Even though Bow Wow Wow has performed the song “I Want Candy” hundreds — if not thousands— of times over the past 30 years, bass player Leigh Gorman isn’t close to being sick of it.
“I enjoy playing it every time,” he said. “I don’t understand when I see these bands — ‘Oh, I hate playing our hit songs. It’s so boring, I want to play the new stuff.’ And you go to see the band, and they play their new stuff, and their new stuff’s terrible.”
And, really, why should he turn his back on the band’s most recognizable song? After three decades, it still gets attention (It was ranked No. 8 on VH1’s “One Hit Wonders of the ’80s”), and it’s been featured in numerous movies, including “High Fidelity,” “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Daddy Day Care” and “200 Cigarettes.”
“I feel very fortunate that we’ve had a song that’s lasted this long,” Gorman said.
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Bow Wow Wow is one of five bands performing in That 80s Thing, a retro show at the Madonna Inn Expo Center on Oct. 22. The concert, also featuring The English Beat, Missing Persons, The Fixx and Berlin, will benefit Options Family of Services, which helps people with disabilities live independently.
While the bands in That 80s Thing are mostly known for one or two hits apiece, they’ve each secured a place in the pantheon of memorable ’80s acts.
Bow Wow Wow actually stemmed from yet another ’80s act, Adam Ant. Originally, three members of Bow Wow Wow—Gorman, guitarist Matthew Ashman and drummer David Barbarossa—were with Adam and the Ants. But manager Malcolm McLaren, who also produced the Sex Pistols, suggested they fire Adam Ant and form their own band.
“It was an act of disloyalty on our part,” Gorman confesses. “I was conscious of that and not happy about it. And I’m still not proud of it. But I also felt that Adam might be cool now, but he could turn on me and fire me in an instant. Whereas it’s a lot harder to fire someone when you’re a founding member and you’re one of the people that has the ideas for the music.”
Yet, without Adam Ant, whom McLaren continued to manage, the band lacked a lead singer.
“We were just asking everyone,” Gorman said. “We auditioned 200 people, I think.”
But it was Dave Fishel, a friend of McLaren’s, who found their singer — a 14-year-old girl he’d heard singing behind the counter of a North London dry cleaner.
“She came down and sang some songs,” Gorman said. “And we were like, ‘Wow — this little girl can really blast out. She has no fear.’ There just seemed to be something about her.”
The Anglo-Burmese girl, named Myint Myint Aye, would eventually change her name to Annabella Lwin, and she would become the band’s sole singer.
For a short while, anyway.
After a year, Ashman would bring in a second singer, a colorful character then known as Lieutenant Lush. Lush was one of a crowd of people who hung around a fashionable club called The Blitz, where he worked as a coat check person.
“Matthew started telling me about him: ‘This guy is going to be a star. And he can be a star with us, or he can be a star without us. I think he can be a star with us.’ ”
With McLaren’s approval, Lush joined the band for a few shows. But after a falling out, he left, eventually changed his name to Boy George and formed Culture Club.
Later, in his autobiography, “Take It Like a Man,” Boy George wrote that Gorman hated him on sight.
“Years later, I said, ‘George, why did you write that in your book? I never hated you on sight. You were a big laugh — good fun, great company, outrageous.’ And he said, ‘That was just the impression I got.’ ”
While both Culture Club and Adam Ant went on to success in the ’80s, Bow Wow Wow developed its own sound, characterized by African beats and influenced by Gorman’s classical training.
“Bow Wow Wow had the drive of punk and the complication, I suppose, or the musicianship of jazz,” said Gorman, who joins Lwin as the only original members of the band (Ashman died of diabetes complications in 1995; Barbarossa chose to go in another direction).
While many acts in the New Wave era were turning to electronic drums and synthesizers, Bow Wow Wow stuck to a more traditional format.
“I knew one thing about technology and music,” Gorman said. “It dates you. I didn’t want that. I wanted us to have a sound that would last forever. And the only way to do that was to play bass, drums and guitar and have no keyboards.”
Still, their American RCA label wanted something more before it would support the band in a tour of the U.S.
“They said, basically, we’re not letting you here until you do an American radio-friendly hit,” Gorman recalled. “So me and Malcolm were talking one night on the phone, saying, ‘What the eff are we gonna do?’ So I go, ‘Well, let’s just do a cover, and we’ll do a bubblegum song.’”
Steve Leeds, now an executive at Sirius Satellite Radio, gave them the idea to cover “I Want Candy,” a 1965 hit by the Strangeloves.
Bow Wow Wow tinkered with the song’s structure, performed the Bo Diddley beat on bass instead of drums and filmed a video for the song in Venice Beach and Death Valley.
While the 1982 single wasn’t a huge chart buster in the U.S., heavy MTV rotation made it a staple of the ’80s. And it’s helped Bow Wow Wow make a career of playing music.
“It’s still being played on movies, on commercials,” Gorman said. “I have no complaints about that song.”
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.