Is there anything better than candy? Of course there is. But that’s not the point. The point is that candy is awesome. Candy has always been awesome, even in the ancient days when it was chalky wafers and dots on a plastic sheet. But it was especially awesome in the mid-‘80s, the very time in which I was coming both of age and of pocket change. We didn’t just have all the classics back then: M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey Bars, Hubba Bubba gum, and the like. We also had some of the most exciting, most innovative, most tasty concoctions of sugars and fruit flavors man has ever seen. Here’s just a short list of some of my favorites:
Razzles: First it’s a candy, then it’s a gum. That’s right. Razzles metamorphosized in your mouth, changing either through the miracles of science or the powers of magic or both from thick little circles of “candy” (exactly what kind of candy they were supposed to be was never explicitly stated) to tiny globs of gum. You would have to stuff several Razzles in your mouth to get a chewable amount of gum, but that was half the fun. The other half was feeling these circles beginning to gumify in your mouth, or just biting through them to expedite the gummying process. They came in an odd shaped envelope that always felt somehow unfinished to me, like it hadn’t been cut correctly in the factory. And they still come in that envelope today. Not only can Razzles still be found today, but they have gained quite a deal of notoriety after being featured in the Jennifer Garner flick 13 Going On 30.
Bonkers: From the “fruit chew” family of candies, Bonkers were little two-toned “super fruity” cubes. They came in a stick like Starburst, were heavily advertised on TV and in comic books, and were often promoted with giveaways like a rip off Kronoform robot watch or Madball. At first, they were fruit flavored, but after they had been on the scene for awhile, a chocolate version was released. I’ve not been able to find these today.
Jolly Rancher: One of the classics, Jolly Ranchers were hard candy. You couldn’t chew them like Bonkers. Instead, you had to suck on them. Jolly Ranchers came in little bite-sized pieces but also, and even better, in long sticks. The bite-sized pieces can be found in any grocery store, but you have to look a little harder to find the sticks.
Big League Chew: Shredded bubble gum that came in a chewing tobacco-like pouch, Big League Chew was pretty decent as far as gum goes (I was particularly fond of grape), and it’s gimmick and commercial were some of the best ever.
Bubble Tape: Another gum product, Bubble Tape was a long stick of gum, a real long stick of gum that was rolled up inside a circular dispenser like a tape measure. The dispenser could be completely opened, revealing the entire gum roll, but the end of the stick could also be pulled from a slot on the dispenser edge. I used to put the end of the stick in my mouth and just chew on it until I had chewed the whole roll. At the end, where the roll got tighter and tighter, you always found a thick wad of gum. Ingenious and delicious.
Willy Wonka: Willy Wonka was the Tiffany of candy. Stepping out of the pages of the classic Roald Dahl book (a fact that just blew my mind), Willy Wonka produced the greatest candy ever made. Everlasting Gobstoppers (which sadly did not last as long as they did in the book), Nerds, and Runts were big hits back then and are still in production today. They came in interesting boxes (like the Nerds box with its two chambers) and had goofy mascots. Dinosour Eggs (egg-shaped Gobstoppers with sour centers), Tart N’ Tinys, and Dweebs (fatter Nerds that came three flavors to a box) haven’t survived into the present (at least as far as I can tell), but they were more delicious than words can say (side note: I learned to juggle Dweebs, putting several in my mouth, spitting them high into the air, and catching them in my mouth. I actually walked through the mall doing that. Umm…yeah.).
And that is just the tip of the ‘80s candy iceberg. There was also Pixie Stix, Fun Dip, Laffy Taffy, Spree, SweeTarts, Chewy SweeTarts, Bottle Caps, Pop Rocks, Lemonheads, Shock Tarts, Gummi Worms & Bears, and my personal favorites, Sour Gummi Cave Creatures. A huge part of my middle school years were spent pursuing each and every one of these brands of sugar and delight. And if my teeth could take it today, I’d still be pursuing them. No, candy might not be the best thing there is, but as you can see from this list, it is pretty darn close.