First, it’s the brass section. Those horns sound great! Then, it’s that pounding bass…thump, thump, thump. Those dynamite drums. Finally, there it is: that voice. The voice of AM radio. Sunshine, summertime 1969.
“I…didn’t notice what time it was….”
We didn’t know what stereo sounded like on a transistor radio all those years ago, and FM stations only played elevator music. But this was as good as it gets on AM. We heard it blast out of that little speaker right after some cool jingle: “W-F-L-I!” they would sing. Or “Super-GO” they would shout. If it was late at night, we’d pick up a faraway top-40 powerhouse: “The Best Music, Eighty-Nine, W-L-S, in Chicago!” And boom, there was that song, from under the pillow. Don’t wake up the parents…
“All…I…know..is that I fell in love with you…”
Some of us thought it was Stevie Wonder. He too, had a high-pitched voice (he was just a teen, and had already recorded a bunch of big hits). Others thought it was a girl singer. Not many guys could hit those high notes. No AutoTune here. It’s the real thing.
“And if all my dreams come true, I’ll be spending time with yooooouuuu”
Did you see the footwork of that bass player? Not only does he rock the world’s greatest mustache, but the dude can dance! Some radio station did a survey a few years ago, and listeners proclaimed “More Today Than Yesterday” their favorite oldie of all-time. As Kanye West would say, “THE BEST OF ALL TIME!” Not a Beatles song. Not an Elvis tune. Not even Motown! It’s by…the Spiral Starecase. The group of Air Force buddies formed in Sacramento, California and called themselves the Fydallions. They played the clubs and Las Vegas for a few years, and got the attention of Columbia Records. The record execs said, “You sound good, but you’ve gotta change that name.” They chose the title of a 1945 movie, changed the spelling of “staircase” just for fun, and lead singer Pat Upton set out to write some songs.
“Every day’s a new day….in love with you..”
Pat Upton is, a guy. A nice guy whose soaring voice you hear quite frequently in that wonderful three-minute dose of aural sunshine. In 1969, it blended beautifully with the Grassroots, who would “wait a million years, just to have you near me,” and Marvin Gaye, who was so busy thinkin’ about his baby that he “ain’t got time for nothin’ else.” Pat’s song only got up to #12 on the Billboard charts, but sold a million anyway. It was a perfect fit between the fading bubblegum sound and the futuristic “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. Yes, long ago Pat was tagged with that dreaded label, “one-hit wonder.” Like so many radio bands of the 1960s, there were management problems and when the band couldn’t come up with another hit, they soon went their separate ways. Pat played with other musicians and eventually opened his own club in Guntersville, Alabama.
“With each day comes a new way…of loving you…”
In 1991, with oldies fever in full swing, Pat played the Riverbend Festival in Chattanooga a part of an all-star 60s and 70s group, made up of several guys who had scored a hit or two. I told him how his song made me smile every time it came on the radio…when it was fresh and new, and even decades later. I thanked him for writing and singing such a happy love song, in an era dominated by psychedelia, a bad moon rising and suspicious minds. It sure was a nice counterpoint to creepy stuff like “In the Year 2525,” which (ugh) was the #1 song that summer. When that song got me down, Pat’s song brought me back up.
“Every time I kiss your lips, my mind starts to wander….”
He was genuinely appreciative of my compliment, although I’m sure he’d heard it a few thousand times before. I’m sure it was too often followed by, “You’re so great! Why didn’t you have more hit records?” As if they were that easy to pull out of thin air.
“And if all my dreams come true, I’ll be spending time with yooouuu..”
He seemed especially pleased to learn that my kids loved his song. At the time they were 4 and 1. I told him that a few weeks earlier, as a surprise to my wife, I had the boys lip-synch “More Today Than Yesterday,” while I recorded it on the clunky old video camera. It’s a masterpiece of amateur clumsy-dad filmmaking, but my wife loved it. Even today, it appears on our TV to embarrass my young adult sons when girlfriends are in our house. (It has not yet shown up on YouTube, but don’t dare me).
“Ohhhh…I love you more to-day…than yes-ter-day…(horns!) …but not as much…as too-morrr-ooowww”
I sent Pat a copy of the video a few days later, and his wife called to tell me how much they enjoyed it. A few years later, I found a video of Pat from 1999, thirty years after his big hit, performing it solo in front of his musician friends on a show called “Rock ‘n Roll Graffiti.” It was minus the big Columbia Records production team, but The Voice still sounded great.
I thought about this song in the middle of another endless rainy day during this damp 4th of July holiday week. Wrecks everywhere, fireworks shows cancelled, celebrations postponed. I’ve seen a lot of frowny faces this week, even in the mirror. But on the way to work today, guess what came on the radio? And for the thousandth time, conservatively speaking, it made me smile. Now it was in crystal-clear stereo, with every word understandable, every instrument shining, and that bass sounding better than ever. It was raining on the outside, but inside my car it was sunny, and I was a few decades younger. If you were on Dayton Boulevard around 10 a.m., yes that was me straining to hit those high notes. It’s always fun trying, but nobody can do it like Pat Upton.
“I love you more to-day….than yes-ter-day…but only half as much…as too-morrr-owwwww.”