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“Buttered Popcorn” is a 1961 song written by Motown president Berry Gordy and lyricist Barney Ales, produced by Gordy, and recorded by the Motown vocal group The Supremes as a Tamla label single. It was the group’s second record after signing with Motown Records (and their third overall), as well as their final song for the Tamla label before switching to Motown.

Recording

Not only is this an uncommon single with Florence Ballard on lead, but it’s also the only one with her as the only lead. The song is about a woman who is concerned that her husband is more concerned with eating “buttered popcorn” than with anything else, as he eats it “for breakfast, lunch, and supper too,” as well as his health, which “worries me so I don’t know what to do.” Ballard was the main lead singer on stage in the group’s early days, with every one of the members getting an opportunity to sing lead on stage and in the studio. However, because Diana Ross had the most pop-sounding voice of the trio, Berry Gordy believed that her vocals had a higher chance of reaching the desired cross-over audience.

One line of the stanza “more butter” is dedicated to all of the girls in the group:

When I asked him what was going on in the world today, he said, “What is going on in the world today.” He remarked…

Florence: I’d like some extra butter;

More butter, Florence and Mary say.

More butter, Florence, Mary, and Barbara said.

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More about Florence, Mary, Barbara, and Diane.

Despite the fact that Ballard’s lead vocals were regarded “too soulful,” Motown’s Quality Control department deemed Buttered Popcorn to be the greatest tune to be released as the Supremes’ second Motown single. Berry Gordy, on the other hand, was adamant that Ross is the group’s major lead singer, and that the group’s copy of The Miracles’ “Who’s Lovin’ You” be the single’s A-side. Gordy and Quality Control eventually reached an agreement: the Ballard-led song would retain the record’s A-side, but the single would be promoted as a “double A-side” single.

Critical reception

In retrospect, The Guardian’s Stevie Chick named “Buttered Popcorn” as one of the top ten Supremes tracks. Ballard was hailed as a “bold, big-voiced belter” by Chick, who also described the song as “a bit of raw, ribald soul missing the gloss that gilded their [The Supremes’] later smashes.” ‘On Buttered Popcorn, Ballard screams salaciously that her boyfriend “likes it greasy, sticky, salty, and gooey,” an intentionally saucy performance that somehow escaped Motown’s vaunted Quality Control department. ‘The innuendo-laced track is not unlike buttered popcorn — salty, fluffy, and oh so tasty,’ Bonnie Stiernberg of Paste noted. “Buttered Popcorn” received a B+ from Cashbox, while music journalist Wayne Harada of The Honolulu Advertiser termed the song “A novelty” that “merits attention.”

Commercial performance

Both sides of the record were heavily promoted on local Detroit radio stations, but difficulties surfaced fast. The first version of the song was pulled because it was “too raw,” and a smoother version was released instead. Gordy didn’t do anything to promote the record’s A-side, and when the label realized that the song could be interpreted as having a scandalous “double meaning,” they switched to promoting the B-side only, eventually abandoning the single entirely. “Buttered Popcorn” gained a lot of radio in Detroit and surrounding cities, but it didn’t chart, as did all of the group’s singles until December 1962, when “Let Me Go the Right Way” did.

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2 thoughts on “Buttered Popcorn”
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