“The Candy Man” — Sammy Davis Jr

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Photo by Ioana Cristiana on Unsplash

“The Candy Man” is one of those songs which never fails to lift your mood, no matter what’s going on in the world.

Many of us remember it fondly from watching the movie “Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory” as children…and perhaps again with our own children and grandchildren. It brings back memories of happy times and safe spaces, being surrounded by love, and smiles on children’s faces.

The “Willie Wonka” movie was adapted from Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” (good family quiz night question there — the movie and the book had two slightly different titles).

Roald Dahl had written lyrics for some of the songs in his original book, but “The Candy Man” was written specifically for the film by a partnership which came about as close as you could get to songwriting royalty in the late 1960s and early 1970s — lyricist Leslie Bricusse and composer Anthony Newley.

While the names of those two British songwriters might not be instantly recognisable, I can guarantee you know many of the songs they have been involved with, either as writers or co-writers, including “Goldfinger” (with music by John Barry to Bricusse and Newley’s lyrics) and “You Only Live Twice” (with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse to John Barry’s composition), “Talk To The Animals” from “Doctor Doolittle” and “Feeling Good”, popularised by Nina Simone and a staple of TV talent show auditions ever since.

Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly wrote across a variety of different styles, covering a range from Shirley Bassey’s soaring vocals on “Goldfinger” to the pensive uncertainty of the Grammy-winning “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” (originally sung by Anthony Newly himself, but later covered by many popular artists, including Sammy Davis Jr who had a hit of his own with the song).

But it’s probably fair to say the emotions Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley deliver in spades for “Willie Wonka”, and particular, in the very memorable “The Candy Man” sequence, are carefree joy and unbridled happiness, the like of which which most adults rarely experience.

The only times most adults get to rediscover those feelings, if they’re lucky, are in their own childhood memories and in the faces of their children and grandchildren…

Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it with dew
Cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two
The Candy Man
Oh, the Candy Man can
The Candy Man can
’Cause he mixes it with love
And makes the world taste good

Although he had a huge hit with the song, Sammy Davis Jr didn’t sing “The Candy Man” in “Willie Wonka”. Vocal duties that day were by British actor Aubrey Woods, who played The Candy Man character in the film.

Anthony Newly reportedly wasn’t terribly impressed by his performance and offered to dub the vocals himself, but the studio refused, even though Newly offered to do it without a fee and to pay for the recording time himself.

It’s fair to say the late Mr Woods didn’t have the vocal prowess of Sammy Davis Jr, but for a song in a movie musical with a group of children, I think he does a pretty decent job.

Ironically, while Anthony Newly thought he’d written a great song, but felt the original performance wasn’t good enough, Sammy Davis Jr didn’t think “The Candy Man” was a great song at first, and only recorded it with extreme reluctance.

However, like a lot of things in life, there’s nothing like having a monster success on your hands to change your opinion about something you’ve done. And if anything was going to change Sammy Davis Jr’s opinion of “The Candy Man”, the three weeks he spent at Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 was probably it.

Combined with his 1972 Grammy nomination for “The Candy Man”, I’m sure Sammy Davis Jr ended up considerably more enthusiastic about the song as time went on, despite his initial misgivings. “The Candy Man” would go on to become one of Sammy Davis Jr’s signature songs for the rest of his career and would turn out to be his only Billboard Number One single.

Sammy Davis Jr was a phenomenal performer — singer, actor, dancer — but he’s one of those people whose reputation has faded somewhat in the 30 years since he passed away.

If you’re of an age, you’ll remember him on the TV chat shows in the 1970s and 80s, telling stories and singing songs. But he doesn’t have the name recognition of a Frank Sinatra or a Tony Bennett these days.

Which is a great shame. Sammy Davis Jr was a tremendous singer. His rendition of “Mr Bojangles” is one of my all-time favourites, as are his performances of “Rhythm Of Life” and “My Funny Valentine”…alongside “The Candy Man”, of course.

You get some idea of how good a singer Sammy Davis Jr was in the live video below.

Although he hams up the song a little too much for my taste, when he’s concentrating on the job in hand, Sammy Davis Jr turns in a studio-quality performance at a live event. The first time I watched that video, I thought someone had matched a studio recording to a live video, but no…every bit of it is live. It’s quite something!

Who can take tomorrow
Dip it in a dream
Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream
The Candy Man
Oh, the Candy Man can

Isn’t that what we all wish, as adults…that somehow all the sorrow we’ve accumulated over the years could be skimmed off the top of our memories, leaving us just the memories of happy times?

If only it was that easy.

More often, we search for vicarious happiness through the happiness of our children and grandchildren. We work hard to keep them safe and happy, to put smiles on their faces and food in their bellies. Their happiness matters more to us than our own happiness. We try our best to guide them on a smoother path through life than the one we took.

In time, we get to find out whether we were successful or not. But in the meantime, we try to plant joy and happiness in our children’s minds as often as we can, and as deeply as we can, so they’ve got fond memories to look back on themselves when they get to our age.

We want nothing more than for them to live a life surrounded by good people and good times, in a world where the sun always shines…at least metaphorically.

For many families, that means huddling around a TV set somewhere when our children are young and watching “Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory” with them.

And for most young people it’s been my privilege to know, one of the highlights of the film is when Aubrey Woods bursts into “The Candy Man”.

Good though that performance is in the film, Sammy Davis Jr makes “The Candy Man” his own in his recording. Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s song was already great, whoever had sung it. Sammy Davis Jr made their song iconic.

Here he is, in both studio and live versions…both delightful in their own way. I hope this performance of “The Candy Man” sparks only fond memories for you…

If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/5yjuIx3UvOKHwLsCuM3DMM

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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