This was originally recorded in 1965 by a group called The Strangeloves. The group was actually 3 producers from New York who put this song together and made up a story about the band. They claimed to be from Australia, and said they were shepherds who got rich by crossbreeding sheep. The story made them sound much more exotic than the truth, and this hit #11 in the US.
When The Strangeloves recorded this, it started out as a cover of the song "Bo Diddley." They made it into an original with the help of songwriter Bert Berns, who wrote "Twist And Shout
" as well as songs for The Drifters and Van Morrison. The distinctive Bo Diddley beat remained the focus of the song.
Bow Wow Wow was put together by Malcolm McLaren, who is famous for creating The Sex Pistols. The lead singer was Annabelle Lwin, who came to England from Burma when she was 5. When McLaren discovered her, she was 14 and working in a dry cleaner. She had the look he wanted, so he teamed her with former members of Adam And The Ants to form the band.
Bow Wow Wow came across this when producer Kenny Laguna was brought in to work with them. Laguna had recently helped Joan Jett establish herself as a solo artist and wanted to concentrate on working with her, but Joan thought he should do it, so Kenny agreed to produce their album. Laguna: "I went to Florida and they flew Bow Wow Wow from England. They had some great songs, but I didn't hear the hit. That pissed them off. My deal was, I would produce them, but I would bring one song to the table. I had a couple of ideas, I finally talked them into doing 'I Want Candy.'
After talking Bow Wow Wow into recording this, Laguna realized he didn't have a copy of the song and didn't know the lyrics. There was no easy way to get the original song (this was before the Internet), so he called a friend who got him in touch with Richard Gottehrer, one of the producers who wrote and recorded this with The Strangeloves. Richard was cutting the song "Vacation" with The Go-Gos when Kenny called him. Kenny explained that he was in a bind and asked Richard if he remembered "I Want Candy," and fortunately, he remembered every word and helped Kenny through the song by singing the melody over the phone. Said Kenny, "I learned the song, then I took what I had gotten over the telephone and I recorded it on a little tape recorder. Then I went in the studio and taught it to the band Bow Wow Wow. We cut it and learned it right on the spot. I've never compared it to the original."
Laguna almost left out the guitar part that makes up the intro of the song because he couldn't remember it. After completing the basic track without the guitar, he called back Richard Gottehrer, who sang him the guitar part and made sure Kenny knew it was a very important part of the song.
Laguna: "Richard's making a hit record with the Go-Go's, I'm in there making a hit record with Bow Wow Wow, and Joan Jett was playing the Sportatorium in Florida. That's when the women were exploding."
The album title was a reference to the Mohawk hairstyles the band wore.
The photo used on the single was a recreation of Manet's 1863 painting "Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe" (Lunch on the Grass). The photo was taken when Annabelle Lwin was 15, which caused some controversy because she was naked. Malcolm McLaren wanted to use the photo on their first album, but Lwin's mother brought charges against him for exploiting a minor. For the US version of the cover, Lwin was wearing a dress in the photo.
Since this was originally written for a male singer, they had to change the gender. It became "I know a guy who's tough but sweet. When he worked with Joan Jett, Laguna had Joan switch the gender on songs like "I Love Rock And Roll" and "Do You Wanna Touch Me," which were previously recorded with male singers.
Laguna continued working with Joan Jett, but this was the last time he worked with Bow Wow Wow. Said Kenny, "I didn't get to do the next record, they were angry with me for bringing them a bubblegum song." (Thanks to Kenny Laguna for talking to us about this song. To learn more about Kenny, check out www.joanjett.com.)
This turned out to be Bow Wow Wow's only hit. The next year, lead singer Annabella Lwin left for a solo career and the remaining members changed their name to Chiefs Of Relief.