NOTE: This is a pre-production transcript and may not match the final show precisely.
Hello! And welcome to the next episode of How Good It Is, the show that takes a closer look at songs from the rock and roll era, and we check out some of the stories behind those songs, and the artists who made them famous.
My name is Claude Call, and I’m up late tonight, but I’m doing it for you.
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I had a couple of people tell me that the trivia question from Episode 122 was kind of easy. Maybe. Or maybe you’re just getting better at it, did you think about that? I think the answer to this one is kind of easy—in that realm of “you either know it or you don’t”—but most people don’t know the backstory attached. So here it is for ye: What band from the 1960s got their original name from a Muddy Waters song?
I’ll have that answer, and a little bit more, at the end of the show.
I should note, incidentally, that this episode was based on a request by my friend Paul Kondo, the host of the Podcast Gumbo podcast. Between the podcast and the weekly newsletter, Paul brings you a curated bunch of suggestions with regard to podcasts you could be listening to. How he finds the time to listen to them all is beyond me, but he does a fabulous job and he has been a friend to the show multiple times now, and the next time we’re in each other’s orbits, I think I need to buy him a beer or three. Anyway, he gave me a little bit of freedom to choose, so today we’re looking at “Candy Everybody Wants,” the 1992 hit by the band 10,000 Maniacs.
Now, one of the things I like about Natalie Merchant-era Maniacs is their habit of subverting a song by giving you a melody that doesn’t automatically go with the lyrics. It puts me in mind of this Steve Martin clip from 1977:
And while Steve Martin couldn’t do it, 10,000 Maniacs could. They didn’t do it all the time, but it was fun when they did. And today we’re talking about “Candy Everybody Wants,” which is one of those songs.
[CANDY EVERYBODY WANTS]
“Candy Everybody Wants” was the second single from their album Our Time In Eden, which the band knew would be Merchant’s last one with the group. But it was definitely an amicable parting of the ways; in fact bass player Steve Gustafson said in an interview with songfacts dot com that knowing she was leaving made it a bit of a freeing experience for everybody involved, and producer Paul Fox was an important part of keeping everybody’s energy up and moving positively. Merchant stayed with the band for about a year because she didn’t want to leave them in the lurch. So the album was released in September of 1992, but Merchant performed with them at the MTV Inaugural Ball for President Bill Clinton in January of 1993 and then again on MTV Unplugged in April. It wasn’t until August that she formally announced her departure from the band, saying she (quote) “didn’t want art by committee anymore.” But by that point the rest of 10,000 Maniacs were comfortable with asking Mary Ramsey to replace Natalie Merchant, and for her performing partner John Lombardo to join the band as well. So, no harm, no foul. Now, the release of the MTV Unplugged album complicated things legally for them a little bit, because their cover of Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” became a hit in February of 1994, but that only meant that 10,000 Maniacs couldn’t use that name on tour for a bit until the legal dust settled.
Okay, so let’s come back to “Candy Everybody Wants.” The song is basically about the media, and television in particular, appeals to our baser instincts by feeding us a constant stream of sex and violence. The “candy” in this case would be the images that we’re watching. It’s not especially healthy but we’re still having a tough time resisting it. And, as I mentioned, the melody, written by keyboardist Dennis Drew, is deliberately perky, to contrast with Natalie Merchant’s rather cutting lyrics. Listen again to those words: “If lust and hate is the candy, if blood and love taste so sweet, give ‘em what they want.”
In fact, one of the highlights of this song is the brass and woodwinds, provided by James Brown’s band. While they’re pretty breezy and even kind of chipper, what really struck me was the horn player in the second iteration of the bridge. Listen to what he’s doing there. I’m not a musician but I’m pretty sure what you’re hearing is Fred Wesley’s trombone:
It’s at this point that we also hear Robert Buck’s guitar shining through just a little bit more, with some individual notes poking through the mix. Paul Fox did a fine job of producing this album, and this song in particular, but you also have to give some credit to Dennis Drew’s setting up the song to just carry you along from one segment to the next.
The record was released late in March of 1993, shortly before the MTV session, and to Merchant’s amusement it managed to climb to Number 67 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it was Top Five on their Alternative Airplay chart. So it managed to get a bunch of radio play, even if it didn’t sell as well as some of their other singles. Merchant found the song’s popularity funny, of course, because of its satirical message. And given that it’s about the media manipulating people…well, clearly that message wasn’t necessarily getting through to them.
And it’s worth noting the video for this song, because it’s visually quite striking. The video was directed by Jeffrey Plansker, who had a background in advertising, which made hiring him a shrewd move. The video basically hammers you with a lot of images, many of them in an advertising style, interspersed with Natalie Merchant singing the song in different outfits and locations. Now, Merchant has always been reluctant to capitalize on her sexuality, and there were frequently struggles with the label to get her to wear more form-fitting outfits when she appeared in the videos. She absolutely refused to do so, although there are several shots of her dancing in a black dress that’s very low-cut, and early in the video there’s a shot that kind of lingers on that area of the dress. But she does rock a green ballgown and a dark blue pinstripe suit. And her almost constantly looking directly at the camera with that huge smile of hers is definitely her own brand of sexy.
And while “Candy Everybody Wants” was not one of their better-charting singles, according to Online Radio Box dot com it’s the band’s fifth most-played song on the radio, a few spots ahead of their biggest US single, the Unplugged version of “Because the Night.” Curiously, the studio version of that song is the one that gets the most airplay these days.
[OFF THE BEAT]
I only know of one cover of the song, and that would be this one from 2014, recorded by an acapella group by the name of Off The Beat. Off The Beat is a collegiate group from the University of Pennsylvania, and they’re pretty huge on the college acapella circuit. And if you didn’t know that that’s a thing, then you need to watch more episodes of The West Wing. I direct you to Season 4, Episode 11, an episode called “Holy Night.”
And with that weird finish to the main story, now it’s time to answer today’s trivia question. Back on Page Two I asked you
to identify the 1960s band that got their original name from a Muddy Waters song. I kinda hoped that the word “original” threw you a little bit, because they did change the name slightly. But of course we’re talking about the Rolling Stones.
[ROLLIN’ STONE BLUES]
Here’s the story according to Keith Richards. Back in 1962 when they were literally just a few weeks old, they’d done a couple of interval shows, which are performances done during intermissions, and they managed to get a gig getting their own show in a London pub. So to generate publicity they called a local news magazine to place an ad. Lead guitarist Brian Jones was handling the band’s business at the time, so he made the phone call. And when the woman on the other end of the phone call asked him, “OK, and who’s playing?”, well…that was a problem. They hadn’t really thought about it. And in those days, you were charged by the minute for the phone calls. So Jones happened to look down and see a Muddy Waters album lying face down on the floor, so that the track list was facing up. And Track One was “Rollin’ Stone Blues”. So Jones grabbed that and said, “Rollin’ Stones.”
But here’s the thing, because there’s always a thing, isn’t there. The way it’s spelled on the album, and the way they originally billed themselves, was a the Rollin’—N, apostrophe—Stones. Some months later, when they got their record contract, the label insisted that the G be put back on the end, and the name RollinG Stones was born.
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Next time around, we’re going to find out How Good It Is when we seek Paradise by the Dashboard Light
Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you next time.