On this day in music history: December 13, 1968 – “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations is released (UK release is on November 8, 1968). Written by Tony Macaulay and Mike D’Abo, it is the fourth UK, fifth US single release and the biggest hit for the pop band from London, UK. With their breakthrough single “Baby Now That I Found You” becoming a worldwide hit in early 1968, The Foundations immediately hit the road to support it. Opening for various artists including The 5th Dimension, Big Brother & The Holding Company, The Byrds and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. However, subsequent follow ups including “Back On My Feet Again” and "Any Old Time (You’re Lonely And Sad)“ are not nearly as successful. That along with building tension between the band and producer and songwriter Tony Macaulay, who does not allow them to record any of their own songs, result in lead singer Clem Curtis and saxophonist Mike Elliott quitting. Before Curtis departs, he helps his band mates find a new lead singer to replace him. After auditioning 200 potential candidates, they find singer Colin Young. Born in Barbados and raised in the UK, Young proves to be a perfect replacement for Curtis. For their next single, Macaulay presents The Foundations with a song that he has co-written with Manfred Mann lead vocalist Mike D’Abo (also the father of "Wonder Years” actress Olivia D’Abo) titled “Build Me Up Buttercup”. The song had been shopped around to a few other artists including a then unknown David Essex (“Rock On”) who turn it down. Though not initially enamored of the catchy, poppy song feeling that it doesn’t represent their true sound, The Foundations record it anyway, recognizing its hit potential. Released in the UK first in early November of 1968, it races to #2 on the UK singles chart on Christmas Day of that year. Released in the US in mid December, it becomes a smash on the American charts also. Entering the Hot 100 at #84 on January 4, 1969, it peaks at #3 on February 22, 1969, holding that position for three weeks, unable to dislodge Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson And Clover”, Sly & The Family Stone’s “Everyday People” or Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” from the two spots. The Foundations land a few more chart singles before disbanding in late 1970, then reforming with original lead singer Clem Curtis a few years later. “Build Me Up Buttercup” continues to enjoy popularity as a frequently spun classic on oldies radio, with the song being used to hilarious effect in the comedy “There’s Something About Mary” in 1998 and also being featured on the pilot episode of the television series “Alias” in 2001. It is covered by numerous artists including David Johansen, Bobby Vinton and Eddie Money. “Build Me Up Buttercup” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 12, 1987 – “Faith” by George Michael hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks. Written and produced by George Michael, it is the second solo chart topper for British born singer, songwriter and producer. The initial idea for what becomes the title track for George Michael’s first solo album comes from the singer’s music publisher Dick Leahy. Leahy suggests to Michael to write a song with a rock & roll feel. Taking the suggestion to heart, Michael writes the song quickly, utlizing the classic “Bo Diddley beat” as the template. “Faith” is recorded at PUK Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark using the Synclavier 9600 Tapeless Studio, making it one of the first major hit singles to be recorded on a computer hard disk system rather than on analog or digital tape. The track features Michael and Chris Cameron on keyboards and drum programming, Hugh Burns on guitars, and Deon Estus on bass. Burns records his acoustic guitar part using an old aluminum bodied resophonic guitar found lying around the studio. Initially, George wants to wait until another guitar is delivered to the studio to cut the part, but when it doesn’t arrive in time, the other guitar is used instead. For the song’s intro, Michael adds a cathedral organ (actually a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer, using the pipe organ preset) playing the chorus section of Wham’s song “Freedom”, both as an in joke and a play on “religious faith”. The lyrics for “Faith” are written as George meticulously records his lead vocal on the track, line by line and in some instances punched in word by word until it is complete. The single is accompanied by a simple but memorable music video, directed by long time Wham collaborator Andy Morahan. Most of the clothing worn by the singer are his own personal items, with the BSA leather motorcycle jacket being purchased at a shop called Leathers And Treasures in the Melrose district in Los Angeles, just prior to the video shoot. The Gretsch G400 Synchromatic Arch Top guitar played by Michael in the video, is found at a pawn shop near where the jacket is purchased. The clip becomes instantly iconic, cementing the visuals in the public’s mind. Something that proves to be a double edged sword for the musician, who symbolically destroys props from the video in the clip for “Freedom ‘90” in an effort break free from that image. Issued two and a half weeks before the album on October 12, 1987, “Faith” is an immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #54 on October 24, 1987, it climbs to the top of the chart seven weeks later. The single is Michael’s fifth number one single in the US overall (including three with Wham!), and is ranked the top selling single of 1988 by Billboard Magazine. “Faith” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: December 11, 1964 – “Yeh, Yeh” by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames is released. Written by Pat Patrick, Rodgers Grant and Jon Hendricks, it is the sixth UK and first US single release for the jazz/blue eyed soul band from London, UK. Born Clive Powell in the city of Leigh near Manchester, UK, he begins taking piano lessons at the age of seven. Powell leaves school at fifteen to pursue music full time. Landing a job playing piano in a band called The Dominoes, he goes to London where he meets songwriter Lionel Bart (“Oliver!”). Bart introduces the young musician to music impresario Larry Parnes, responsible for discovering British teen idols like Marty Wilde and Billy Fury. It is Parnes that gives Powell his stage name “Georgie Fame”, which Powell initially does not like, but accepts it when the manager tells him, “If you don’t use my name, I won’t use you in the show”. From there, Fame begins backing Billy Fury, dubbing his band The Blue Flames. After Parnes fires the band for being “too jazzy”, Fame & The Blue Flames strike out on their own, establishing a residency at The Flamingo Club in the Soho district of London. In 1963, the band are signed to EMI distributed Columbia Records. Their first three singles fail to make the charts, but finally enter the UK album charts in the Fall of 1964 with “Fame At Last!”. Heavily influenced by American jazz and rhythm & blues musicians like Mose Allison and Willie Mabon, another favorite of Fame’s is percussionist Mongo Santamaria. Famous for his recording of the Herbie Hancock penned “Watermelon Man”, it is another song first recorded by Santamaria that will propel Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames to stardom. The instrumental “Yeh, Yeh” written by Rodgers Grant and Pat Patrick, it is given lyrics by vocalese legend Jon Hendricks, who records it with his group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames record their version in late 1964, and is released by Columbia, two weeks before Christmas. The jazzy and undeniably catchy single is an immediate smash in the UK, racing up the chart and hitting #1 on January 14, 1965 for two weeks, unseating The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” from the top of the chart. Released in the US by Imperial Records of the back of its UK success, it peaks at #21 on March 27, 1965. The song establishes Georgie Fame as a leader of the British “blue eyed soul movement”, going on to score numerous chart hits around the world. His second UK number one, and his biggest hit in the US comes three years later with “The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde (#7 Pop). Over the years, “Yeh, Yeh” is covered by numerous artists including Matt Bianco, Tuck & Patti, They Might Be Giants, and actor Hugh Laurie. Georgie Fame will revisit his first chart topper in 2015, when he records a new version of it with jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall.
On this day in music history: December 8, 1984 – “Out Of Touch” by Daryl Hall & John Oates hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the Club Play Chart for 2 weeks on November 17, 1984, peaking at #8 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and #24 on the R&B singles chart on December 1, 1984. Written by Daryl Hall and John Oates, it is the sixth and final chart topping pop single for the Philadelphia, PA based duo. For the follow up to the critically and commercially successful “H2O” album, they decide to shake up their successful hit making formula by enlisting the assistance of Arthur Baker whose acclaimed work as a producer and remixer co-produces the track (as well as the rest of the album w/ H&O and engineer Bob Clearmountain), giving it a harder dance influenced edge. Working together at Electric Lady Studios in the Summer of 1984, they emerge from the studio with another highly successful album. Issued as the first single from their twelfth album “Big Bam Boom” in September of 1984, it is an immediate smash. The song is accompanied by a tongue in cheek music video directed by Jeff Stein (“The Who – The Kids Are Alright”, The Cars’ “You Might Think”, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ “Don’t Come Around Here No More”). Entering the Hot 100 at #48 on September 29, 1984, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. The chart topping success of “Out Of Touch” helps drive sales of the accompanying album to 2x Platinum status in the US. The edited version of the 12" dance mix (featuring edits by The Latin Rascals) used for the music video, which also incorporates a excerpt of “Dance On Your Knees”, is first issued on a 12" single in the UK only. It is finally issued in the US on the CD compilation “ Playlist : The Very Best Of Daryl Hall & John Oates” in 2008.
On this day in music history: December 3, 1984 – “Last Christmas” by Wham! is released. Written and produced by George Michael, it is the seventh UK single release for the pop music duo from Bushey, Hertsfordshire, UK. In Fall of 1984, George Michael announces that Wham! are to release a new single for Christmas. Having already had an incredible year with three consecutive UK number ones including “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”, “Careless Whisper” and “Freedom”, the pop duo set their sights on hitting the top again, in the coveted number one spot during the holidays. For the occasion, Michael pens the mid tempo “Last Christmas”. In spite of its melancholy lyric, the track and George’s excellent vocal make it another sure fire hit. It is also supported by a music video directed by Andy Morahan. The clip’s narrative depicts Michael’s girlfriend (played by model Kathy Hill) leaving him and taking up with Andrew Ridgeley, who is seen wearing the brooch that George had given her. At the time, the British press play up the rivalry between Wham! and Frankie Goes To Hollywood who is also competition with “The Power Of Love”. However, both are bested by Band Aid’s unstoppable “Do They Know It’s Christmas”, holding the top spot for five weeks. “Last Christmas” is issued as a double A-side with “Everything She Wants”, peaking at number two. The initial pressing is packaged in a picture sleeve featuring George dressed like Santa Claus, and Andrew as Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. The holiday themed art is discontinued and is replaced by a second sleeve (also used for the US release of “Everything She Wants”) on December 27, 1984. Wham! donate their royalties to the Band Aid Trust. It sells over 1.8 million copies, setting a record for the largest selling UK single to not top the chart. It is not issued in the US, to avoid direct competition with the just released “Careless Whisper”, though Columbia Records releases it as a promo only 7" to US radio stations in 1986. It is reissued in 1985 with a new picture sleeve and with the live version of “Blue (Armed With Love)” recorded in China on the B-side. It charts again, peaking at number six on the UK singles chart. It is issued a third time in 1986, also with a new sleeve, and with “Where Did Your Heart Go” on the B-side. The extended version, subtitled the “Pudding Mix” also appears on “The Final” and “Music From The Edge Of Heaven” in 1986. “Last Christmas” becomes a perennial holiday favorite, re-charting nine more times between 2007 and 2015. It is also covered several times, with versions by Jimmy Eat World, Taylor Swift, Whigfield, Billie Piper, Crazy Frog, Alcazar, Carly Rae Jepsen, Ashley Tisdale, and Ariana Grande. Wham’s original is issued in the US as a 12" single on Black Friday Record Store Day on November 28, 2014, pressed on red and green colored vinyl limited to 3,000 copies, using the first issue UK cover artwork, including a previously unreleased instrumental mix.
On this day in music history: December 1, 1978 – “Minute By Minute”, the eighth album by The Doobie Brothers is released. Produced by Ted Templeman, it is recorded at Warner Brothers Studios in North Hollywood, CA from Mid – Late 1978. Following the modestly successful “Livin’ On The Fault Line”, the Bay Area based band realize that they are at a career crossroads. Concerned that they may lose support from their label Warner Bros Records, The Doobie Brothers concentrate their efforts to make a more commercial album with their next release. Even so, with their confidence somewhat shaken by the previous record’s disappointing performance, they begin second guessing themselves. Soldiering on, they complete the album within a few months. Playing the finished album for executives at Warner Bros., initially they are less than enthusiastic about the final results, with some predicting that it will bomb upon release. Marking a decided change from the initial sound that made The Doobies successful, the tracks are smoother and more R&B based, largely due to Michael McDonald’s influence. However, no one predicts at the time what the public’s reaction will be. Instead of being a flop, they rebound with what becomes their most successful album, also broadening their audience. Besides becoming a pop smash, “Minute By Minute” receives unexpected support from American R&B radio who embrace McDonald’s blue eyed soul sound. It spins off three hit singles including “What A Fool Believes” (#1 Pop, #72 R&B). “Depending On You” (#25 Pop), and the title track (#14 Pop, #74 R&B).“What A Fool” is written by Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, originally recorded by Loggins on his album “Nightwatch” released earlier in the year. The Doobies version wins Grammy Awards for Record and Song Of The Year, taking home two additional awards for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocals and Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chrous in 1980. The album’s opening track “Here To Love You” is belatedly issued as a single in January of 1982, when it is added to the greatest hits compilation “The Best Of The Doobies Vol. II”. “Minute” is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP by Friday Music in 2008. Warner Music Japan also remasters and reissues the title as an SHM-CD in 2009, packaged in a mini-LP sleeve. It is remastered again and reissued as a hybrid SACD by Warner Music Japan in 2017. “Minute By Minute” spends five weeks at number one (non-consecutive) on the Billboard Top 200, and is certified 4x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 25, 1970 – “Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat”, the fourth album by Laura Nyro is released. Produced by Felix Cavaliere and Arif Mardin, it is recorded at Columbia Recording Studios in New York City in May 1970. Following her highly acclaimed third release “New York Tendaberry”, singer, songwriter and musician Laura Nyro returns to the studio in the Spring of 1970 to work on her next release with Rascals keyboardist and vocalist Felix Cavaliere and arranger and producer Arif Mardin (Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan) handling the production duties. It is the final part of the musical trilogy begun with Nyro’s second and third albums “Eli And The Thirteenth Confession” and New York Tendaberry". In spite of its title, it is not a traditional holiday album, containing no covers of actual Christmas songs. The material however captures the joyful spirit present during that time of year. It also features guest appearances by Duane Allman (on the title track) and Alice Coltrane. The album yields Nyro’s only chart single, a cover of The Drifters hit “Up On The Roof” (#92 Pop). It makes its domestic CD debut in 1990, and is remastered and reissued by Sony Japan in 2008. Out of print on vinyl for more than thirty years, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2017. “Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat” peaks at number fifty one on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: November 25, 1968 – “Astral Weeks”, the second album by Van Morrison is released. Produced by Lewis Merenstein, it is recorded at Century Sound Studios in New York City from September 25, 1968, and October 1-15, 1968. Following his split from Them at the end of 1966, lead singer Van Morrison launches his career as a solo artist. Signing with Bert Berns’ label Bang Records, Van realizes quickly that he has signed a very bad deal, inadvertently relinquishing his creative control and song publishing rights. The producer takes the eight songs recorded for singles, releasing them as the album “Blowin’ Your Mind!”, after “Brown Eyed Girl” (#10 Pop) becomes a major hit. Morrison is unaware of this until a friend tells him that he has just purchased a copy of it in a record store. Before Van tries to leave the label, Bert Berns dies of a heart attack. Berns widow Ilene attempts to prevent Morrison from leaving the label, and performing live. Leaving New York City for Boston, playing wherever he can while laying low and writing new material. The songs are inspired by his upbringing and poetic musings. Morrison is approached by Warner Bros Records, based on the success of “Brown Eyed Girl” in early 1968. When producer Lewis Merenstein and Inherit Productions manager Bob Schwaid hear Van perform, they work to get him out of his former contract. Singing and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, he is backed by jazz musicians that include former Eric Dolphy bassist Richard Davis, guitarist Jay Berliner (Harry Belafonte), percussionist Warren Smith, Jr. (Max Roach) and Modern Jazz Quartet drummer Connie Kay. The album is thematically split into two halves, with side one being listed as “In The Beginning” and side two as “Afterwards”. Receiving virtually no promotion, “Astral Weeks” sells poorly. Over time, it’s discovered by rock critics and fans. In spite of its lack of commercial success, it spins off some of Morrison’s best loved and widely covered songs including “Sweet Thing”, “Beside You”, “Madame George”, “Cypress Avenue” and the title track. The album’s now iconic cover photo, is taken by photographer Joel Brodsky (The Doors). In time, “Astral Weeks” is regarded as one of Van Morrison’s most important works, and marks the true birth of his career as a solo artist. Lauded as a landmark recording, the album is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999. In 2008, he performs and records all of the songs at the Hollywood Bowl, which are released as the live album “Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl” in February of 2009, followed by a DVD release in May of 2009. Warner Bros remasters and reissues the original album on CD in 2015 with four additional bonus tracks, also issuing it as a 180 vinyl LP in 2009, with a limited edition clear vinyl pressing released in July of 2017. “Astral Weeks” does not chart on the Billboard Top 200, is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 23, 1963 – “I’m Leaving It Up To You” by Dale and Grace hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 2 weeks and peaking at #6 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written by Don Harris and Dewey Terry, it is the biggest hit for the pop vocal duo from Baton Rouge, LA. Singer Dale Houston makes his debut in 1960 with “Lonely Man” after performing in the same Ferriday, LA bar that rock & roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis is discovered at. Though a solid vocalist and songwriter, Houston’s solo efforts do not generate any major hits. In 1963, Montel-Michele Records co-founder Sam Montel suggests to Houston that he adds a female duet partner to his act. Montel pairs him up with another local singer named Grace Broussard. They begin working on material when Dale begins playing “I’m Leaving It Up To You”, written and originally recorded in 1957 by the R&B duo Don & Dewey. Don Harris and Dewey Terry, Jr. both from Pasadena, CA, release their version on Art Rupe’s Specialty Records. Waking up out of a sound sleep in the next room, Montel overhears them, moving the label boss to burst into the room excitedly exclaim, “play it again, that’s a hit!!!”. Soon after they are in the studio and quickly record “I’m Leaving It Up To You”, which is picked up by KNUZ in Houston, TX. Before it’s re-released, Montel wants to re-record the strings which he notices are a half step out of tune, but is convinced to leave it as is. From there, Philadelphia, PA based Jamie/Guyden Records (Duane Eddy, The Fantastic Johnny “C”, Mercy) it picks up for national distribution. Entering the Hot 100 at #89 on October 5, 1963, it shoots to the top of the chart seven weeks later, replacing Nino Tempo & April Stevens’ “Deep Purple” at the top. The song hits number one in the US when President John F. Kennedy is assassinated, and most ironically, Dale and Grace are in Dallas, TX on the same day on tour with Dick Clark’s Caravan Of Stars. The duo are actually among the crowd of spectators watching and waving to the presidential motorcade just a few blocks away from where the assassination takes place. They are unaware of the tragic event that occurs only minutes later until hours after the fact. Dale And Grace only score one more major hit with the follow up “Stop And Think It Over” (#8 Pop) in early 1964, before parting ways in 1965. “I’m Leaving It Up To You” becomes a major hit again more than a decade later in 1974, when it is covered by Donny & Marie Osmond, peaking at #4 on the Hot 100, topping the AC chart, and is also covered by Linda Ronstadt. Songwriter Don “Sugarcane” Harris goes on to greater fame as a backing musician for numerous artists including Frank Zappa, John Mayall, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Otis and Little Richard. After thirty years apart, Dale And Grace reunite and perform together until Dale Houston’s death in 2007.