Hot Butter – “Popcorn”

Introduction to Hot Butter:

Hot Butter was an instrumental cover band playing in the pop and easy listening genre in the 1970s. They were led by Stan Free, a keyboardist; the group was rounded out by Dave Mullaney, John Abbott, Bill Jerome, Steve Jerome and Danny Jordan, though it was virtually regarded as Free’s one-man band. Their first single was the Moog synths-drenched version of “Popcorn,” originally by Gershon Kingsley. It was their most commercially-successful album, generating two million copies worldwide, with France being the biggest seller. Hot Butter also did instrumental versions of other material by Neil Diamond, The Shadows, The Tornados, Serge Gainsbourg, Billy Joe and the Checkmates, Norman Petty, etc. They released other singles that also charted: “Apache,” “Slag Solution,” “Tequila,” and “Percolator.”

Stan Free’s background

Hot Butter was an instrumental band formed in New York City in the early 1970s, by keyboardist, jazz musician, composer, conductor and arranger Stanley “Stan” Free (1922-1995), who was also the frontman. Other band members consisted of Dave Mullaney, John Abbott, brothers Bill and Steve Jerome, and Danny Jordan. They mostly specialized in covers. You could also say that Hot Butter wasn’t so much of a group as it was more of an alias for Free.

During the late 1960s Free used to release several singles under his own name, all of which became unsuccessful. Aside from his own work, he had also been a top session player during that decade, having worked on a number of albums by the Monkees, Arlo Guthrie, John Denver, The Association and many others. His musical instrument of choice was the Moog synthesizer; in fact, Free had been a member of a Moog synths ensemble called First Moog Quartet, which was founded by the electronic music pioneer Gershon Kingsley.

Hot Butter’s biggest and most enduring hit “Popcorn”

In 1972 Hot Butter achieved their biggest success by covering Kingsley’s 1969 original instrumental track “Popcorn.” Hot Butter’s re-recording became a big hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #9 there. It also reached #4 on the Billboard adult contmeporary singles chart. “Popcorn” also became a big hit on the British shores, reaching at #5. There are also some accounts that state that Kinsgley himself also played on the re-recording of “Popcorn,” although he was not credited.

The group released their self-titled debut LP in 1972, which also included the hit single “Popcorn,” as well as Jerry Lordan’s “Apache” (a #51 hit in the UK). They released a second album More Hot Butter in 1973, which consisted of mostly covers just like their first album. It was followed by the following LPs Popcorn with Hot Butter and Moog Hits.

The band’s other recordings

The only tracks that were considered the band’s originals were “At the Movies,” (“Popcorn”‘s B-side), “Tristana” and “Space Walk.” Their other composition “The Silent Screen” contained an arrangement based on the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

Hot Butter covered tunes by other artists: Lordan’s band Jerry Lordan and the Shadows, Stephen Schwartz, Jerry Lordan and The Shadows, Neil Diamond, Joe Meek and The Tornados, Neal Hefti, Serge Gainsbourg, Robert Maxwell, Piero Umiliani, Jean-Joseph Mouret, Billy Joe & the Checkmates, Joe Buffalo’s Band, Teo Macero, Leroy Anderson, Chuck Rio, and Norman Petty and The String-A-Longs.

Although Free and the rest of Hot Butter released other recordings, “Popcorn” remained to be their most popular number. It proved to be popular in fact, that it was used as a theme music for several productions from television stations. “Popcorn” has been regarded as the forerunner of electronic music, synthpop, electronica genres.

Free, aged 73, died in August 1995 in New York City. In 2000, a compilation CD called Popcorn was released.