Oh boy. This one is going to be more about one song (yes, that song) than it is about the album. And it’s going to be perhaps the earliest story from my life that I’ve told regarding any of these records.
Everyone knows “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Everyone loves “Build Me Up Buttercup.” It’s a fantastic, good-time pop love song. It was a big hit in 1968, but I associate it with a summer idyll a couple of years later.
I used to know exactly when this happened; now it’s not so clear. I was 10 or 11, the summer after either 5th grade or 6th. My school had split-grade classes, so my fifth-grade class also had fourth-graders in it, my sixth had fifths. I was good friends with a kid named John who was in the class below me. He liked all the same things I did . . . we were fixated on Mad Magazine, we spent hours listening to George Carlin together, I’m sure we had the same tastes in television. I spent endless hours hanging at his house, listening to records, riding bikes together, messing around with chemistry sets (nearly setting his house on fire, but that was just the one time) – all the stupid stuff pre-teen boys get into.
John’s family had a camp on Galway Lake, which is where all respectable Scotia residents had camps. It was only 20 miles away, but a lovely wooded getaway camp colony (back when they were actual camps, not elaborate second homes) on a reservoir that had been built to support the rug industry in Amsterdam. I was invited to spend several days up at their camp with the family that summer. Other than Boy Scout camping trips, it was my first time away, really, and certainly my first time being invited into another family’s dynamic for days at a time. It was eye-opening, in several ways.
During that week, our days were completely free — John’s parents were at work during the day, and we were ostensibly under the supervision of his 17-year-old sister. That sister had a boyfriend, age indeterminate. (Boyfriend had a car. This blew my mind.) But they were teenagers in love, and didn’t need little kids around. So, we were unsupervised, which wasn’t terribly unusual in the ’70s anyway.
Galway camps were divided up into what are called “groves.” The grove that John’s camp was part of was near an open field, and on the edge of that field was a building called the Sugar Shack. It was a white, wooden-frame concession stand of sorts, selling soda and candy, and it also had a little porch on which was a jukebox. John’s sister worked the Sugar Shack, if I’m remembering this right — maybe she even ran it. I know that we all had to jump into her boyfriend’s car and take a drive into somewhere in Amsterdam to pick up stock for the shack — I remember going to some candy wholesaler where we picked up boxes of Hershey and Payday bars, and a local brand of soda whose name I have forgotten. It felt . . . surreal. I had no idea about wholesaling, had no idea where small stores and concession stands and the like got their candy and sodas . . . I didn’t know you could just drive to Amsterdam and get candy by the boxful. We took it back to the Sugar Shack, set up the candy boxes, and hung out drinking what memory says was outrageously flavored grape soda.
This was, again, mind-bending. We were hanging out with older kids, kids old enough to drive, kids old enough to run snack stands. (None of that had been part of my previous experience; I was the oldest kid in my extended family, with limited exceptions, by a lot.) There were a couple of other older kids there, too. One of them was a sassy, curly haired brunette girl named CeeCee. Here’s what I really remember about CeeCee: her name. Her nickname, actually. I know she was older than I was, but was she 14, 16, 18? No idea. All I really remember is that CeeCee put a coin in the jukebox and played “Build Me Up Buttercup.” Maybe she did a little dance along to it, maybe she sang along. Probably she was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. My memory ends there.
I. Was. Smitten. Gobsmacked, in that way you can only be when you’re that young. Knowing almost nothing about someone, you can fashion them into anything, everything. To me, based on the couple of hours that I had known her CeeCee was absolutely magical. And by the associative property, “Build Me Up Buttercup” was absolutely magical.
I dreamed of her that night. I would have remembered it anyway, but when I woke up John gleefully informed me that I had been saying “CeeCee” in my sleep. Of course I had.
We spent more time with the older kids the next day, we played “Build Me Up Buttercup” again, I had some time to deepen my crush on this girl I knew nothing about, who was hopelessly older than I was, who was just a symbol of womanhood to me. And, hanging out with teenagers for the first time, I saw other things (some of which I probably shouldn’t have) that formed thoughts of how lovers interact. It all painted an amazing illusion of what things would be like when I was old enough to have a girlfriend.
Of course, the idyll ended, it was time to go home, and I never saw her again. But from then on, for me “Build Me Up Buttercup” was a song of . . . promise.
Slide forward 10 years, to our college years, when oldies nights were all the rage, “oldies” being songs from a mere 10-12 years before, songs from when young drinkers had been growing up. These events encouraged dancing, and especially encouraged drinking, and many bars held oldies nights. “Build Me Up Buttercup” was, naturally, a regular feature of oldies nights, and any time it played I could be found flailing wildly on the dance floor. If we were at a bar and found it on the jukebox, we’d always put it on. Once on a break back home in Schenectady, for reasons that I cannot recall, several of the old high school gang ended up in a dive bar on Crane Street where we probably didn’t belong. Whether we put “Build Me Up Buttercup” on the jukebox, or it just happened to come up, I cannot remember, but I do remember that when a friend’s sister and I started dancing and singing along to it, even though we were way in the back of the bar, that proved too much for some local, who reminded us of their thoughts on college students by throwing a bottle at us. So there’s an element of danger associated with the song, too.
Finally, to the album itself. The Foundations were a large, multi-ethnic, musically diverse soul band from the UK. This album, released in 1968, took the “two-sided” approach – live recording meant to capture the excitement of the band’s performances on the first side, studio stuff on the second side. Unfortunately, the live recording technology wasn’t state of the art even for 1968, and the front side quite simply doesn’t sound good. It’s a muddy mess. The second side, which kicks off with “Build Me Up Buttercup” (which as a single got to #3 in the US), shows what the band could do and features a number of other solid soul/pop tracks. Even though I love their first big hit, “Baby Now That I’ve Found You,” I never picked up any other Foundations records. This one I believe came from that legendary (to me) Syracuse garage sale in the summer of 1979 that sent me off in certain musical directions.