Saturday, August 20, 2022

From The Gary McFarland Treasure Chest: “Hey, Candy Man” by Gloria Lynne

Well, it happened again. Searching for one thing, I found something better. In tracking down the origins of a little-known Bobby Scott song called “Happy Shoes,” I found out the song had its first reading on R&B singer Gloria Lynne’s 1966 album Where It’s At. More on “Happy Shoes” later.

But a scan of the record’s credits revealed a name I know very well. Buried in Where It’s At’s set list is an even lesser-known gem: the only known recording of Gary McFarland’s hypnotically sinewy “Hey, Candy Man.” Recorded on June 14, 1966, with an unknown group of musicians arranged by Luchi De Jesus, “Hey, Candy Man” is pure pop art magic.

The singer Gloria Lynne (1929-2013) never found one part of the success she so richly deserved. Hampered by tragically unscrupulous mismanagement, she possessed a most commanding contralto voice. Coming up in the church and well-versed in gospel, Lynne could hold her own astride, say, Sarah Vaughan in jazz and Aretha Franklin in pop and soul. In other words, she was perfect for Gary McFarland (too bad she never covered “Sack Full of Dreams”).

Known at the time primarily as a ballad singer, Ms. Lynne scored a Top 40 hit in 1964 with “I Wish You Love,” perhaps her most enduring number. She also wrote and sang lyrics for Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” in 1965 – also a hit. The only single pulled from Where It’s At was “Strangers in the Night,” a number-one hit for Frank Sinatra that year. Lynne’s version of the song – which almost sounds like a parody of the tune was backed much better by “Hey, Candy Man” – somehow failed to chart.

Remarkably, no one thought to flip the record. ”Hey, Candy Man” borrows its Latin groove from McFarland’s funky “Pfoofnick,” which appeared on drummer Dannie Richmond’s wonderful yet little-known 1966 Impulse album ”IN” Jazz for the Culture Set. “Pfoofnick” also plays during many of the happiest scenes of Kristian St. Clair’s 2006 documentary film This is Gary McFarland.

Whatever the connection between “Pfoofnick” and “Hey, Candy Man,” both have all the markings of a Tijuana taxi driven by the one and only Gary McFarland. At two minutes and seven seconds, “Hey, Candy Man” doesn’t get much of a chance to make a case for itself. But I think it’s a great nugget of pop fun anyway. What’s more, it makes a great case for Kristian’s claim that Gary was a “jazz legend who should have been a pop star.”

Superbly punctuating all of this is a brass section, alternating trumpet with trombone. The sparingly used trumpet is obviously a nod toward the then-in Tijuana Brass. But the clever trombone counterpoint is, to these ears, very likely the work of Kai Winding – who at the time, like McFarland and Richmond, had an “in” album of his own: The In Instrumentals. Winding’s signature sound is apparent throughout Where It’s At.

McFarland co-wrote “Hey, Candy Man” with Linda Laurie, best known for writing Helen Reddy’s 1973 hit “Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),” and Estelle Levitt, who wrote many hits in the sixties for Herman’s Hermits, Nancy Sinatra and Lulu and scored with Carol Douglas’s “Midnight Love Affair” in 1976. (Guess which decade I was listening to the radio?)

The lyrics are anything but brilliant and amount to little more than several lines. One marvels that three writers are credited here. Smokey Robinson this is not. As sung, Ms. Lynne passionately sketches out the story of an amorous woman whose “candy man” is holding out on her:

Hey-y, candy man (hey, candy man)
Got a little present there for me?
Hey-y, candy man (hey, candy man)
Waiting on you baby patiently.

And hey-y, candy man (hey, candy man)
What’s a lovin’ mama got to do?
Oh-oh, whoa, whoa-ooh, candy man (oh, candy man)
Isn’t all my love enough for you?

You know, it’s party time and you know that I’m willing
To be extra sweet and I feel you come thriilling
Don’t you know how I need you right now…plea-ease.

Hey, hey, hey, hey, candy man (hey, candy man)
Hey, hey, hey, hey-ie candy man (hey candy man)
Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey-ie candy man (hey candy man)
A-hey candy man, a-hey candy man, hey candy man, a-hey hey, hey, hey.

But are we talking love here…or drugs? A case could be made that one’s a metaphor for the other and maybe that’s the point. Of course, “party time” works for either. But while “a little present” makes a stronger case for drugs (unless we’re being ironic), the startling line (for 1966!) “I feel you come thrilling” gets my vote for love – a full decade before Prince!

Ms. Lynne recorded increasingly more soulful records for the next decade or so but more sporadically thereafter. By the late eighties, she was in more jazz-like settings for the Muse and HighNote labels. It was for HighNote she waxed her “swan song” From My Heart to Yours (2007), a disc produced by the estimable Todd Barkan and featuring David “Fathead” Newman.

”Hey, Candy Man” is a hint of what might have been – for Gloria Lynne and Gary McFarland, too.

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