Whatever Happened to Fun… is hands down one of the 25 greatest pop albums ever issued – right up there with the best of the Beatles, Beach Boys, Big Star, Badfinger, and whoever else is considered definitively “pop”. Yet it never makes anyone’s power pop best-of list – probably because even if you are one of the 12 people who’ve actually heard the record, you might not be sure that “power pop” is quite the right category for this late, great band. Well, it is, actually, but still somehow Candy seems out of place in power pop discussions – their image pure Sunset Strip hair metal and their Raspberries fixation at least five years out of date in the heart of the Reagan Era. If you were a self-respecting headbanger in 1985 and somehow found a copy of Whatever Happened to Fun… in your possession, you would surely have laughed it off as wussy AM radio fluff unsuitable for even your little sister. If you were a power pop fan in 1985, you probably had one look at the LP cover, took Candy for a second-rate W.A.S.P., and moved up the record rack in hopes that Paul Collins had just come out with a new solo album. Is it any wonder that Whatever Happened to Fun… tanked so severely that today there exists almost zero evidence that the album was ever released? I generally try to shy away from writing about records that are nearly impossible to obtain, but I have to make an exception for Candy. Whatever Happened to Fun… really is that good. And I can say with complete confidence that should you go to the farthest extremes (i.e. selling an internal organ, hitchhiking across the continent, breaking open your kid’s piggy bank, or prostituting yourself to a toe fetishist) to acquire it, you will not be disappointed.
Historians sometimes remember Candy as a “hair band”. But with Wally Bryson credited as musical director and Raspberries’ hit-maker Jimmy “Teeth” Ienner producing, Whatever Happened to Fun… was hardly going to be confused for the new Motley Crue record. Candy, for all their revivalist power pop and glam leanings, somehow fashioned a sound that was not-at-all stuck in the ‘70s. In fact, Whatever Happened to Fun… sounds so very 1985 that I feel like I’m 14 again every time I hear it. There’s something about this record that encapsulates how it felt to be young in the early-to-mid-‘80s. It’s got the innocent, bittersweet tenor of an ‘80s teen movie – oozing an adolescent melodrama that’s endearing and even a little inspiring. It’s hard to hear “Weekend Boy” or “Kids in the City” and not imagine the sort of youth who was supposed to buy the record – a wide-eyed teen, misunderstood at school, misunderstood at home, his hair big, his dreams even bigger, in love with some girl he could never have, riding in a car with his friends on a Friday night, the top down, the stereo cranked up loud, and life’s possibilities seemingly endless. “First Time” may not have played over the closing credits of some long-lost John Cusack teen comedy, but it sure as hell could have. It also could have been the prom theme at any American high school in the spring of ’86 had Candy’s promotion been better. Singer Kyle Vincent, who would go on in later years to become Barry Manilow’s favorite recording artist, briefly serve as lead singer of the Bay City Rollers, and be labeled by Goldmine as the “crown prince of soft pop”, wasn’t exactly Bret Michaels. His plaintive touch on vocals gives Whatever Happened to Fun… its heart and soul, while Gilby Clarke (later of Guns N’ Roses fame) imbues the band’s bubblegum hooks with just enough guitar punch to merit Candy its borderline association with L.A. metal. The melodies, penned by future Electric Angel Jonathan Daniel, are nothing short of magnificent.
It’s kind of a cliché to say that an album sounds like a greatest hits compilation, but sometimes the cliché is true. Whatever Happened to Fun… was Candy’s first and only album. And if the band had to be short-lived, at least it managed to pack a career’s worth of should-have-been hits into its sole issue. Silly filler (“Turn It Up Loud”) and over-reaching stabs at epics (“Last Radio Show”) aside, it’s pretty much wall to wall smashes here. Melodies and harmonies prevail, and the massive hooks never stop. And if the world, in 1985, didn’t quite know what to make of the band’s Sweet meets Bay City Rollers meets Rick Springfield on the Sunset Strip aesthetic, clearly some people were listening. You just can’t deny Candy’s influence on the bubblegum glam sub-scene of late ‘90s punk rock, when bands like American Heartbreak and the Beat Angels (produced by Gilby Clarke!) ruled the school. Today, the very question “Whatever happened to fun?” seems far more appropriate than it did in 1985. Given the prevailing themes of angst, self-loathing, family dysfunction, and rage that have dominated “serious” rock since that dreaded year 1991, the “problems” chronicled in yesteryear’s adolescent anthems may now seem laughable. Yet even in this age when the taste envelope is constantly pushed and teenage sex is as casual and emotionally insignificant as buying a pack of gum, falling in love and coming of age are still themes that resonate with a massive audience. It’s why Taylor Swift has sold a gazillion records, and it’s why Candy’s music has held up so well. And even if the trials and tribulations of the likes of John Bender, Lane Meyer, and Stefen Djordjevic seem a little hokey today, we still watch their movies and love every minute. If the musical tastes of John Hughes had been a little more mass appealing and a lot less rich kid faux alternative, Candy surely could have had a song in one of his movies. Fuck Simple Minds! “American Kix” would have been a great closing song for The Breakfast Club.