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The Meaning of The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup”

The 1968 hit single by The Foundations, “Build Me Up Buttercup”, is one prime example of an English band absolutely nailing the Motown sound. With its its undeniably catchy, cheery arrangement juxtaposed to lyrics depicting unrequited love, “Build Me Up Buttercup” has proven itself to be a timeless classic spanning nearly half a century.

Written by Mike d’Abo and Tony Macaulay, The Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup”, featuring Colin Young on lead vocals, became an international hit. In the U.S. it hit number one on the Cash Box top 100, and number three on the Billboard charts, number two in the UK, and impressive numbers in several other countries.

Of course, the song’s popularity has lasted well beyond the initial surge on the charts, with its dance-ready beat finding itself in rotation at parties of all kinds.

Not to mention its inclusion in some famous movies, including the famous ending scene in There’s Something About Mary (1998), helping to solidify its permanent place in music history.

“Build Me Up Buttercup” (There’s Something About Mary)

“Build Me Up Buttercup” Lyrics Meaning

Lyrically, the song is fairly straightforward. It very clearly depicts a lover in distress, who is being strung along by someone who is ultimately just not that into them.

However, due to the song’s upbeat and spirited arrangement, the true story in the lyrics often doesn’t fully come across until you listen to the song enough times to finally ask yourself what it’s all about. Due to its vast popularity, many us do indeed reach this point — hence how you found yourself reading this article today.

Let’s take a closer look at the meaning of “Build Me Up Buttercup”, starting with the opening chorus:

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, darling
You know that I have from the start
So build me up (Build me up)
Buttercup, don’t break my heart

Chorus to “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations.

In the chorus, the lyrics lament the lover who strings him along, questioning why she continuously gets his hopes up only to let him down in the end.

Buttercup, as he refers to his lover, is a term of endearment that is inspired by the pretty yellow flower of the same name. Of course, there is also the sweet and delectable treat, the Reese’s Peanut Butter cup.

The chorus makes it clear that this is a one-sided relationship, with the singer putting in all the effort but getting, at best, inconsistency in return.

This brings us to the first verse, which offers more specific details about the state of the relationship:

“I’ll be over at ten”, you told me time and again
But you’re late, I wait around and then (Ba-dah-dah)
I went to the door, I can’t take any more
It’s not you, you let me down again (Hey, hey, hey)

First verse to “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations.

Here, we can see that his lover told him repeatedly that she would be over at a certain time, only to not show up. After waiting around for a while, he finally went to go check the door, but of course, she wasn’t there.

The pre-chorus features a plea:

Baby, baby, try to find (Hey, hey, hey)
A little time and I’ll make you happy (Hey, hey, hey)
I’ll be home, I’ll be beside the phone waiting for you
Ooh ooh ooh, ooh ooh ooh

Pre-chorus to “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations.

He asks her to just give him a chance, and he’ll do everything he can to make her happy. Even as far as staying home, waiting beside the phone for her call.

The chorus again returns, and at this point we can start to get a sense of our narrator’s desperation. If it isn’t clear by the end of that second chorus, the next verse leaves no doubt:

To you, I’m a toy, but I could be the boy you adore
If you’d just let me know (Ba-dah-dah)
Although you’re untrue, I’m attracted to you all the more
Why do I need you so? (Hey, hey, hey)

Second verse to “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations.

The lyrics present the classic case of wanting what we can’t have, as the more untrue she is towards him, the more he finds himself attracted.

To finish out the song, the pre-chorus and chorus repeat again, showing that the cycle of hope and disappointment continues. In the meantime, everybody keeps on grooving on the dance floor.

Watch the official lyric video for “Build Me Up Buttercup” below.