Thursday, December 22, 2011

Boy Toy: The Foundations: "Build Me Up Buttercup"

And so we come to the end of 1968; it may have been a year for worldwide revolution, but for this blog it clearly has been a year of relationships, whether they are viewed nostalgically as with O’Connor or tormentingly, like Ryan. This song sits about halfway between those two extremes, in that the man clearly loves the woman but is disappointed by her actions, or rather inactions. He loves her but those inactions speak volumes about her attitude, which is decidedly blasĂ©. There doesn’t seem to be much reason for him to still be attracted to her, and he himself questions why he needs her; he doesn’t understand himself, nor does he understand her, save that she thinks of him as a "toy." Perhaps it is because he is so desperate that she stands him up, forgets to call, and “mess(es) him around.” His aching “ooo-OOOH”s are as much about his pain as physical longing, and I don’t know if it is perverse of me to guess that maybe he secretly likes being in love with someone so unpredictable; someone who is very much like the butterfly girl in “Jesamine” who irritates and is yet still inherently lovable.

The song is upbeat, led by piano and horns, a radio staple to this day** as it is cheery, even though it depicts a man at the end of his proverbial rope, the singer almost screaming “WHY” at each chorus, maybe to her, maybe rhetorically as he stares at the clock*, runs to the door, looks imploringly at the phone...wondering about his fate and telling her how much he loves her.

He believes one day he will win her over, but I don’t know if this one-sided relationship has much of a chance; no matter how many “hey hey hey”s and no matter how loud he gets, this woman’s inability to commit, even to something as simple as a phone call, must mean there is either something about her he doesn’t know (not that he has any suspicions in the song) or that maybe, as the saying goes, she just isn’t that into him and he, poor sap, is trying to get pears from an oak tree. (I am not ignoring the obvious implications about her building up his expectations either; those yelps of his are from thwarted desire, and in between this and him not even knowing why he’s attracted to her, something awkward and unpleasant might just happen.)

The Foundations’ previous hit points to a sort of theme here of hapless pointless attachment (“Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”) and this need to be with someone – even if it’s not reciprocated – kind of hints at what is to come. If the Summer of Love was all about love as a universal solvent, then in ’68 love came back down to the dogged and irrational personal perspective, wherein men have feelings for women that don’t necessarily make a lot of sense, but they are true and genuine and that – that realness – is what counts. 1969 is going to take that realness all over the place, as the decade ends and everyone has their final say on what counts.

*Sloan do an excellent song on the bonus EP of One Chord To Another called “Stood Up,” all about a guy who is left in a cafĂ©, watching the clock…

**If I sound a little...arms-length about this song, it's because I associate it with a compilation I heard way too much in a situation that I didn't exactly enjoy. As much as I try to be fair to songs, some have been drummed into me in a way that doesn't make me think of them with automatic enthusiasm. I should note that it was written by Mike d'Abo (lead singer with Manfred Mann) and Tony Macaulay, who helped to write "Baby, Now That I've Found You." I should also note that The Foundations were the first multi-racial group to hit it big in the UK, at a time when (inexplicable to me) The Black and White Minstrel Show was still on tv. The struggle was still definitely continuing...

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