If music be the food of love, play on.” Thus wrote good Will Shakespeare in his fanciful comedy Twelfth Night. If it’s clever and pithy and insightful about the human experience and condition, Shakespeare probably said it. For the record, he didn’t say, “If music about food doth inspire the love of eating, listen up and chow down.” But that didn’t stop generations of musicians and composers from writing and playing and singing about food and drink.
Singing for (and about) your supper has been going on for centuries. There are so many songs that have been written on the subject of gustatory delight that you can compile an entire meal from them. For that matter, you can create a musical menu for three squares a day, plus a little snacking, if you so desire. There are songs about the very act of eating, about sweet and savory, about main courses and desserts, and about libations, alcoholic (lots of them) and otherwise. They come in all styles and genres, with lyrics ranging from the metaphorical to the literal — sometimes humorous, sometimes passionate. Occasionally, they’re simply instrumentals meant to evoke various culinary delights.
This time of year, the table is set for annual communal feasts that become social and culinary focal points. Overeating is a hazard, and comestibles in general are everywhere — from turkey stuffing to Christmas cookies to a glass of New Year’s Eve champagne. We need little impetus to gobble up the goodies. But just in case a sonic appetizer is in order, consider the following for your holiday mix-tape/CD or MP3 file.
Begin with “Breakfast in Bed,” a sexy, loping pop-reggae number by singer Lorna Bennett. You wouldn’t want the “Orange Juice Blues” (Bob Dylan & the Band), so have a glass of sweet citrus. A balanced “Breakfast in America” (Supertramp) might include “Eggs & Sausage” (Tom Waits), and “Bread & Butter” (The Newbeats) with a little “Guava Jelly” (Bob Marley). There’s the pleasure of “Buttermilk Biscuits” (Sir Mix-A-Lot), too. Perhaps you’ll opt for “Hotcakes” (Carly Simon) or something fancier like “Banana Pancakes” (Jack Johnson).
Nothing polishes off a nice breakfast like a cup of “Java” (Al Hirt) with “Cream” (Prince), or perhaps “Black Coffee” (Peggy Lee), possibly followed by “One More Cup of Coffee” (Bob Dylan). Of course, you may prefer to “Have a Cuppa Tea” (The Kinks) or do “Tea for Two” (Fred Waring). Or live dangerously with “Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk” (Rufus Wainwright).
You’re “Gettin’ Hungry” (The Beach Boys) again around midday. You may say, “I Wish Lunch Could Last Forever” (Jimmy Buffett) once you see the “Pork Chop Sandwich” (ZZ Top), the “Hot Pastrami” (Joey Dee & the Starlighters), the “Pork and Beans” (Weezer), and the “Hot Dogs & Hamburgers” (John Mellencamp) at the musical buffet. On the combo plate, it could come down to a “Burger & Fries” (Charlie Pride) or a “Hot Dog and a Shake” (David Lee Roth) with “Cheese & Onions” (The Rutles) on your sandwich or perhaps a little something spicy from “Mean Mr. Mustard” (The Beatles).
For lighter fare, dig into a bowl of “Chicken Soup with Rice” (Carole King). Looking for something with a splash of
“Hot Sauce” (Thomas Dolby)? If you go Tex-Mex, I recommend the “Hot
Burrito #1” (The Flying Burrito Brothers) with “Guacamole” (Texas Tornados). Or hit the Chinese takeout and grab some “Chop Suey, Chow Mein” (Louis Prima & Keely Smith) or “Sukiyaki” (Kyu Sakamoto).
Wash it all down with a “Milkshake” (Kelis), “Ice Cold Lemonade” (Death by Chocolate), or an “RC Cola & a Moon Pie” (NRBQ). And tote along a box of “Animal Crackers” (Melanie), a bag of “Salt Peanuts” (Dizzy Gillespie) and some “Beef Jerky” (Cibo Matto) in case you get “Hungry” (Paul Revere & the Raiders) in an hour.
Sooner or later, we hear the sound of the “Dinner Bell” (They Might Be Giants). When “Supper’s Ready” (Genesis), the choice cuts are numerous. Be you a “Meat & Potato Man” (Alan Jackson) or a “Seafood Mama” (The Andrews Sisters), you can find something tasty. The “Saturday Night Fish Fry” (Louis Jordan) sounds promising, though the “Rock Lobster” (B-52s) is usually a little pricey. You could find yourself “Pulling Mussels from a Shell” (Squeeze). In any event, I’d pass on the “Fish Heads” (Barnes & Barnes).
Like it meatier? Start with “One Meat Ball” (Ry Cooder) or the “Canned Ham” (Norman Greenbaum). And it’s hard to beat that “Rump Steak Serenade” (Fats Waller) with “Mashed Potato” (Dee Dee Sharp) and “Home Grown Tomatoes” (Guy Clark) on the side.
In a Southern mood? Try the “Jambalaya” (Hank Williams), maybe with “Alligator Meat” (Johnny Otis Band), or a bowl of “Gris Gris Gumbo Ya-Ya” (Dr. John) with “Crawfish” (Elvis Presley). Have the “Red Beans and Rice” (Booker T & the MGs), then go “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque” (Louis Armstrong). When it comes to fowl play, you can’t go wrong with “Dixie Chicken” (Little Feat) or “Fried Chicken” (Southern Culture on the Skids).
Dessert calls for anything from good ol’ “Cherry Pie” (Warrant) to “Sweet Potato Pie” (James Taylor) to “Chocolate Cake” (Crowded House) to the more upscale delight of the “Savoy Truffle” (The Beatles) garnished with “Brown Sugar” (The Rolling Stones), “Whipped Cream” (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass), and “Coconut” (Nilsson). There’s always room for “Ice Cream” (Sarah McLachlan) topped by a spoonful of “Tupelo Honey” (Van Morrison). Fruit lovers can content themselves with “Raspberries, Strawberries” (The Kingston Trio), “Little Green Apples” (O.C. Smith), “Mangos” (Rosemary Clooney), and “Peaches and Cream” (Beck).
For the more decadent among us, “Candy” (The Manhattan Transfer) does the trick, though “Candy by the Pound” (Elton John) is wretched excess.
After dinner, slake your thirst with an assortment of booze. The bar is stocked with “Red Red Wine” (UB40), “Apricot Brandy” (Rhinoceros), “Tequila” (The Champs),” “Gin and Juice” (Snoop Dogg), etc. Personally, I prefer an “Egg Cream” (Lou Reed). Despite the allure of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” the annoying traditional ditty is a non-starter.
As should be apparent, “I Like Food” (Descendents). We all do. Even if it’s “Fast Food” (Richard Thompson) or “Junk Food” (Patty Larkin) like the requisite “Happy Meal” (The Cardigans), we’re ready to “Eat It” (“Weird” Al Yankovic) upon suffering a “Snack Attack” (Godley & Crème). But if you’re going to live “Life in the Foodchain” (Tonio K), you’re better off eating well.
And whether you “Eat at Home” (Paul & Linda McCartney), or eat at “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” (The Robins), “Alice’s Restaurant” (Arlo Guthrie), or the “Sushi Bar” (Shonen Knife), it’s extra fun to “Eat to the Beat” (Blondie). Just don’t “Eat the Music” (Kate Bush).