Soul Serenade: Candy & The Kisses, “The 81″
Dance crazes. There were a lot of them in the ’60s. Chubby Checker sparked a national frenzy with his version of “The Twist,” which was originally recorded by Hank Ballard & the Midnighters. Joey Dee & the Starliters had a variation called “The Peppermint Twist” that got a lot of attention. The Miracles sang about “Mickey’s Monkey,” and the Orlons scored with “The Watusi,” which was second only to “The Twist” when it came to ’60s dance crazes. The Olympics, the Marathons, the Jive Five, and Ike and Tina Turner all celebrated the “Hully Gully” in one way or another.
For awhile there, it seemed as if inventing a new dance craze, or even just singing about it, was a direct ticket to the top of the charts. But the nation lost its innocence when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and shortly after that the Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion troops appeared on our shore. Whether it was because of bad timing, or simply bad luck, some dance records just didn’t take off as they might have a year or two early. That was the sad fate experienced by a vocal group called Candy & the Kisses, who hailed from Port Richmond, NY. The group was led by Candy Nelson, and included her sister Suzanne, and friend Jeanette Johnson.
They started out as the Symphonettes, but never did any recording under that name. Their first single, “After I Cry” b/w “Let the Good Times Roll,” was released by R&L Records in 1963 bearing the new Candy & the Kisses moniker. Let’s just say it didn’t set the charts on fire, but was popular in the few areas that it was played.
By the time 1964 rolled around, Candy & the Kisses were recording for Cameo Records. It was that year that they released their most successful record. “The 81″ had a lot going for it. The song was written by Kenny Gamble and Jerry Ross. The flip side, “Two Happy People,” was written by Leon Huff and Cindy Scott. Eventually Gamble and Huff got together and became writing and producing legends, but their time hadn’t come yet. The upbeat shuffle didn’t quite crack the Top 40, settling in the 50s. “The 81″ dance craze was pretty much limited to its Philadelphia origins and never took off nationally. The next Candy & the Kisses single was Phil Spector’s “Soldier Baby (of Mine),” but circumstances beyond the group’s control killed the record, and its failure meant the end of their deal with Cameo.
Candy & the Kisses moved on to Scepter Records in 1965, and once again seemed to hit the jackpot when they were assigned to a writing team that include Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. They put out some great records under that arrangement, including “Keep on Searchin’,” “Sweet and Lovely,” “Out in the Streets Again,” “I’ll Settle for You,” “Mr. Creator,” and “Are You Trying to Get Rid of Me Baby,” but chart success continued to elude them.
By 1968 Candy & the Kisses were recording for Decca Records, and it was there that they released their final single, “Chains of Love.” Again, no sale. Candy decided that she’d had enough and retired. Suzanne and Jeanette brought in a new lead vocalist, Beryl Martin, changed their name to Sweet Soul, and released one single, “Oh No, Oh No,” on Mercury Records in 1969. When that one flopped, what was left of Candy & the Kisses called it quits.
A few years later “The Hustle” became a dance craze, as celebrated on Van McCoy’s record. Ric Silver invented something called the Electric Slide in 1976, and it remains popular at dances to this day. But it wasn’t the same. The country seems to have moved past the time when we can all be united by a dance step. We are the worse for it. And what of “The 81″? It was as good a record as any of the others, and just as much fun as a dance. It may have been forgotten by the public at large, but it’s fondly remembered by soul music aficionados and dancers all over the world.