Occasionally an album will be remembered more for its cover than for its music. Because, to quote Ron Manager from The Fast Show, the strength of an ‘enduring image’ cannot be denied. As hood ornaments go, the auburn-haired beauty reclining against the front of the Cars’ second album, Candy-O, released in June 1979, is unbeatable
Sometimes, a mere photograph just won’t cut it. Thankfully, we have the services of legendary cheesecake artists like Alberto Vargas. When The Cars were producing their sophomore album, their management realized that the dudes in the band quite frankly had faces for radio, especially frontman Ric Ocasek. Drummer David Robinson was also the band’s artistic director. He was a great fan of the famous pin-up posters drawn by Alberto Vargas; when it came time to design the cover for the band’s Candy-Oalbum, Robinson contacted the 83-year-old artist and convinced him to come out of retirement. As it turned out, Vargas’ great-niece was a big Cars fan and she urged him to agree to the project
The Peruvian artist got his start designing posters for the Ziegfield Follies and Hollywood movies, then made his name creating iconic WWII-era pin-up girls for Esquire magazine. He was eighty-two when Cars drummer David Robinson coaxed him out of retirement for one last painting. The artist expressed no interest in the job until being introduced to dancer Nancy Beth - her classic proportions inspired the fire of lust in the aged Peruvian airbrush master, and he agreed to paint the cover image of the comely redhead reclining over a loosely-sketched automobile
For Candy-O, the aged Vargas said he needed a photo to use as a guide. It was to be one of his final cheesecake projects, after all, and he wanted it to be reminiscent of – and indeed on a par with – his wartime output. So The Cars’ Robinson booked a session at a Ferrari dealership in Beverly Hills. Nancy Beth posed on the hood of a 1972 365 GTC/4 Ferrari. Beth had second thoughts about appearing semi-nude in record stores at the last minute, however, so another statuesque model, Candy Moore, stepped in and loaned her face to the mix. she’d been a child star on The Lucy show and went on to make a few movies most notably (!) teh comedy Lunch Wagon
The resulting cover was completely hand-drawn, with no air-brushing, but Elektra execs did insist on a do-over after the first drawing was submitted. They wanted the model to be, er, less anatomically detailed, which is why the girl on the cover appears to have been born without nipples and pubic hair
At the time of the album’s release in ’79, Vargas’ babe-tastic design was criticised as being sexist by bearded women standing outside Greenham Common airbase. Today it just looks teasing and stylish. Robinson laughs: “Maybe it is [sexist], I don’t know.” To prepare himself for the Candy-O project, Vargas visited a Cars gig in Los Angeles. “He didn’t really like our music – he was an old guy at the time,” says Robinson. “But he saw beautiful girls all over the place. He liked that very much.” Vargas died in California three years after the release of Candy-O, aged 87
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