(Edited to reflect Medress as merely a Token, not the lead singer. I defer to Dave P’s mom.)
You may have heard that Hank Medress died last week. No matter where you read it, the first line of his obituary invariably mentions that he sang on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and other early-60s hits by the Tokens, but to me, Hank Medress is notable for another reason: He produced two of the more significant records of my Top-40 youth, “Candida” and “Knock Three Times” by Dawn.
“Candida” was written by Brill Building songwriters Irwin Levine and Toni Wine (best known as providing both female voices for the Archies, including the single lead-vocal line “I’m gonna make your life so sweet” on “Sugar Sugar,” still capable of buckling with delight the knees of bubblegum freaks all these years later). Medress and his partner, Dave Appell, produced a version of “Candida” they didn’t like by a group they didn’t like, so they asked Orlando, a friend in the record biz, to recut it. He laid down the lead vocal, while Wine and the Tokens’ Jay Siegel later provided the backing vocals. Legend has it that Orlando didn’t think about the record again until it was Number 3 on WABC in the fall of 1970.
Orlando had been moonlighting without the knowledge of his employer (he was running the New York office of a music-publishing firm at that time, although he had recorded previously; “Bless You” reached Number 15 in 1961). He immediately feared losing his day job, but “Candida,” which also reached Number 3 nationally, was big enough so he needn’t have worried. “Knock Three Times” would follow, and go to Number One in Billboard. Orlando, Wine, and Siegel cut the entire Candida album; not until later in 1971 did Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson “become” Dawn. The rest of the story you know—more hits, a TV show, and the slow decline into 70s iconography/kitsch.
But damn, “Candida.” It was the first record I ever loved, there in the fall of 1970, when I was 10 years old, riding the school bus for an hour every morning and sitting under the radio speaker every day. It is a record about which I have remained completely irrational down unto this very day. The Mrs. and I have no children, but it occurs to me that the feeling I get every time I hear “Candida” must be akin to the way it feels to look at baby pictures after the kids have grown. No matter how much time has passed, no matter how you have changed, no matter how they have changed, in that eternally frozen moment, all the losses and disappointments that have been a part of life since that picture was taken haven’t happened yet. The pictures are a gift from another time, a dispatch from another, better, purer, safer country. And so is “Candida.”
“Candida”/Dawn (buy a fabulous expanded edition of the Candida album here, featuring nine bonus tracks including the rest of Dawn’s 1971 singles output, “I Play and Sing,” “What Are You Doing Sunday?” (also written by Levine and Wine), and “Summer Sand,” and all for six bucks)