Gonna sit down in the kitchen, fix me something good to eat

Everybody needs love, so it’s not surprising it’s probably the number one topic for popular song lyrics.  Everybody needs food too, so it stands to reason there would be tons images-76of songs about food as well, but that’s just not the case.

Rock bands, by and large, have rarely written any songs that mention food in the title, let alone as the focal point of the lyrics.  It seems that most times you encounter song lyrics about food, it’s a whimsical country tune, and it’s more likely to be about a Southern guy or gal who refers to the other by a food-oriented nickname!

Consequently, the songs about food I’ve compiled here reflect those tendencies.  The first few are examples of songs that mention food in a euphemistic way, while the rest actually celebrate the foods themselves.

Eat up!

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“Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie,” Jay & The Techniques, 1967

R-7533533-1478705308-5117.jpegSongwriter Maurice Irby Jr. came up with this catchy tune in which the title really has nothing to do with the food items mentioned.  “I was working on lyrics while sitting in a diner, and I saw ‘Apple, peach, pumpkin pie’ listed as dessert choices on the menu,” he recalled.  “I thought the phrase rolled off the tongue so nice.  I just made ’em plural and used it as the title.”  The recording of it by Jay and The Techniques zoomed to #6 in the summer of 1967:  “Apples peaches pumpkin pie, you were young and so was I, now that we’ve grown up, it seems you just keep ignoring me, I’ll find you anywhere you go, I’ll follow you high and low, you can’t escape this love of mine anytime…”

“Lollipop,” The Chordettes, 1958

Lollipop-English-2014-500x500The Wisconsin-based female choral quartet known as The Chordettes got their start singing traditional folk music, but by the mid-’50s, they chose to focus on close-harmony tunes sung a cappella.  They had eight Top 20 chart entries between 1954-1961, but their two biggest claims to fame were the #1 smash “Mr. Sandman” in 1954 and the #2 hit “Lollipop” in 1958, which uses the popular candy as a nickname for a boyfriend:  “Call my baby lollipop, tell you why, his kiss is sweeter than an apple pie, and when he does his shaky rockin’ dance, man, I haven’t got a chance, I call him, lollipop, lollipop…”

“Ice Cream Man,” Tom Waits, 1973

35c9a4b0-d4dd-3e6f-87fd-2185519296e2_6c5bWaits’ brilliant debut LP “Closing Time” is full of ballads and mournful melodies, but one exception is the upbeat ditty “Ice Cream Man,” in which he plays the role of a street vendor offering literal and/or figurative ice cream treats to the young lady he’s wooing:  “I’ll be clickin’ by your house about two forty-five, sidewalk sundae, strawberry surprise, I got a cherry popsicle right on time, a big stick, mama, that’ll blow your mind, ’cause I’m the ice cream man, I’m a one-man band, yeah, I’m the ice cream man, honey, I’ll be good to you…”

“Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes),” Dee Dee Sharp, 1962

dee-dee-sharp-gravy-for-my-mashed-potatoes-cameo-sIn 1962, R&B singer Sharp was a sensation with five Top Ten singles, two of which capitalized on the popular Twist-like dance move known as the Mashed Potato, where dancers would grind their feet into the dance floor as if mashing potatoes.  In the lyrics to “Gravy,” Sharp says she needs more than just dancing, she needs romancing as well:  “I dig this twistin’ but I want some more, there’s somethin’ missin’ while we’re on the floor, come on baby, I want some gravy, a little kissing’s what I’m waiting for, gimme gravy on my mashed potatoes…”

“Pulling Mussels (From a Shell),” Squeeze, 1980

81ZLUjq0kRL._SX355_Chris Difford, Squeeze’s lyricist partner with songwriter Glenn Tilbrook, said he wrote the words to this tune almost as a journal entry, telling about his vacation day by the shore as a teenager in his native England.  “It’s not about food, not really.  It’s about being horny with someone at summer camp, which, let’s be honest, was beautiful and true the first time we encountered it.  It’s a sweet memory about finding something beautiful and pure in the middle of a sea of banality”:  “Behind the chalet, my holiday’s complete, and I feel like William Tell, Maid Marian on her tiptoed feet pulling mussels from a shell…”

“Beans and Corn Bread,” Louis Jordan, 1949

Unknown-63Jordan and his jump-blues band The Tympany Five were hugely popular in the juke joints as well as some of the tonier clubs in bigger cities when they could get gigs there.  Many of the early rock and roll pioneers credit Jordan for writing songs that inspired them to compose their own brand of irresistible dance music.  This one used food pairings to emphasize the need for couples to stick together:  “Beans and corn bread, hand-in-hand, that’s what beans said to corn bread, ‘We should stick together, hand in hand, we should hang out together like wieners and sauerkraut, we should stick together like hot dogs and mustard…'”

“Sweet Potato Pie,” James Taylor, 1988

71Y6s6uFdIL._SY355_North Carolina-born Taylor no doubt ate his share of sweet potato pie in his youth.  For his high-spirited song by that name from his 1988 album “Never Die Young,” Taylor sings about a girl the narrator knew years earlier who ends up as his delicious ladyfriend decades later:   “I’m glad I had to wait awhile, a little bit too juvenile, I needed to refine my style, a silk suit and a crocodile smile, so let the whole damn world go by ’cause I just want to testify, from now on, it’s me and my sweet potato pie…”

“Cheeseburger in Paradise,” Jimmy Buffett, 1978

Unknown-64Buffett’s famous tune, which became the name of his lucrative restaurant chain as well, speaks of how it’s no fun dieting and eating healthy foods all the time, not when what he really wants is a good old-fashioned American favorite, which he describes in delirious detail:  “I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French fried potatoes, big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer, well, good god almighty, which way do I steer for my cheeseburger in paradise?…”

“Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” Hank Williams, 1952

Unknown-65Jambalaya is a spicy, Louisiana-based dish of sausage, crawfish vegetable and rice, and Williams’ song honoring its savory flavor was written to be delivered as a Cajun two-step tune.  He chose to dilute it somewhat to make it more palatable to a mass market, which was the right move — it held the #1 spot on the country charts for 13 weeks in 1952, and crooner Jo Stafford’s cover peaked at #3 on the pop charts that same year.  Other major artists covering the song in the years since include Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, John Fogerty, The Carpenters, Emmylou Harris and Van Morrison:  “Jambalaya, crawfish pie and fillet gumbo, for tonight I’m gonna see my cher ami-o, pick guitar, fill fruit jar and be gay-o, son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou…”

“Savoy Truffle,” The Beatles, 1968

Unknown-66George Harrison wrote this track from “The White Album” about his pal Eric Clapton, who had such an addiction to sweets that it caused him plenty of trips to the dentist to have teeth pulled.  Harrison mentions several yummy European candy specialties that ultimately made his friend’s life miserable:  “Creme tangerine and montelimar, a ginger sling with a pineapple heart, a coffee dessert, yes, you know it’s good news, but you’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy truffle…”

“Coconut,” Harry Nilsson, 1972

images-75This was essentially a novelty tune that made it all the way to #6 in the summer/fall of 1972.  Nilsson wrote it as a doctor’s whimsical remedy for a hangover, combining coconut and lime in a big glass:  “You put the lime in the coconut, you drink ’em both together, put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better, put the lime in the coconut, drink ’em both up, put the lime in the coconut, and call me in the morning…”

“Banana Pancakes,” Jack Johnson, 2005

Unknown-67The hedonistic life of surfer Jack Johnson comes through in much of his music, which encourages enjoying life’s pleasures, laying around in a hammock, on the beach, or in bed.  Johnson urges his girlfriend to remain in the sack on a cool cloudy weekday while he makes her a plate of her favorite breakfast:  “Baby, you hardly even notice when I try to show you this song is meant to keep ya from doing what you’re supposed to, waking up too early, maybe we can sleep in, make you banana pancakes, pretend like it’s the weekend now…”

“Polk Salad Annie,” Tony Joe White, 1969

Unknown-68Pokeweed grows in the wild in the woods down South, and White recalled often eating cooked dishes made of it “when there wasn’t much else in the fridge.”  Sallet is an old English word that means “cooked greens,” not to be mistaken for “salad,” but in fact, White’s record company did just that when they changed his song from “Poke Sallet Annie” to “Polk Salad Annie.”  It reached #8 in 1969:  “Down there we have a plant that grows out in the woods and in the fields, looks somethin’ like a turnip green, and everybody calls it poke sallet, poke sallet, used to know a girl lived down there, and she’d go out in the evenings and pick her a mess of it, carry it home and cook it for supper..”

“Butterbean,” The B-52s, 1983

Unknown-69Hailing from the college town of Athens, Georgia, was the quirky punk/New Wave band known as The B-52s, known especially for their dance club classics, “Love Shack” and “Good Stuff.”  Early on, songs like “Rock Lobster” and “Butterbean” were more the order of the day, and the latter celebrated the traditional Southern snack favorite:  “Gramps and grannies, kids in their teens, junkyard dogs and campus queens, yeah, everybody likes butterbeans… Pass me a plate-full, I’ll be grateful, 1-2-3-4, pick ’em, hull ’em, put on the steam, that’s how we fix butterbeans…”

“RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” NRBQ, 1972

Unknown-70NRBQ (New Rhythm & Blues Quartet) was a Kentucky-based band founded in 1966 that merged rock, pop, jazz, blues and Tin Pan Alley styles, playing mostly small clubs but occasionally opening for bigger bands like Poco or R.E.M.  A concert favorite was “RC Cola and a Moon Pie,” an old Bill Lister tune from the Fifties about Royal Crown Cola (a regional competitor of Coke and Pepsi) and a Moon Pie (essentially a s’more — two graham crackers with marshmallow in between, covered in chocolate).  It was known as “a working man’s lunch” throughout the South:  “I don’t want no cornbread, and I can do without peas and rice, I don’t want no carrots or no real hot pizza slice, but everything’s gonna be all right with an RC Cola and a moon pie…”

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Honorable mention:  “One Bad Apple,” The Osmonds, 1971;  “Tangerine,” Led Zeppelin, 1970;  “Strawberry Fields Forever,” The Beatles, 1967;  “Tupelo Honey,” Van Morrison, 1971;  “Sugar Sugar,” The Archies, 1969;  “Blueberry Hill,” Fats Domino, 1957;  “30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” Harry Chapin, 1974;  “Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat, 1973;  “Buttered Popcorn,” The Supremes, 1961.

 

We can walk together down in Dixieland

There were so many fantastic bands making incredible music in the 1970s that sometimes it’s easy to neglect some of them.

Here at Hack’s Back Pages, I’ve written about dozens:  Steely Dan.  Stevie Wonder.  The Allman Brothers.  David Bowie.  The Eagles.  Santana.  The Rolling Stones.  Elton John.  Joe Walsh.  Pink Floyd.  James Taylor.  Grateful Dead.  Jethro Tull.  Jefferson Starship.  Paul Simon.  Earth Wind & Fire.  The Who.  And the list goes on.

LittleFeatThumbnails-1500x1000Now it’s time to feature a group that never had a Top 10 album, no big hit single, no induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but nevertheless maintained a solid following throughout their career and are still touring even today.

Let’s talk about Little Feat.

We’re revisiting the group’s music this week in the wake of the death of Paul Barrère, an extraordinarily gifted guitarist whose instrumental and songwriting prowess graced nearly every Little Feat record.

Bill Payne, the band’s co-founder and superb keyboardist, recalled, “Paul auditioned for Little Feat as a bassist when it was first being put together—in his words, ‘as a bassist, I

Little Feat in Negril, Jamaica 2009

Paul Barrère

make an excellent guitarist’—and three years later joined the band in his proper role on guitar.  Forty-seven years later, he was forced to miss the current tour due to side effects from his ongoing treatment for liver disease.  He promised to follow his doctor’s orders and get back in shape, but I guess it was not meant to be.”

 

Any profile of Little Feat must begin with Lowell George, the remarkable singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who found a way to blend funk, blues, gospel, jazz and country into a compelling stew that was at once lightly comical and deadly serious.

George’s father was a furrier to many Hollywood movie stars who became family friends, and young Lowell couldn’t help but be influenced by the likes of W. C. Fields hanging around the house.  A certain surreal humor was a hallmark of many songs

lowell-george-little-feat

Paul Barrère (left) and Lowell George

George wrote as part of the Little Feat canon.

Take the tune “Willin’,” a song he wrote in 1969 while serving as guitarist and backing vocalist for Frank Zappa’s group, The Mothers of Invention.  Despite his maverick persona, Zappa was a firm anti-drugs guy, and when he heard George’s lyrics — “And if you give me weed, whites, and wine, and you show me a sign, I’ll be willin’ to be movin’…” —   he strongly suggested George take his music elsewhere.

George decided, what the hell, I’d rather be in control of my own band anyway.  So in 1970, he teamed up with keyboardist Bill Payne, drummer Richie Hayward and bassist Roy Estrada to form Little Feat, so named, as the legend goes, because of George’s small feet (the spelling was changed to “feat” in homage to The Beatles’ similar spelling change).

The band’s first two records, “Little Feat” and “Sailing Shoes,” were largely ignored outside Los Angeles, the group’s home base.  “Willin'” ended up on both LPs because George didn’t think they’d done the song justice in its first version.  Eventually it

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1970 debut

attracted the attention of other artists including Linda Ronstadt, who covered it on her #1 breakthrough 1974 LP “Heart Like a Wheel.”

In a bold move in 1973, George essentially re-invented the sound of Little Feat by adding three new members — Kenny Gradney on bass, Sam Clayton on congas and percussion, and old high school pal Barrère on guitar.  Gradney and Clayton joined with Hayward to become one of the most renowned rhythm sections in rock & roll and gave the new line-up a funky sound that recalled the great New Orleans band, The Meters.  It was the addition of Barrère, though, that gave the band more depth, as his presence on rhythm and lead guitar allowed Lowell George to concentrate on developing his slide guitar technique.

Right from the get-go on the opening title track of 1973’s “Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat hit their stride and began carving an original groove that carried them through their next little-feat-dixie-chickenthree albums — “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” “The Last Record Album” and “Time Loves a Hero.”  Newfound assuredness in the studio, with George assuming producing duties as well, inspired increased confidence on stage.

“Lowell and I wanted to keep the band elastic, so if we needed to include more players to keep the music eclectic, we would do so,”  said Payne.  “The idea was that Little Feat would probably not be a household name, but we would make more than a dent within the musical and creative communities, and we’ve certainly done that.”

With swampy rhythms, nasty slide guitar, earthy vocals and whimsical lyrics, Little Feat developed its still-loyal audience and enjoyed increased success as a dynamic band in concert, peaking just as they recorded their double live album “Waiting for Columbus,” which reached #18 on the charts in 1978 and is often mentioned as one of the best live R-1329675-1329852272.jpegalbums in rock music history.

George loved to sit in with, and produce, other artists as a way of maintaining control of his artistic energies.  In particular, he shepherded Bonnie Raitt through her early career, helping her develop a slide guitar prowess that ultimately eclipsed his own.

Payne, too, had been spending time recording keyboard parts with The Doobie Brothers, driven to do so when George’s penchant for endless overdubbing Little Feat tracks in search of perfection exasperated Payne and others.

Sadly, George’s hedonistic approach to life got the better of him by then.  He ate too much, drank too much and experimented with any number of substances as he pushed away his bandmates with ever-erratic behavior.  He often declined to participate in sessions for the group’s next LP, “Down on the Farm,” instead spending his time on his long-delayed solo debut, “Thank’s I’ll Eat It Here,” released in 1979.

In the summer of 1979, George died of a heart attack.  He was only 34.

Already estranged from George, the band chose to break up at that point anyway, with other members taking studio session work when the opportunity arose.  By 1987, though, Payne, Barrère, Hayward, Gradney and Clayton chose to reunite, signing up ex-Pure Prairie League vocalist Craig Fuller and guitarist Fred Tackett in the process.  The result Little_Feat_-_Let_It_Rollwas a sort of “Little Feat 2.0” that put them back into a heavy schedule of touring and recording.  1988’s “Let It Roll” proved to be an excellent comeback, and I saw the band put on an excellent show the following summer as the warm-up act for Don Henley.  Two more LPs — “Representing the Mambo” and “Shake Me Up” — continued this phase with lesser degrees of success.

Over the past 25 years, Payne, Barrère, Gradney, Clayton and Hayward soldiered on, only occasionally recording new LPs while they toured off and on.  Hayward’s death in 2012 brought in new drummer Gabe Ford.

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Bill Payne

The future of Little Feat without Barrère is uncertain, said Payne, but it’s likely he and his bandmates will continue making music in one form or another.  “It’s all we’ve been doing all our lives.”

Payne had these parting words for his late collaborator:  “Paul, sail on to the next place in your journey with our abiding love for a life always dedicated to the muse and the music.  We’re grateful for the time we’ve shared.”

Full confession:  I was among the many rock music lovers who let the great records of Little Feat slide under my radar when they were being released.  It wasn’t until a good friend turned me on to the wonders of “Waiting for Columbus” around 1980 that I finally became hip to the band’s irresistible sounds, and I spent the next several years catching up, adding album after little_feat_5-copy-2album to my collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Little Feat, I strongly recommend you get with the program beginning right here and now.  Those who already know and love the band will no doubt rejoice in being reminded of just how good they were, and still are.

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I’ve compiled my own playlist of Little Feat tracks I consider representative of their finest recorded moments.