Remember When: The Kate Pierson Duet “Candy” Put the “Pop” in Iggy Pop

In early 1991, Janet Jackson, Madonna, C+C Music Factory, Damn Yankees, and Surface were riding high on the singles chart. A little further down the Billboard Hot 100 was a punk icon who didn’t have many hits on rock radio, much less on Top 40 stations. It was strange to hear “Candy”—Iggy Pop’s duet with The B-52s’ Kate Pierson (who was also a relative newcomer to Top 40 radio)—alongside dance hits, ballads, and hair metal, but for a few months, it was a frequent occurrence.

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Even though his music had been veering in a more mainstream direction during the 1980s, hearing The Stooges’ frontman on pop music stations seemed a little bizarre. “Candy” was Pop’s only Top 40 hit, reaching No. 28 in February 1991. The song turned out to be the high point of Pop’s commercial trajectory instead of a launchpad for even bigger hits.

How did Pop end up making a crossover hit? And where did the hits go after “Candy” fell off the charts? Let’s take a closer look at his lone foray into pop stardom.

A Varied Early Discography

The shift from The Stooges’ raucous “I Wanna Be Your Dog” to “Candy” didn’t happen overnight. After making three albums with The Stooges between 1969 and 1973, Pop kicked off a prolific solo career in 1977 with a pair of David Bowie-produced albums. The first of those albums, The Idiot, was more successful than any of The Stooges’ albums, reaching No. 72 on the Billboard 200. His second album Lust for Life was not as popular initially, though in another weird twist in Pop’s career, the title track was eventually used in television ads for a family-oriented cruise ship line. Each of Pop’s next four albums followed the first two into the Billboard 200.

Four years before Pop would have his Top 40 breakthrough, he would have a substantial commercial hit with Blah Blah Blah. Bowie co-produced the album with David Richards, and the smoother edges of the songs on Blah Blah Blah mirrored those on Bowie’s 1980s albums. Though none of the album’s five singles made it to the Hot 100, “Cry for Love” (No. 34) and “Real Wild Child (Wild One)” (No. 27) were Mainstream Rock hits. Blah Blah Blah didn’t signal a permanent move away from heavier rock compositions, as Pop’s next album Instinct featured a harder sound with former Sex Pistol Steve Jones on guitar.

“Candy” Becomes a Hit

The hard rock turn on Instinct made it even more surprising that Pop would have a Top 40 hit just two-and-a-half years later. To be fair, his 1990 album Brick by Brick was not a pop album, but with a roster of guest musicians that included Waddy Wachtel (Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne), Kenny Aronson (John Mellencamp, John Fogerty), and Guns N’ Roses’ Slash and Duff McKagan, it played more like an ode to mainstream rock.

“Candy” is easily the most pop-friendly track on Brick by Brick, and it borrowed a theme from some of Pop’s earlier songs. Pop has said the song is about a teenage girlfriend named Betsy, and in an interview for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he referred to her as “a key girl in my life” and someone who “has been in a lot of my songs.” Pop wanted to make the song a duet with someone who could sing from Betsy’s perspective.

That duet partner could have been Chrissie Hynde. The Pretenders’ frontwoman told The Guardian that Pop approached her with the song, but the duet never panned out. Said Hynde, “I don’t know what I did to turn him off the idea, but then I never heard from him.” It’s not clear why Pop ultimately made the duet with Pierson, but he has noted he thought her voice was a good fit for the song. “I wanted a girl who would sing with a small-town voice,” Pop told the Post-Gazette, “and Kate has a little twang in her voice that sounds slightly rural and naive.” Though The B-52s were initially based in Athens, Georgia, Pierson was indeed a “girl from the North,” as Pop sings about Betsy in “Candy.” Pierson grew up in the distinctly non-rural New York suburb of Rutherford, New Jersey.

The Aftermath of “Candy’s” Popularity

Hynde did eventually perform “Candy” with Pop at a Pretenders show in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 2006. It may not have made up for not getting to duet with Pop on the original recording, but now we know how he and Hynde sound together on the hit song.

Just as Pop’s music took an unexpected turn after Blah Blah Blah, he went back to a more raw sound for his follow-up to Brick by Brick. American Caesar (1993) was a less-produced affair, and it became only his second album to miss the Billboard 200. “Wild America” was the only track to garner significant airplay, spending three weeks on the Alternative Airplay chart with a peak position of No. 25.

Pop did have a commercial comeback in 2016 with Post Pop Depression, which was produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. The album reached No. 17 on the Billboard 200, and its most popular track, the Bowiesque “Gardenia,” went to No. 26 on the Adult Alternative Airplay chart. Pop showed he was not done with making a commercial impact in the 2020s, as his 2023 album Every Loser produced another radio hit with “Frenzy” (Mainstream Rock No. 26, Alternative Airplay No. 40).

When compared with Pop’s earliest work with The Stooges, “Candy” seems like an anomaly, but it’s not as much of one when viewed in the context of his longer career arc. He has peppered the airwaves with relatively minor hits since the ‘80s, and his most recognizable songs from the ‘70s, “The Passenger” and “Lust for Life,” have become immensely popular during the streaming era. “Candy” did not turn Iggy Pop into a pop star, but it may have helped a broader swath of music fans to discover and appreciate his vast and varied catalog.

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Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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