I’ve always been fascinated by album art. A single twelve inch square image conveys everything you need to know about the artist and the music contained inside the folded cardboard.
And sometimes, it does nothing more than intrigue. Like this one hanging on my wall.
People are always asking about her, so here’s a little background;
Candy-O is the second studio album from the American new-wave band The Cars.
The Album cover was painted by pin-up artist Alberto Vargas with a technique that combines watercolors and airbrush. Vargas gained fame for his illustrations of scantily-clad young ladies in the pages of 1940s Esquire magazines; many of which were used as inspiration for the nose art on WW2 bombers.
Unfortunately, his artwork was also a pain in the ass for Esquire. The magazine was denied a second class postal permit by the US Post Office for distributing his “pornography”. Esquire took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Even though they won the case the magazine still dropped Vargas as a contributing artist; keeping the usage rights to his proper name, “Varga”.
In 1957 Playboy magazine published a retrospective article about Vargas that prompted Hugh Heffner to personally reach out to the struggling artist and offer him a job as an illustrator. From ’57 to ’74 Vargas’s work blossomed and he painted 152 paintings for Heff and Playboy magazine – only now with an “S” added to the end of his name. Sadly, it was his wife’s death in 1974 that forced him into a deep depression – she had been his model, his business manager and his muse in every way – and he retired from painting.
The idea to hire Vargas for the Candy-O album cover came from Cars drummer David Robinson, he was the band’s artistic director and also an avid collector of vintage pin-ups. Robinson had recently been given a copy of Vargas’s 1978 autobiography and was surprised to learn that the artist was still alive and living in Los Angeles. Of course the 83-year-old Vargas had no interest in a rock-n-roll project (How could he have known that this would be his most recognized piece of work?) and had to be persuaded to take the job by his niece, who was a huge Cars fan.
Vargas selected a young dancer named Nancy Beth as his model and suggested a dance position Nancy Beth referred to as the “rose petal”; her arm draped demurely across her forehead and eyes like a petal. Unfortunately, Nancy Beth wasn’t prepared for the modeling session to be in the nude – or semi-nude; there was, after all, a sheer leotard but nothing else. (This was a step-up for Vargas models. In the past they had always been completely nude with clothes only added to the final portraits). When she declined, Elektra Records hired actress-model-whatever Candy Moore – the name “Candy” was purely a coincidence. She had been a child actress and even played Lucile Ball’s daughter, Chris Carmichael, on The Lucy Show in the early ’60s. To create a photo that Vargas could use as a guide, Robinson set up a photo shoot at a Ferrari dealership in Beverly Hills and had Candy drape herself across the hood of a Ferrari 365 GTC.
There must have been quite a lot of chemistry that day because she and Robinson dated for a little while after.
I found a short interview with David Robinson about the experience.
It should come as no surprise that Vargas’s first version of the painting was rejected by the record label. Apparently, there wasn’t much of Candy’s anatomy left to the imagination….. if you know what I mean. The old man was used to illustrating for X-rated magazines, not for record bins at Tower Records.
Candy-O was released on June 13, 1979. Sex sells, especially in the music industry, and the album cover garnered way more attention that the actual music – which, in my humble opinion…. is just ok. (It’s my least favorite Cars album)
There’s no doubt that it was Vargas’s buxom babe – there’s no mention of the band, or even the album’s name, on the cover. In fact, there’s barely even a car; just an outline. – that helped Candy-O go platinum in eight weeks.
Shortly after the release, Vargas, then in his 80’s, was invited by the band to see them in concert. When asked about the artist’s impression of the band, Robinson said, “He just said it wasn’t his kind of music. But he was impressed because he could see that we worked really hard and he said there were beautiful girls all over the place.
He liked that very much.”
I’m sure he did.
How funny that you would post this. My son has been posting what he calls “the social distancing “ album of the day and yesterday was Heartbeat City by the Cars. With the song of the day, the title track Heartbeat City. Now I feel like I just read a Paul Harvey article with the rest of the story!
Small world, Hugh? The Cars has long been one of my favorite bands. They were heavily influenced by Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Believe it or not…
Ha! I loved that album cover too! I was working at a Peaches store when it came out in the summer of 1979. Remember Peaches stores would post huge blown up 6′ square covers? They would use a slide projector to cast them onto a board and an artist would hand paint them. They called them “art boards.” We employees could buy them when they came down. I should have bought this as well as several others but they would not have fit in my car at the time.
I remember those, on the side of Tower Records in LA. AND in the movie Xanadu, that’s what Sonny does for a living…. of course, until he meets Olivia Neutron Bomb and she changes his destiny.
Great piece! I love learning about these kind of stories. So sad to hear you’re not a fan of Candy-O! It’s one of my top 3. Are you more of a Heartbeat City person?
Hi Mandy. I love learning about the behind the scenes goings on as well; how things came to be. I’ve been told that it’s hard to watch an old movie with me in silence because I pepper in trivia throughout. Heartbeat city is a great album but it sounds so…. produced. Mutt Lang, ya know. It’s hard to pic a favorite, but I probably like the first album to most. It’s just sounds so fresh. Every time I listen to it.
Mandy…I put the Candy-0 lp right up there just behind the debut record. a true cars original with awesome tunes. one of the best for sure.
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Funny, I was watching “Night of the Grizzly” and was googling the actors, and there was Candy. Interesting.
Candy-O your LEAST favorite? By far their BEST album is Heartbeat City, right?
I know Heartbeat City was their most commercially successful, it just seems so over-produced for my tastes. Although I do love “Drive”. (Mutt Lang certainly knows how to sell Def Leopard.) My favorite is by far the Cars first album. Give it a listen sometime. The guitar riffs and Buddy Holly-esque vocals are just perfection.
Hi I have a a copy of the LP record kandio and above the printer signature Alberto Vargas has signed this signature off you know and I’m just wondering I’ve had this for over 30 years and I’m thinking about the process of investigating selling it do you have any suggestions about where I can go ahead and get some you know putting it information pertaining to estimated value of it based on the point that it’s a very popular album cover and also you know in a signature of Alberto Vargas if you have any input please give me responsible
Hi Lawrence, wish I could help. I think Ebay might be your best bet. You might make a connection with a seller there who has more of an idea of value, and desirability. Just check to see what similar items are selling for.