Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #8 in May 1998
Six years after Slanted and Enchanted, the pop charts in America reflected Pavement’s influence at last. Listen to John Wozniak’s potato chip-dry delivery of the lyrics while the instruments clatter, mixed as a respectable din. But in Marcy Playground’s massive 1998 hit the comparisons go to farce without stopping at tragedy. Stephen Malkmus gave us, “I saw your girlfriend and she’s eating her finger like they’re just another meal”; Wozniak gave us, “And then there she was/like double cherry pie,” again, recited in that affectless Liz Phair-cum-stalker-biology-professor tone — taking seriously, let me add, a metaphor devised by Janie Lane of Warrant eight years earlier. Some modern rock smash “Sex and Candy” is!
Sex is cool, I think, and candy isn’t, but most people, especially men, disagree, so bully for them. To come across the fecund artistic imagination that thunk up “I smell sex and candy” as description and act of sensualizing would be like meeting grownup people with children, mortgages, and books on shelves who think Charles Krauthammer was a writer of rare grace and incisiveness. By expunging the fun from sex and the sweetness from candy, “Sex and Candy” deserves inclusion in my list. The only hint of creativity comes in the chord change from verse to chorus: the abruptness that punctuates, “I smell sex and candy,” reminiscent, slightly, of Radiohead’s “Creep.”
This novelty helped Marcy Playground’s only hit, in an era of one-hit plunders, cross over. Debuting at #13 in April 1998 — not the sort of thing that happened with new chart bands — “Sex and Candy” hopscotched between the top ten and top fifteen for much of the summer before exiting the top forty in September. An impressive performance. No way does it compare to what happened on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, though, on which it spent an incredible fifteen weeks at the top. To quote Richard M. Nixon, my god. But if Dave Matthews wouldn’t release a physical single to qualify for a Hot 100 placement, then why not this yucky metaphor-as-statement as scab? After a terrible LGBT-awareness second single called “Saint Joe on the School Bus,” Marcy Playground disappeared to torment girlfriends and candy shops for the rest of their days on earth.