Hello there! This week we will return to our occasional series, Tim’s Cover Story Goes to the Movies, where we feature a song that plays a part in a major motion picture. This week we will discuss a tremendously enjoyable tune, Build Me Up, Buttercup. We will first review the original song by The Foundations. Next we will consider how the song features in the closing credits of the movie, There’s Something About Mary. Then we will discuss covers of this song by David Johansen and by McBusted.
The Foundations and Build Me Up, Buttercup:
The Foundations were a 60s-era British R&B band. In the U.S., they were essentially “two-hit wonders,” however the band was noteworthy in many respects.
The first interesting aspect was their diversity. The Foundations were the first multi-racial group to have a #1 hit in the U.K. in the 1960s. They had British members, West Indians, and a Sri Lankan.
The Foundations were also diverse in the age and experience of their members. The oldest member of the group was saxophonist Mike Elliott, who was 38, while the youngest member, drummer Tim Harris, was just 18. In addition, one original member of the band was trained at a music conservatory, while others had prior experience in jazz ensembles.
Here is a photo of The Foundations from around 1968. Lead singer Colin Young is second from left.Embed from Getty Images
The Foundations were inspired by Motown, and they were attempting to produce a home-grown British sound that might compete with Motown. In addition to the usual rock combo of guitar, bass and drums, The Foundations also featured keyboards, two saxophonists and a trombone player.
The group first came together in 1967, when they ran a basement establishment in Bayswater, London called the Butterfly Club. At that time the band members were literally starving artists. While they were the house musicians at that venue, they also managed the place and did the cooking and cleaning.
Apparently the Butterfly Club would open at 8 pm, and The Foundations members would typically finish up at 6 or 7 the next morning. While the income from the patrons covered their rent, the band members often subsisted on leftover food from the club.
But in 1967 the Foundations had a stunning piece of good fortune. They had released a single record, Baby Now That I’ve Found You, that seemed headed for obscurity. However, a few months earlier the BBC had formed BBC Radio 1.
At that time, the BBC had a monopoly on radio broadcasting. Since the BBC covered news, weather and sports in addition to music programs, the coverage of rock music was terrible. There were only a couple of hours per week that featured rock ‘n roll music, and those programs tended to be broadcast in the middle of the night.
As a result, the 60s saw a proliferation of “pirate radio” stations. Although they were illegal in Britain, the stations were typically located on European soil, or in some cases on ships moored offshore outside British territorial waters. The pirate radio stations would broadcast rock ‘n roll, R&B and soul music 24/7, and they became enormously popular.
BBC Radio 1 was determined to provide a source of pop music that would compete with the pirate stations. When they first began broadcasting in Sept. 1967, Radio 1 searched for pop music that was not being featured on the pirate radio stations. One of the first songs they promoted was Baby Now That I’ve Found You by The Foundations.
And hey presto! – that song shot up to #1 on the U.K. pop charts. The Foundations became an overnight success, and their music also tapped into a British craze for American R&B music, particularly from Motown.
However, commercial success brought creative tensions in the group to the fore. In addition to friction with their manager, a couple of the original Foundations left the group, including their lead singer Clem Curtis.
Following Curtis’ departure, the band auditioned 200 vocalists before they hired a new lead singer, Colin Young, a singer who had emigrated to the U.K. from Barbados. Build Me Up, Buttercup was the first Foundations song with Young as lead vocalist.
Build Me Up, Buttercup was co-written by Tony Macaulay and Mike d’Abo. At that time, d’Abo was the lead singer with Manfred Mann; and d’Abo played keyboards on the Foundations recording of the song.
Build Me Up, Buttercup relates the story of a man who is frustrated that his lover does not seem to take their relationship seriously. He urges her to encourage him and not disappoint him.
Why do you build me up (build me up) buttercup, baby
Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around?
And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby
When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still
I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’
You know that I have from the start
So build me up (build me up) buttercup, don’t break my heart
“I’ll be over at ten, ” you told me time and again
But you’re late, I wait around and then (bah dah dah)
I went to the door, I can’t take any more
It’s not you, you let me down again
The lyrics paint a vivid picture of a disappointing, one-sided love affair, and they mesh perfectly with the catchy, bouncy melody.
Build Me Up, Buttercup was released in 1968 in the U.K. and rose to #2 on their pop charts. The song made it to #3 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 (and got to #1 on the Cashbox playlists).
So here are The Foundations with a live performance of Build Me Up, Buttercup.
This is a really entertaining song. Colin Young’s vocals are very appealing, and the instrumental backing is terrific. Tony Gomez does a fine job on keyboards, and the horn section helps drive the tune along. The audio and video quality are sub-par, but you can see that the group is very tight.
Alas, Build Me Up, Buttercup was the last hit for The Foundations in the U.S. None of their later releases made it into the Top 50 on the American pop charts.
The Foundations continued until 1970 when they disbanded; the members dispersed into other bands with no notable commercial success. Various band members attempted to resurrect the group. As might be predicted, this led to two competing “Foundations” groups on tour.
One group was led by original lead vocalist Clem Curtis, while the second group was fronted by his replacement, Colin Young.
This eventually led to court action which resulted in Curtis being allowed to bill his group as either the Foundations or Clem Curtis & the Foundations. Young was allowed to bill himself as “The New Foundations”, or as “Colin Young & the New Foundations”.
In 1998, Build Me Up, Buttercup was featured in the movie There’s Something About Mary (which is the subject of our next section). This brought new popularity to the tune.
The song is also a favorite of various sports teams. For example, the Los Angeles Angels play the song immediately after Take Me Out To The Ball Game during the 7th-inning stretch. The tune is also frequently sung by students at University of Wisconsin and Boston College football games.
And, as an interesting factoid, tapes of album sessions reveal that The Beatles were singing Build Me Up, Buttercup in between taping of the songs for their Let It Be album.
The Foundations did not last very long, but they produced a couple of very appealing R&B tunes. Although several of the original members of The Foundations have passed away, we wish health and happiness for the surviving members of the group.
Build Me Up, Buttercup in the movie There’s Something About Mary:
There’s Something About Mary was a 1998 romantic comedy directed by the Farrelly Brothers, Bobby and Peter. The film turned out to be a blockbuster, earning a worldwide gross of $369 million from a film budget of $23 million.
At left we show the poster for the movie. It was ranked #27 in the list of 20th century comedies by the American Film Institute, 100 Years, 100 Laughs: America’s Funniest Movies.
The plot of There’s Something About Mary is basically quite simple. Mary Jensen (Cameron Diaz) is so attractive that every man she meets becomes obsessed with her, and vies for her affections. Ted (Ben Stiller) has a date with Mary at his high school prom. Unfortunately, just before taking her to the prom, Ted catches his scrotum in his zipper and is carted off to the hospital.
Years later, Ted’s best friend Dom Woganowski (Chris Elliott) persuades him to hire private detective Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) to track Mary down. Healy locates Mary, who is currently a surgeon in Miami; however he immediately falls in love with Mary as well. This leads to Healy lying to Ted about Mary’s situation; in addition, Healy lies to Mary and stalks her in an attempt to win her love.
However, Mary’s friend Tucker (Lee Evans), a British architect who is apparently handicapped and reliant on crutches, exposes Healy to Mary as a fraud. But when Healy confronts Tucker, he discovers that “Tucker” is really Norm Phipps; Phipps is not an architect but a pizza delivery man, and is not handicapped at all. Norm has adopted the “Tucker” persona because he is also infatuated with Mary.
Meanwhile, Ted and Dom travel down to Florida to see Mary. Ted re-connects with Mary, and things seem to be going well until Mary is tipped off that Ted hired detective Healy to find her. At some point, all of Mary’s male admirers end up at her house (this includes Dom, who is revealed to be the “Woogie” who was under a restraining order from Mary).
It is revealed that all of Mary’s suitors have been lying to her. Apparently Mary had only one honest boyfriend, “Brett,” who turns out to be NFL quarterback Brett Favre. At this point Ted decides to leave, believing that Mary and Brett will reunite; but Mary says that she would be happiest with Ted.
There’s Something About Mary was directed by the Farrelly Brothers, who specialized in outrageous, over-the-top humor. I find most Farrelly Brothers movies to be wildly uneven, with hilarious and risqué scenes alternating with jokes that are offensive and/or simply not funny.
However, There’s Something About Mary managed to maintain a surprisingly successful level of fun from beginning to end. Some of the staged scenes (the “caught in the zipper” scene, the “hair gel” episode, Magda’s dog in a full-body cast) are quite unforgettable.
In addition, many of the outrageous characters in the film have truly memorable scenes. Matt Dillon gives an impressive performance as sleazy detective Pat Healy (complete with pencil-thin mustache); Lee Evans is perfect as Tucker (with hilarious scenes where he attempts to navigate on his crutches); and Chris Elliott is impressive as Ted’s douchebag pal Woogie. In addition, Mary’s best friend Magda (Lin Shaye) has cringe-worthy scenes where she licks the face of her dog.
Cameron Diaz holds everything together as the radiant Mary. She seems effortlessly cheery, and is quite believable as a woman who effortlessly entrances every man she meets.
As the closing credits roll, members of the cast of There’s Something About Mary are shown lip-synching and dancing to the song Build Me Up, Buttercup by The Foundations. Like the movie itself, these scenes are goofy, memorable and genuinely funny.
David Johansen and Build Me Up, Buttercup:
David Johansen is an American rock musician. He was born in Staten Island, NY in 1950. Johansen was the singer-songwriter for the punk band New York Dolls.
The New York Dolls received much critical acclaim for their work, and were contemporaries of the Velvet Underground and The Stooges. They built up an enthusiastic fan base in New York and worked with producer Todd Rundgren; however, commercial success eluded them.
Below is a photo of the New York Dolls performing. From left: Sylvain Sylvain; Jerry Nolan; David Johansen.Embed from Getty Images
The band released two albums in 1973 and 1974. One year later, guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan left the group. The band replaced them and continued on for two more years, before Johansen left the group for a solo career.
Although the New York Dolls were short-lived and had limited commercial success, they have nevertheless been credited with inspiring later punk and glam-rock groups such as the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Kiss and Guns ‘n Roses.
The song Build Me Up, Buttercup was released on Johansen’s 1978 solo album The David Johansen Group Live. Here is the audio of his cover of The Foundations’ Build Me Up, Buttercup.
This is an enjoyable cover by Johansen. The song bounces along, driven by piano and a horn section, and Johansen’s vocals are quite satisfactory. In my opinion, the tempo is a bit too fast for the song; however, the audience appears to be having a good time.
In the late 1980s, Johansen re-surfaced using the pseudonym Buster Poindexter. In his New York Dolls days Johansen frequently appeared in high heels and dresses, or in glam-inspired Spandex. Conversely, Buster Poindexter’s persona was that of a lounge singer, sporting a tuxedo, a giant pompadour and a martini. Below is a photo of Johansen playing his alter ego Buster Poindexter.Embed from Getty Images
Buster Poindexter had one big hit, Hot Hot Hot. This was a bouncy, jumping calypso song with an infectious beat. Since we could not obtain live video of Johansen earlier, here is the music video for Hot Hot Hot.
Isn’t this terrific? The song just sweeps you off your feet, propelled by a raucous horn section and a phalanx of drums. Johansen/Poindexter is clearly having the time of his life, bopping around the stage trailed by a long line of dancers.
Bill Murray (of course!) makes a cameo appearance in this video. The song was a big hit, and was reprised a few times live with the Saturday Night Live band. It was nice to get the exposure, but David Johansen now calls Hot Hot Hot “the bane of my existence,” as he feels compelled to reprise it in every one of his live performances.
In addition to his musical work, David Johansen had considerable success as an actor. He played the Ghost of Christmas Past in the 1988 Bill Murray movie Scrooged, co-starred with John C. McGinley in the movie Car 54, Where Are You?, and made a guest appearance on a segment of the TV drama Miami Vice.
Currently, Johansen has a weekly music show called David Johansen’s Mansion of Fun, on Sirius Satellite Radio. Johansen features an eclectic blend of music “from all over the map,” including rock ‘n roll, jazz, and African folk music. And surviving members of the New York Dolls re-unite from time to time for a concert.
We hope that Mr. Johansen is able to keep it “hot hot hot” in the foreseeable future.
McBusted and Build Me Up, Buttercup:
McFly is a British rock quartet that had an unusual genesis. In 2001, guitarist Tom Fletcher auditioned for the band Busted. He was accepted into the group; however, he was bounced when a decision was made to convert that band from a quartet to a trio.
Undaunted, Fletcher began writing songs for Busted; then in 2003 he participated in auditions for a new band, where he joined guitarist and vocalist Danny Jones. The group then added bassist Dougie Poynter and drummer Harry Judd through an ad in the British music magazine NME. In this way, McFly was formed. Fletcher and Jones share the lead vocals for the band.
Below is a photo of McFly at a British awards show in 2005.Embed from Getty Images
McFly experienced tremendous success in the U.K., but saw significantly less acclaim in the U.S. Their first album, the Dec. 2003 release Room On the 3rd Floor, debuted at #1 in the U.K.
This made the group the youngest ever to have their first album start out at #1 on the charts, a title they took from none other than The Beatles. However, to the best of my knowledge, McFly’s album did not dent the U.S. charts.
McFly’s next album was the 2005 Wonderland. Once again, this reached #1 on the U.K. album charts. The group then released a Greatest Hits album in 2007.
Despite their lack of success in the U.S., McFly continued to “mcfly high” in the U.K. They released more best-selling albums, headlined a number of arena tours, and they toured extensively in South America.
At one point, McFly joined forces with the musicians in Busted to form the group McBusted. The members of Busted were James Bourne, Matt Willis and Charlie Simpson. Like McFly, Busted was a British pop-rock band that experienced success in the U.K. but not in the U.S.
Although Busted had disbanded (busted up??) in 2005, the band members teamed up with McFly for a collaboration from 2013 to 2016. After that, McFly again returned to touring.
I should mention that this leads to considerable confusion, as the conjoined band is sometimes referred to as McBusted, but also as Busted featuring McFly (or is it McFly featuring Busted?).
The band Busted released a cover of Build Me Up, Buttercup as the “B” side of their 2003 song Crashing The Wedding. So here is McFly featuring Busted in the audio of Build Me Up, Buttercup.
So what do you think? The boys attempt to shoe-horn the pop classic Build Me Up, Buttercup into a hard-rock format. The vocals and guitar are enjoyable, whereas I find the drumming (mainly whacking a snare drum as hard as humanly possible) less successful.
My main complaint is that the tempo is way, way too fast for this song. The group rushes pell-mell through the tune, and this detracts considerably from the performance.
Since I could not find video of the group playing Build Me Up, Buttercup live, I show McFly featuring Busted live, performing a McFly song called Shine A Light.
This took place at Royal Albert Hall in Sept. 2013. This may reflect my unfamiliarity with this ensemble, but I find this performance really mediocre. Nothing about the group – the vocals, lyrics, instrumental work – strikes me as remotely memorable.
And some of the comments posted after this video are simply stunning. “My two favourite bands”, or “They sound so fricking amazing togetherrrr!!!!” (all in block caps). Not! I would rate this performance “totally lame.”
It is interesting to observe a group that is phenomenally successful in one country but relatively unknown in another, as both Busted and McFly fall into this category. There are certainly circumstances where extraordinary performers fail to catch on in another culture. In this case, however, a total lack of talent would certainly explain why these groups did not make it in the States.