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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Notes From the Old School: Oh Oh Candy-O

Those who were Tower Records habitués can hopefully relate to this little nugget from the past.  There was a time when music stores were not just emporiums of sound, but cultural hubs where like minds could congregate, future artists could refine their knowledge and loners could find those special voices who spoke their language on record.  You never knew when the next Jeff Beck, Buddy Rich, Larry Graham or Rob Halford was going to be proverbially birthed from the annals of record shelves and listening booths.   Meanwhile, profiteers sat back and watched vinyl (and later, cassettes and CDs) fly out with the chunks and tings of old cash registers adding a synthetic, commercial glaze overtop whatever happened to dominating the store loudspeakers.

In Baltimore, we used to have a monster-sized music store that's long gone the way of Colecovision and Frosty root beer, the Record Theatre.  About half the size of a Tower Records and maybe one floor of the colossal Virgin Megastores (both also long gone), the Record Theatre was still the place for tunes in our area, along with Waxy Maxy's, but the latter was located in a different part of town. 

I remember when Record Theatre was flourishing, it was filled with wall-to-wall people, much like the Virgin superplex in Times Square.  I miss both dearly, albeit for me, the smaller homeboy record shop like you'd find in High Fidelity or Pretty in Pink is truly where I'd find myself home.  In Baltimore today, that distinction belongs to Sound Garden and Record and Tape Traders, two music shacks still holding on in tough times and still experiencing a respectable influx of never-say-die tune freaks.

Back to Record Theatre, however, the place seemed like a castle to young eyes such as mine in the late seventies and early eighties.  Being stationed in an urban location, I always thought the owners were shrewd in catering to all tastes, even if R&B sold more than rock 'n roll (albeit the Stones sold more than anyone, period), but that wasn't always the norm depending on what time of day diverse pockets of clientele would show up.  At one point, the Record Theatre hired some punks and metalheads who worked certain shifts and they hijacked the store stereo to spin hardcore and thrash.  I tended to show up during their shifts on purpose, just so I could hear new things I identified with and to have someone who knew what made me tick behind the register.

Before all that, the store was supported mostly by soul and pop sales, thus walking in would submit you to a lot of Rod Stewart, Luther Vandross, Donna Summer and even Kiss.  I remember buying "I Was Made For Lovin' You" on 45 there when I was a kid and my folks had stopped at the store with an uncle of mine.  I can't remember what they were after, Conway Twitty or Willie Nelson for I all know.  The Record Theatre had the area's best country selection, go figure.  It was one of the few times I'd been allowed to venture on my own and since I was a Kiss loyalist at the time, I had to have that 45.  I'd been teased by one of my cousins-in-law for picking up "I Was Made For Lovin' You" because Kiss had done the unthinkable by going disco.  In hindsight, they were right for harassing me, but I digress.

What was eye-popping about Record Theatre aside from the neon piping along the perimeter that was precursor to the tubular glitz of eighties' arcades, was the giant framed album cover art mounted around the circumference of the place.  They collectively propagated as much of a pseudo pop art gallery of its time as they were glaring advertisements, yet many of those hoisted pieces never came down until the store went under in the late eighties.  Some of those remained up for nearly a decade and one of those eternal holdouts was The Cars' Candy-O.

If I owned a record shop today, I would have Candy-O along with Roxy Music's Country Life, Roger Waters' The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking and Robert Palmer's Pressure Drop high up on the wall of my hypothetical store.  Whitesnake's Lovehunter would certainly be a temptation, but it does cross into actual porn territory.  Call me a pervert if you must, it's all good, but I maintain that each of these risqué album covers are boundary-pushing fine art of the modern age.  The art world has been historically been consumed with interpreting the nude in poetic manners, and while Roxy, Waters and Palmer's album covers contain nudity, they're reasonably tasteful.  Appositely, the nudity is merely suggestive in the case of Candy-O, and that one fascinated me the most as a kid.  Hell, it continues to titillate me today.

Alberto Vargas gave us a rock 'n roll masterpiece on Candy-O that sums up the entire ethos of the genre upon the hood of a prototype street beastie with its alluring tamer spread across the hood.  Today I find fascination with "Candy-O's" gravity-defying bosom that hardly seems logical in such a perpendicular position, not without one of those missile-cone bras of the fifties.  The sheer fabric Vargas enshrouds his honeypot muse in suggests she's full-on beneath and as a young boy, I was completely entranced by it, slightly exaggerated or not.

It was the fiery red hair and the shadowy belly button that first attracted me at nine years old.  I knew vaguely that men and women and boys and girls had different anatomy and that (in most cases) they were drawn to each other.  It wasn't until I'd learned more about sex itself later that year after tripping over a stray copy of Hustler magazine when the rest of Candy-O's attributes became apparent to my greedy eyes.  As I got older and able to process desire for consummation with the other sex, I wanted Candy-O.  Who didn't?  The Cars had scored a home run by flashing Vargas' fleshly beacon call overtop their wax, and that's before listeners could dive into "Let's Go," "Double Life," "Lust For Kicks," "Got a Lot On My Head," "Dangerous Type" and the title track. 

It was vintage marketing.  Sex sells better than a glittering testimonial from God Himself.  The 1978 self-titled album had been such a powerhouse that Candy-O was going to be a hit by attrition.  The Cars merely sweetened the deal for one of their future classics by thrusting a smoking hot aphrodisiac into the package.

When I first beheld Candy-O on the upper tier of the Record Theatre, that disco Kiss slab in my paw suddenly grew icky.  I felt a then-unfathomable urge to betray my kabuki heroes and beeline for The Cars on the sales racks.  My mom, being ever vigilant while loosening the leash, did a beeline of her own for me once she'd seen what had ensnared my attention.  "Eyes down, honey," she'd told me in a gentle voice and steered me away from Candy-O's svelte and sleek invitation.  Kiss remained in my hands and thus came home with me, paid for with my dollar-a-week allowance.  Yes, I remember when 45's were only 99 cents, much less remembering them at all.

The more frequently we attended the Record Theatre as a family, it became a bit of a sport for me to sneak passing glances at Candy-O.  My mom knew all the time what I was doing, and it's to her credit she'd thrown the boundary lines at me while my sexual hormones were starting unravel by the time I hit age 11.  I think it was well-smart of her to hold me in check and now as a father, I hide all of the album covers I mentioned earlier from my son.  He's not yet ready for any of that, but I'll understand wholeheartedly when someday I catch him trying to sneak a peek at Candy-O and that bare-bottomed one-night-stand from Robert Palmer's voguish playboy days.

When the Record Theatre announced it was closing, I was in my late teens and hitting the place on a regular basis.  Some of the routine customers were being offered pieces of the store to keep as mementos.  You can bet what I asked for when they asked me if I wanted something.  She was still there in her glory on the high end of the wall, oozing overtop the jazz section as she always had since I'd first set foot in the place.  I've always loved that dichotomy, such a jazzy chick spilling rock 'n roll wantonness overtop a style of music that's subliminally sex-driven instead of outright sleazy.  When I asked if I could have Candy-O, I was given a laugh and told, "She's already claimed, Ray, sorry."  Instead, they sent me out with an album promo cutout for Elvis Costello's Spike, still a couple months ahead of its official release.  That was kinda cool, actually.  It gave me a taste of my future, having access to music in advance.

Like the eighth track on Candy-O, you can't hold on too long to much of anything and nowadays whenever I pass the exit from the beltway that used to lead to Record Theatre, I routinely sigh.  Nobody but me knows why I do it, but I miss the hell out of the place and I miss that giant Candy-O wall mount.  She was my first adolescent fantasy.  Blondie told me to call her over and over from my turntable, but Candy-O summoned me, if you will.  I used to have innocent crushes on Barbara Eden and Catherine Bach prior to, but Candy-O was there to prompt my first wet dream.  When I think about it, that gal popped my cherry long before the real event occurred.  Candy-O, I needed you so, apparently.

Listening to Candy-O on CD doesn't have quite the same verve as spinning on it vinyl.  Somehow, the turntable rolls a little extra revolution as if by naughty instinct and Candy-O's tunes sound sweatier on slab than on the digital transfer, "It's All I Can Do," "Night Spots," "Shoo Be Doo," "Got a Lot On My Head," "Double Life" and "Candy O" being the biggest distinctions.  I could be wrong, but I think Candy-O prefers things faster and wetter in that respect, ruby rings, sharp stilettos and all.  Ric Ocasek would say she's a lot like you...

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