Songs can travel through complicated paths, with the intended artist ultimately not recording the song. Such is the case of "Buttercup," the Stevie Wonder-penned gem originally created for the Jackson 5, but finally released in 1986 by vocalist Carl Anderson. Both versions contain unique elements, although Anderson's version contains Latin, jazz, and R&B elements that lend sophistication to "Buttercup." Best known for the 1986 hit "Friends and Lovers," a duet with Gloria Loring, Anderson passed away in 2004 after a battle with leukemia. His remarkable vocal versatility is his legacy, and should not be overlooked.
Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Anderson did not seriously pursue music until college. While attending Howard University, he sang lead in a rock band called Second Eagle. According to the L.A. Times, the group performed selections from the then-new musical Jesus Christ Superstar; while the show had already premiered in England, it had yet to debut in America. Despite show producer Robert Stigwood's attempts at stopping them from performing the songs, Second Eagle played them as part of a Palm Sunday Mass in Washington. The unauthorized performance was filmed for the Today show; when the American producer of Jesus Christ Superstar saw the footage, he wanted to cast Anderson in the part of Judas. Ben Vereen ultimately won the role on Broadway in 1971, but when he was felled by illness Anderson took over the role. The two actors later alternated in the role for a short period of time, which led to Anderson reprising the part in the 1973 movie version.
During his theater days, Anderson signed with Motown and recorded songs with Wonder; for unclear reasons, these sessions were shelved. After finishing his theater run, Anderson sought to establish himself as a jazz singer. Gaining exposure playing several Los Angeles clubs, the singer finally joined Epic/Columbia Records in 1980. He recorded four albums for the label before achieving success with his 1986 self-titled album, largely thanks to the single "Friends and Lovers." However, in 1982 Wonder contributed a song to Anderson's album Absence Without Love: "Buttercup," which was reissued on the Carl Anderson LP four years later. The circa 1974 composition derives from a planned collaboration with the Jackson 5; Wonder was going to produce the effort. The Jackson 5 recorded "Buttercup" as well as a handful of other tracks, but they remained unreleased until the 2009 compilation I Want You Back! Unreleased Masters. The only song to emerge from this period, "You Haven't Done Nothin'," features the Jackson 5 on backing vocals.
Anderson's take underscores Wonder's fondness for sophisticated chord changes, and the popping bass line adds an element of funk. The singer fluctuates between jazz and R&B, displaying his vocal power and ability to scat. Listen to how he effortlessly navigates the complicated chorus, the wordiness and rhythms challenging the average vocalist. While Michael Jackson does an admirable job on the difficult chord changes and precise rhythms--lending "Buttercup" a distinctly youthful air--Anderson's polished technique better emphasizes Wonder's jazz leanings.
He may be known for Jesus Christ Superstar and "Friends and Lovers," the 1986 love theme from Days of Our Lives, but Anderson's solo albums are well worth a listen. Few vocalists can travel through multiple genres--sometimes all in one song--and Anderson's smooth, supple voice could impressively accomplish that task. His understated style may seem simple, but his refined technique shines through every track he recorded.
For more information on the Jackson 5's sessions with Wonder, check out DeepSoul columnist Kit O'Toole's new book Michael Jackson FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the King of Pop.