Candy-O is the second studio album by the American rock band the Cars. It was released in 1979 on Elektra Records. Featuring the Top 20 hit "Let's Go" and the minor hit "It's All I Can Do", the album charted 15 places higher than its predecessor on the US Billboard 200 at number three as their debut peaked at number eighteen. The album features cover art by pin-up artist Alberto Vargas.
Unlike the first album, Candy-O was created under a more democratic approach. Ric Ocasek said of this, "When one of my songs goes to the band in barest cassette form, we sit around and talk about it. If I'm outvoted, we don't do it. We almost didn't include 'Double Life' on the new album, it had been dropped. I think everybody in the Cars is open-minded and creative enough that they would do anything – nobody's holding anything back. Everybody appreciates the more radical, experimental kinds of music and likes it. But sometimes, when you're put together with five pieces, things are not as minimal as they could or should be. Everybody's developed a unique personal style, and we rely on their input. If they did it, it's good enough."
Most of the songs on Candy-O were written after the release of The Cars, meaning that most of the leftovers from the first album (including the popular encore "Take What You Want") were scrapped; "Night Spots", a reject from the first album, was still included.
For the album, the band once again worked with Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. Ocasek said of their relationship with the producer, "Well, some of the things on that first album that we thought were a little slick, we toned down on the second, like on the background vocals. But if we were going to rely on the producer we had hired, there was no reason to try and change him. On the second album, it was easier to say, 'Roy, let's not do the multi-tracked harmonies this time.'"
The band's label, Elektra, initially wanted to hold back the release of the album, but the band stood their ground. Ocasek said of this, "At first Elektra wanted to hold it back some, but we told them there was no way, because if they were going to hold that back, they were going to hold us back, and we can't just sit around and be held back." Released as the follow-up to their 1978 hit album The Cars, Candy-O peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200. The album re-entered the charts at No. 179 in 1984. The record was also ranked number 82 on Billboard's "Top Albums of the Year" chart for 1979.
Three singles were lifted from Candy-O: "Let's Go" hit No. 14, making it the first Top 20 Cars single, "It's All I Can Do" peaked at No. 41, barely missing the Top 40, and "Double Life" failed to chart.
The album cover was painted by artist Alberto Vargas, who was known for his paintings of pin-up girls that appeared in Esquire and Playboy magazines in the 1940s through the 1960s. The idea to hire Vargas came from drummer David Robinson, the band's artistic director and a collector of pin-ups. The 83-year-old Vargas had retired several years earlier but was persuaded to take the assignment by his niece, who was a fan of the Cars. The painting, depicting a woman sprawled across the hood of a Ferrari 365 GTC/4, was based on a photo shoot directed by Robinson at a Ferrari dealership. The model, coincidentally named Candy Moore (famous for having played Lucille Ball's onscreen daughter on The Lucy Show), briefly dated Robinson afterward.
Candy-O was positively received by critics. AllMusic critic Greg Prato said that "while the album was not as stellar as its predecessor [The Cars] was, it did contain several classics, resulting in another smash album that solidified the band's standing as one of the most promising new bands of the late '70s." Music critic Robert Christgau said in his review that the album was "cold and thin, shiny and hypnotic, it's what they do best--rock and roll that is definitely pop without a hint of cuteness".
Rolling Stone critic Tom Carson said, "It's almost inevitable that Candy-O, the Cars' second album, doesn't seem nearly as exciting as their first. The element of surprise is gone, and the band hasn't been able to come up with anything new to replace it. Candy-O is an elaborately constructed, lively, entertaining LP that's packed with good things. And it's got a wonderful title. But it's a little too disciplined, a shade too predictable." Hamish Champ, writer of The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, said "With UK producer Roy Thomas Baker once again behind the decks, Ric Ocasek and his colleagues produced a follow-up to their hugely successful debut with more of the same quirky, offbeat songs that had caused such a stir the first time around."
All tracks written by Ric Ocasek.
- Ric Ocasek – rhythm guitar, lead vocals
- Elliot Easton – lead guitar, backing vocals
- Greg Hawkes – keyboards, tenor saxophone, percussion, backing vocals
- Benjamin Orr – bass guitar, lead vocals
- David Robinson – drums, percussion
- The Cars – arrangers
- Roy Thomas Baker – producer
- Geoff Workman – recording, engineer
- George Tutkov – assistant engineer
- George Marino – mastering
- Jeff Albertson – photography
- Ron Coro, Johnny Lee – art direction and design
- David Robinson – cover concept
- Alberto Vargas – cover painting