The Spiral Starecase was the quintessential "one-hit wonder": an act that created a song that nearly everyone knows, but which then disappeared, leaving hardly a trace. The song that briefly made the Spiral Starecase famous was "More Today than Yesterday," a moderate hit in 1969 and a perennial presence on oldies-oriented radio stations ever since. The success of that song wasn't entirely mysterious, though, for several long-lasting rock music careers crossed paths as it took shape.
At the center of the Spiral Starecase stood vocalist and guitarist Pat Upton, the composer of "More Today than Yesterday." Born in Alabama in 1940, Upton was raised on gospel music but was bitten by the rock and roll bug in the late 1950s and took up the electric guitar at age 19, after hearing music by Duane Eddy and the Ventures. He has also cited Motown hitmaker Stevie Wonder as an influence on his music. In 1962 Upton joined the Air Force and was stationed in Sacramento, California. He used his spare time to focus more seriously on his guitar playing, and soon he was looking for other musicians to perform with.
Upton brought together his first group for an Air Force talent contest in 1964. Soon after that he was asked by saxophonist and keyboardist Dick Lopes to join a group called the Fydallions (sometimes spelled "Fedallions"). Upton's hours of study paid off, as the group began finding gigs around the Los Angeles area and later in Las Vegas. "We would play the Las Vegas circuit; five hour lounge jobs," Upton told the Manila Times.
By 1966 the Fydallions had assumed the future Spiral Starecase lineup of keyboardist Harvey Kaplan, drummer Vinny Parello, and bassist Bobby Raymond, in addition to Upton and Lopes. They signed a contract with a tiny independent label called Crusader Records (operated by "The In Crowd" producer Fred Darian) and recorded some material, but it was never released. A demo tape the group pitched to Columbia Records likewise went nowhere.
In 1967 the Fydallions got a break when the influential artists-and-repertoire executive Gary Usher, who had helped mold the careers of the Beach Boys and the Byrds, happened to catch their set at a club in El Monte, California. They were signed to the Columbia label, but only under the condition that they change their name. The Fydallions were re-christened the Spiral Starecase after Lopes saw the classic 1940s suspense film The Spiral Staircase, and they altered the spelling of its title to conform to the 1960s rock vogue for unusual spellings of familiar words in band names. Columbia also wanted the band to grow their hair long and otherwise move toward the dominant "hippie" images of the day. But the label's blandishments apparently worked less well in that area; pictures of the band from the cover of their More Today than Yesterday album and elsewhere showed a visual style closer to the collegiate chic of the early 1960s than to the hippie look.
The first Spiral Starecase single for Columbia, "Baby What I Mean," was unsuccessful. That song and its flipside (on a 45 rpm single) were written by outside composers, and after it failed, the label suggested that band members try out some of their own material. Upton thought of "More Today than Yesterday," which he had written in Las Vegas after a friend taught him to play some of its harmonic progressions on the guitar.
After Usher left Columbia, Spiral Starecase came under the management of Columbia producer Sonny Knight. A final piece of preparation for the song's success was set in place when Al Capps, who had a three-decades-long career as an arranger and later wrote the Cher hit "Half-Breed," was brought in to write the arrangement, using a group of studio musicians that included several horns. When "More Today than Yesterday" was released in 1969, it was slightly ahead of its time. The horn-driven sound of Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears was at least several months in the future. The song rose to number 12 on Billboard magazine's singles chart, and never really dropped out of the popular consciousness after that. It was covered by a host of other artists and even became a hit in the Philippines, where Upton appeared in 2004 for a nostalgia tour.
The Spiral Starecase was rushed into the studio later in 1969 to record an album, also titled More Today than Yesterday. It featured several other originals, as well as covers such as one of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's Herb Alpert hit "This Guy's in Love with You." The group had its 15 minutes of fame as they toured and appeared on television with the likes of Three Dog Night, Sly and the Family Stone, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, whose hit "Proud Mary" was also covered on More Today than Yesterday. Two more moderate hits, "No One for Me to Turn To" and "She's Ready," were spawned by the album in late 1969 and early 1970.
That, however, marked the end of Spiral Starecase's chart activity. Upton's enthusiastic falsetto vocals contributed to the band's success, but the other band members didn't play the brass instruments heard on "More Today than Yesterday," and couldn't match the spectacular stage shows put on by Chicago and their ilk. After experiencing management problems and financial shenanigans, the band broke up in 1971.
Of the members of the Spiral Starecase, only Upton and Kaplan enjoyed extended musical careers; both headed re-formed Spiral Starecase groups at various times. Kaplan's daughter Brenda K. Starr had a hit in 1988 with "I Still Believe," later recorded by superstar Mariah Carey. Upton recorded a little-known solo album in the early 1970s, played in the band of rock and roll survivor Rick Nelson for several years, and continued to record sporadically. He realized little money from his hit composition at first, but as cover versions continued to accumulate, he profited handsomely and never tired of remarking that his debut songwriting effort had earned him "more today than yesterday."
For the Record …
Members include Pat Upton , vocals, guitar, and leader; Harvey Kaplan , keyboards; Dick Lopes , saxophone; Vinny Parello , drums; Bobby Raymond , bass.
Group formed as the Fydallions in Sacramento, CA, c. 1964; signed to Columbia label, 1967; changed name to Spiral Starecase at label's request; released "More Today Than Yesterday" single and LP album, 1969; group dissolved, 1971; various members later toured with groups bearing Spiral Starecase name.
Addresses: Agent—Smash Productions, P.O. Box 750014, Las Vegas, NV 89136, website: http://www.smashproductions.com.
More Today Than Yesterday, Columbia, 1969.
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Manila Times, February 13, 2004.
"Pat Upton's music formula," Manila Bulletin Online, http://www.mb.com.ph (August 25, 2004).
"Spiral Starecase," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (August 25, 2004).
"Spiral Starecase," Mclane & Wong Entertainment Law, http://www.benmclane.com/spiral.htm (August 25, 2004).
"Spiral Starecase song earns 'more today than yesterday,'" inq7.net, http://www.inq7.net/ent/2004/feb/11/ent_5-1.htm (August 25, 2004).
—James M. Manheim
"Spiral Starecase." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/spiral-starecase
"Spiral Starecase." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 24, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/spiral-starecase