I love coffee, I love tea

Dolly Parton got it right regarding what I do the moment my feet hit the floor each morning when she sang, “Well, I tumble out of bed and stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition…”

The drink that got its start in Eastern Africa before migrating to the equatorial countries of the Americas is a crucial elixir many of us sip each day to get our personal engines running. For more than a century now, half of all coffee produced worldwide each year is consumed in the US. From the 10-cent cup of coffee of the 1950s to the $5+ concoctions at Starbucks today, we are happy to pay the price for that morning jolt.

In England, tea is the preferred beverage, due in part to its history of importation from India (a British colony for many decades) and its affordability. Tea is an integral part of the culture, a fact not lost on the songwriters of Great Britain.

Musicians from both countries have been writing and recording songs about coffee and tea since The Jazz Age. I have assembled 15 of the best ones, with another ten honorable mentions, and all are included on my Spotify playlist at the end. The styles and tempos are all over the map, so they might not be “your cup of tea” if you are like me and “take your coffee with a dash of silence.” But it’s a fun set I hope you enjoy at some point in your day.

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“Black Coffee,” k.d. lang, 1988

In 1948, lyricist Paul Francis Webster (who went on win Oscars for “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” and “The Shadow of Your Smile”) collaborated with jazz composer/arranger Joe “Sonny” Burke to write this bluesy torch song that finds salvation in a steaming cup of coffee when you’re up all night waiting to hear from your loved one. “Black Coffee” was recorded by some big names of that era, notably Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald, and many more artists in the years since. I’m partial to k.d. lang’s 1988 recording from her “Shadowland” LP. “I’m feeling mighty lonesome, I haven’t slept a wink, /I walk the floor and watch the door, and in between I drink black coffee, /Love’s a hand-me-down brew…”

“Second Cup of Coffee,” Gordon Lightfoot, 1972

Lightfoot is a national hero in his native Canada, still performing occasionally at age 83. In the U.S., he first hit the charts with “If You Could Read My Mind” in 1970, followed a few years later with the #1 song and album “Sundown.” In between, a couple of fine LPs curiously didn’t attract much attention, one being “Don Quixote” with its stunning love song “Beautiful.” Also on that album was “Second Cup of Coffee,” in which he hopes the caffeine he’s drinking to soothe his broken heart will stave off any impulse for harder stuff later on: “I’m on my second cup of coffee, and I still can’t face the day, /I’m thinking of the lady who got lost along the way, /And if I don’t stop this trembling hand from reaching for the phone, /I’ll be reachin’ for the bottle, Lord, before this day is done…”

“Afternoons and Coffeespoons,” Crash Test Dummies, 1993

The Dummies, led by the instantly identifiable bass/baritone vocals of Brad Roberts, was one of the biggest Canadian bands of the 1990s, and had some su stantial success in tea U.S. with the #3 single “Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm.” Another fan favorite from the same album was “Afternoons and Coffeespoons,” inspired by T.S. Eliot’s landmark 1915 poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Roberts calls it “a song about being afraid of getting old, which is a reflection of my very neurotic character”: “Woah, afternoons will be measured out, measured out, measured with coffeespoons and T.S. Eliot…”

“Black Coffee in Bed,” Squeeze, 1982

British band Squeeze were one of the best to emerge from the New Wave era, with several hit singles and albums in England. U.S. audiences were more selective but did embrace some of their work, notably the 1981 hit “Tempted,” which reached #8, and the sublime 1982 follow-up “Black Coffee in Bed,” which peaked at #26, and includes backing vocals by Elvis Costello and Paul Young. Another look at lost love, but this time seen as more of a relief: “Oh, from lips without passion to the lips with a kiss, there’s nothing of your love that I’ll ever miss, /The stain on my notebook remains all that’s left, of the memory of late nights and coffee in bed…”

“One More Cup of Coffee,” Bob Dylan, 1976

Dylan wrote some of the best kiss-off songs of all time — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Positively 4th Street” come immediately to mind — but he has many other lesser-known breakup songs throughout his voluminous catalog. Buried on his #1 LP “Desire” in 1976 (highlighted by the hit “Hurricane”) is “One More Cup of Coffee,” on which he croaks out a duet with Emmylou Harris: “I don’t sense affection, no gratitude or love, /Your loyalty is not to me but to the stars above, /One more cup of coffee for the road, one more cup of coffee ‘fore I go…”

“Coffee and TV,” Blur, 1999

British rock band Blur found only modest chart success in the U.S., but in their native UK, they were, along with Oasis, the chief purveyors of “Britpop,” scoring five consecutive #1 albums and a dozen Top Ten singles in the late 1990s. From their LP “13” in 1999, there’s a song with lyrics by guitarist Graham Coxon in which he describes his battles with alcoholism, using television and many pots of coffee to stave off his cravings and darker impulses: “So give me coffee and TV, easily, /I’ve seen so much, I’m goin’ blind, and I’m brain-dead virtually, /Sociability is hard enough for me, take me away from this big bad world…”

“You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” Nat King Cole Trio, 1950

The team of Ray Henderson (music) and Buddy DeSylva (lyrics) wrote this infectious little tune back in 1928 for their Broadway musical, “Hold Everything!” Early recordings included those by Annette Hanshaw and Ruth Etting, and later The Ray Conniff Singers and the Les Brown Orchestra put it on vinyl as well, but the best version, to my ears, was by the incomparable Nat King Cole and his King Cole Trio. The lyrics praise the woman he loves as crucial to his well being: “You’re the cream in my coffee, you’re the salt in my stew, /you’ll always be my necessity, I’d be lost without you…”

Black Coffee,” Ike and Tina Turner, 1972

In 1972 Ike & Tina Turner, still a functioning duo riding high on their scorching cover of “Proud Mary” from the previous year, released the funk rock classic “Feel Good,” comprised almost entirely of Tina Turner originals, including a stomper called “Black Coffee.” In her song, SHE is the Black Coffee — “My skin is brown, but my mind is black” — and she spits it out with sass and fire, with Ike’s raging guitar behind her. Brit rockers Humble Pie put out a fine cover version on their “Eat It” double album the following year. “Black coffee is my name, black coffee is not a thing, /Black coffee, freshly ground and fully packed, /Hot black coffee, is where it’s at…”

Cigarettes and Coffee,” Otis Redding, 1966

Steve Cropper, guitarist with Stax Records’ house band Booker T and the MGs, considers this “a hidden gem” in the Redding portfolio. Written by singer Jerry Butler in 1961, “Cigarettes and Coffee” went nowhere at first, but when Redding used Cropper and the rest of the MGs in Stax Records’ Memphis studio to record his version in 1966, it became a featured track on his LP “The Soul Album” that year. The narrator is simply thrilled to be with his love at 3 am: “I would love to have another drink of coffee now, and please, darling, help me smoke this one more cigarette now, /I don’t want no cream and sugar, ’cause I’ve got you, now darling…”

“Starfish and Coffee,” Prince, 1987

As a wildly eccentric, boldly artistic guy, Prince could certainly relate to a story about another wildly eccentric, boldly artistic person. Prince’s occasional collaborator Susanne Melvoin told him about a real girl she knew from 6th grade named Cynthia Rose who did quirky things like draw hearts on walls and happily shout out what she had for breakfast. Naturally, Prince turned it into a funky pop song, found on his “Sign ‘o the Times” album in 1987: “If you asked her what she had for breakfast, this is what she’d say, /’Starfish and coffee, maple syrup and jam, /Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine, and a side order of ham…”

“Coffee Song,” Osisiba, 1976

Flying under the radio of most American listeners was the music of Osisiba, a lively, inventive band of West African and Caribbean musicians who came together in England in 1970 and made more than a dozen albums of what became known as “world music,” blending rock, Latin, jazz, soul, reggae, calypso and pop. On their 1976 LP “Ojah Awake,” you’ll find their take on a 1946 novelty tune called “The Coffee Song.” First recorded by Frank Sinatra and later by The Andrews Sisters, Sam Cooke and Stan Ridgway, the tune adopts a humorous stance on Brazil’s abundant surplus of coffee: “Way down among Brazilians, coffee beans grow by the billions, /So they’ve got to find those extra cups to fill, they’ve got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil…”

“Espresso (All Jacked Up),” Todd Rundgren, 1995

From the beginning, Rundgren has been a non-conformist, often choosing experimental directions and methods of recording and releasing new music. In the ’90s, he pioneered the concept of interactive CDs, giving listeners the freedom to play producer with his tracks. From his 1995 release, “The Individualist,” he came up with this ode to coffee drinks and how they keep him going when out on tour: “Gimme one more hot espresso, have another cappuccino, /Fire me up a caffè latte, make it one with lots of chocolate in the middle of it, /Hot espresso, I’m all jacked up!…”

A couple of mugs from our kitchen collection

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“English Tea,” Paul McCartney, 2005

McCartney has proudly defended his love for “that whole fruity way of talking that the English do, very endearing, I love it.” For this slight little song from his “Chaos and Creation in the Back Yard” album in 2006, he was amused to observe how people in England used to talk about merely “a cuppa tea,” always the same, but now there are different types, and you must be more specific and ask for English tea, with formal mannerisms like in a drawing room stage play: “Would you care to sit with me for a cup of English tea, very twee, very me, /What a pleasure it would be, chatting so delightfully, any Sunday morning…”

“Tea in the Sahara,” The Police, 1983

From their spectacular fifth and final album, “Synchronicity,” The Police recorded a marvelous, moody treatment of this song Sting wrote, based on a poetic novel by Paul Bowles called “The Sheltering Sky.” In the book, three women wait for a prince who vowed to return to have tea in the desert with them, but he never comes back. In his song, Sting has the women waiting year after year, withering in the heat “with their cups full of sand”: “My sisters and I have one wish before we die, /And it may sound strange, as if our minds are deranged, /Please don’t ask us why, beneath the sheltering sky, /We have this strange obsession, you have the means in your possession, /We want our tea in the Sahara with you…”

“Have a Cuppa Tea,” The Kinks, 1971

There are few British rock bands more decidedly English than The Kinks, thanks to songwriter Ray Davies and his penchant for lyrics that describe English people, places and practices. Think “Waterloo Sunset” or “Victoria.” On their commercially unsuccessful but critically praised “Muswell Hillbillies” album in 1971, one of the best tracks is “Have a Cuppa Tea,” with lyrics that humorously celebrate the British custom of drinking tea and the civility that comes with it, delivered in a tongue-in-cheek fashion:  “Tea in the morning, tea in the evening, tea at supper time, /You get tea when it’s raining, tea when it’s snowing, tea when the weather’s fine, /You get tea as a mid-day stimulant, you get tea with your afternoon tea, /For any old ailment or disease, for Christ sake, have a cuppa tea…”

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Honorable mention:

Cup of Coffee,” Johnny Cash, 1966; “Coffee Blues,” Mississippi John Hurt, 1963; “One Cup of Coffee,” Bob Marley, 1976; “Coffee Club,” Spandau Ballet, 1982; “Tea for One,” Led Zeppelin, 1976; “Another Pot o’ Tea,” Anne Murray, 1974; “Afternoon Tea,” The Kinks, 1967; “Everything Stops for Tea,” Long John Baldry, 1972; “Tea for the Tillerman,” Cat Stevens, 1970.

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4 comments

  1. Evelyn J. Willburn (Right as Rain Online) · May 7

    I am enjoying your playlist while enjoying a great cup of coffee!

    Like

  2. brucehhackett · May 7

    Great! That was my goal!

    Like

  3. granny1947 · May 7

    Thank you so much.
    I did not know most of those songs.

    Like

  4. brucehhackett · May 7

    Thanks for writing. I didn’t know many of these either, not until I researched the topic and gave them all a listen. There are multiple recordings of songs like “Black Coffee” that you can check out. You might find one more to your liking than the k.d. lang version I selected.

    Like

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