hip-hop had little use for what he was doing. It was the clubsters and the freestylers who learned from Soul Sonic Force but, after the first wave of electrofunk, not Northern hip-hop. Of course, Miami was a different story, with Miami bass’s embrace of the big boom.

  33. 33
    koganbot on 5 Jul 2009 #

    It was the clubsters and the freestylers who learned from Soul Sonic Force but, after the first wave of electrofunk, not Northern hip-hop.

    That is, Northern hip-hop stopped learning from Soul Sonic Force et al.

  34. 34
    Tooncgull on 21 Oct 2009 #

    Hated it, then and now. Sorry.

  35. 35
    thefatgit on 4 Nov 2009 #

    It’s strange how this changes in my perception from when I first heard it. Back then I dismissed New Edition as a “street” J5. There is a lot to like on here, even those wobbly keyboard breaks! The beat and bassline heard now, are so New Jack Swing, spookily so. No surprise as these kids grow up to define that particular sub-genre of R&B. They’re not a million miles away from Blackstreet at all.

  36. 36
    DV on 28 Dec 2009 #

    This is a truly dreadful record, though I did still tape it off the radio back in the day. My recollection is that New Edition had no further hits in the UK, but somehow became massive in the States. Leastwise, Bobby somebody was able to establish himself with a solo career on the basis of being That Guy From New Edition.

  37. 37
    hectorthebat on 16 Nov 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    VH-1 (USA) – Nominations for the 100 Greatest 80s Songs (2006)
    Face (UK) – Singles of the Year

  38. 38
    Musicality on 20 Jan 2020 #

    Quite an annoying, forced song for me.

  39. 39
    Gareth Parker on 23 May 2021 #

    I think Tom’s review is on the money, but I would be leaning towards a 5/10 here.

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