Sammy Davis Jr. didn’t like the lyrics. “It’s horrible. It’s white bread; it’s cute-ums,’’ Davis said. He couldn’t imagine singing lyrics that included such cloying phrases as “groovy lemon pies.”

But, Davis Jr was being pressured to record “The Candy Man” by both his manager and Mike Curb, the 26-year-old hotshot president of MGM Records.

Curb was convinced that the song had hit written all over it — but only if done by Davis Jr. Before he approached the legendary vocalist, Curb recruited his 16-member recording group — the Mike Curb Congregation—to tape a childlike background for “The Candy Man.”

Now if only Davis Jr. could be convinced to lay down a vocal track.

As a member of the legendary Rat Pack, Davis Jr. had earned celebrity by performing for sophisticated adult audiences. Was he willing to risk

his reputation now by recording a featherweight kiddie ditty?

“Willis Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” was the classic 1971 movie based on the 1964 book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by children’s writer Roald Dahl. In Dahl’s novel, the main character is Charlie Bucket, who, along with four other juveniles, visits a candy factory owned by the eccentric chocolatier Willie Wonka (played to perfection by Gene Wilder).

 “It’s horrible. It’s white bread; it’s cute-ums.’’ Sammy Davis Jr.

 British entertainment partners Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse had created the music for the film’s soundtrack. The first tune heard is “The Candy Man.” Sung by actor Aubrey Woods as the neighborhood candy-store owner named Bill, the shopkeeper enthusiastically extols the magical properties of Wonka’s seductive sweets:

 Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it with dew

Cover it with chocolate and a miracle or two?

The Candy Man, Oh, the Candy  Man can

And makes the world taste good

 Woods did a serviceable job on the tune, but Newley hated the rather stiff rendition and felt that Woods’ version could easily doom a potential hit single. Newley decided to record his own interpretation, but Curb got the jump on him.

Eventually, Davis Jr. capitulated, still fearing that this could become

a regrettable decision. Focused on a forthcoming trip to Vietnam to entertain the troops, he hurried through “The Candy Man” in two takes. When he listened to the playback in the recording studio, Davis moaned, “This record is going straight into the toilet, and it may just pull my whole career down with it.”

To his amazement (but not Curb’s), the single caught the nation’s ear when music fans of all ages embraced the joy that Davis offered here. “The Candy Man” shot to No. 1 on Billboard’s chart and even earned a Grammy nomination.

In time, the 45 topped playlists worldwide. “There are lots of regional hits, but rarely does a record become an international hit,” Davis explained later, probably with a smile and perhaps a slight feeling of guilt. “With a 5% royalty, I made half a million dollars.”

 Who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream

Separate the sorrow and collect up all the cream?

The Candy Man. Oh, the Candy  Man can.  SL