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.

 

You took the words right out of my mouth

I was surfing on Google recently, just doing some research into various artists and albums, when I came across a most fascinating interview with Todd Rundgren, Todd-Rundgren-009conducted in 2017 for a Billboard Magazine article.

Rundgren had been a critics and fans favorite since he first showed up on the charts in the early ’70s with hit singles like “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” “I Saw the Light” and “Hello, It’s Me.,” and the tour-de-force LP “Something/Anything?.”

The focus of the article was on Meat Loaf’s 1977 LP “Bat Out of Hell,” then celebrating its 40th anniversary.  It’s an album that was rejected by dozens of producers and dozens of record labels but went on to become one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, with more than 43 million copies sold worldwide.  Rundgren had been the album’s producer, Bat_out_of_Helland he was asked how he happened to get involved with the project.

Said Rundgren, “Well, I had a friend and occasional bandmate named Moogy Klingman, and in the mid-’70s, I was getting a lot of production work — Hall and Oates’ ‘War Babies’ and Grand Funk’s ‘We’re an American Band’ and ‘Shinin’ On,’ to name a few.  It was probably more production work than I could handle, because I was still doing my own albums (‘Todd,’ ‘Initiation’) at that time, and the first two albums with Utopia as well.

“So Moogy approached me and said, ‘Well, if I find a band or an act that you think is worth producing, I’ll do the legwork on it, and that’ll help me get into the production game.’  So I said, ‘Okay, that’s a fine idea. If I hear something, sure, we can give that a try.’  A couple weeks later, he came to me with this act.  It was Meat Loaf, and it was also this guy Jim Steinman, who wrote all the material.”

A little background:  Steinman was an up-and-coming musical playwright who had been working on “Neverland,” a futuristic rock musical about Peter Pan, but despite earlier success as a playwright, this one faced challenges in getting made.  Steinman had been working with Meat Loaf, known primarily for his work in “Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Broadway and in film.  The two had also been touring together as part of the National Lampoon stage show.

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Meat Loaf (left) and Jim Steinman in 1977

Steinman and Loaf had been particularly jazzed by three of Steinman’s compositions — “Bat Out of Hell,” “Heaven Can Wait” and “All Revved Up with No Place to Go” — and they became the anchor pieces to the seven-song set that would later become the “Bat Out of Hell” album.

 

“I never intended to do music,” Steinman said.  “I didn’t think I was a good enough musician.  I was gonna do film and theater, but I figured, ‘This is fun, let’s do this,'” Steinman said.  “I didn’t want it to be just a bunch of songs.  I wanted it to feel like you were entering a cinematic or complete theatrical environment.  No one could deal with it.  They couldn’t figure out what it would sound like finished.

“All I can say is that thank God we knew nothing about making albums, because otherwise it couldn’t have happened.  I wanted to make an album that sounded like a movie.”  But they could find no financial backing nor a label that showed any interest in the concept, which was ‘admittedly overwrought and pretentious,” said Steinman.

Rundgren picks up the story:  “The only way that these guys would demo the material was to do it live.  They didn’t have a demo tape, or they didn’t want me to have a demo tape,  because they thought that was not representative of what they were trying to do.

“So they set up in a rehearsal studio, Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf and (singer) Ellen Foley, just the three of them, and they essentially performed most of what turned out to be the first record.  They did it all live, with all the familiar tropes that would become the video later, the whole ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’ thing, that whole part of it.  They told me that they’d essentially done this for any producer who would entertain coming to see them, and that they had been essentially turned down by everybody.  I could certainly understand why, because it didn’t have an obvious commerciality.”

But here’s the surprise nugget from the interview:  “I saw the whole presentation as a spoof of Bruce Springsteen.”

That made me sit up and take notice.  I had been a Springsteen fan since his early albums, and had fallen head over heels in love with the “Born to Run” song and album.  And when the “Bat Out of Hell” LP came out two years later, I really enjoyed that too, but it never occurred to me it might be related to Springsteen’s opus in some way.

11SNAPExh210212“In 1975, the mid-’70s, the themes were kind of nostalgic,” said Rundgren.  “Even though Bruce Springsteen would represent them as still being real, the iconography was still out of the ’50s, you know? It was switchblades and leather jackets and motorcycles and that sort of junk.  It was so annoying to me personally that Springsteen was being declared the savior of rock and roll.  You know, he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek, and I thought, ‘You know, this music is going nowhere.’  He may have represented the image that people wanted, but from a musical standpoint, I thought it was going backwards.  So I thought he needed to be spoofed.  I saw the whole ‘Bat Out of Hell’ concept as being a parody of Bruce.  That’s why I decided to get involved.

“There was a lot of interesting stuff in there.  Jim Steinman kind of wove this sense of humor into the material in a way that Springsteen never did.  I was rolling on the floor laughing at how over-the-top and pretentious it was.  I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this album.’

“We had the guys from Utopia playing on it, and also Edgar Winter on sax.  And as it turned out, you know, Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan from the E Street Band wound up Musicourt '82playing on the record, so that kind of made it even spoofier.  I recruited them to work on it, but I don’t think I instructed them to think of it differently than they would have otherwise. But quite obviously they were cast because they could bring that ‘Springsteeniness’ to the whole project.”

Rundgren added, “Everyone kind of puts the focus on Meat Loaf, but the reality is, everything’s coming from Steinman.  Meat Loaf is essentially someone that Steinman cast in an imaginary musical.  So it isn’t like a calculated attempt to break into radio or anything like that.  It’s really Steinman trying to realize his vision of a musical, albeit somewhat compromised from the original, because his original idea was to retell the story of Peter Pan. So just imagine Meat Loaf as Peter Pan.”

Rundgren claims to barely know Springsteen and has never spoken to him about the fact that he always envisioned “Bat Out of Hell” as a Bruce spoof.  “I have not really had any communications with Bruce.  I’ve run into him once or twice in backstage situations, but we haven’t had much to talk about.  As far as I know, he’s unaware of the fact that it’s a spoof of him.  That’s how I regard it anyway.”

Apparently, when the operatic “Bat Out of Hell hit the radio airwaves in 1977, only a few critics saw the Springsteen comparison.  “Every track sounds like a fever-dream rendition of ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Jungleland,'” said Rolling Stone.  “Some of the people who 8127ICDt45L._SY355_bought it might have just gotten sick of waiting for ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ (whose release had been delayed and wouldn’t finally occur until the following summer).”

Steinman concedes that he shared some of the same influences as Springsteen — ’50s rock and roll, Chuck Berry, the “wall of sound” approach of producer Phil Spector, the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” tragedy, the Motown sound.  “They’re all in there,” Steinman said, “but then I also added in Wagner and the drama of opera music.  I was quoted at the time as saying, ‘If there’s a market for a 350-pound guy singing Wagnerian ten minute rock & roll epics, we’ve got it covered!’”

The album proved the classic “sleeper.”  It was ignored in most U.S. markets and in England for the first six months after its release, but then “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” a British music TV program, took the ambitious step of airing a film clip of the live band performing the nine-minute title track.  Response was so overwhelming, they screened it again the following week.  Soon enough, “Bat Out of Hell” was an unfashionable, uncool, non-radio record that became a “must-have” for everyone who heard it, whether they Unknown-61understood Steinman’s unique perspective or not.

Eventually every track on the album became a hit single in England, and even “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” snuck into the U.S. Top 40.  The album became a phenomenon, the most profitable release in Epic Records history, beating even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which had cost ten times as much to make.

Steinman described Rundgren as “the only genuine genius I’ve ever worked with.”  AllMusic calls Steinman “a composer without peer, simply because nobody else wanted to make mini-epics like this.”  AllMusic praised Rundgren’s production on the album, claiming, “It may elevate adolescent passion to operatic dimensions, and that’s certainly silly, but it’s hard not to marvel at the skill behind this grandly silly, irresistible album.”