Tuesday Tunes 87: Food

Sometimes the ideas for my weekly themes pop up when I’m least expecting them, and this week’s is one of those. It came out of a comments chat on the Facebook page for my blog last week with Esme, who runs the Senior Salon. I post their weekly updates on my page, and last week we talked about the possibility of using food as a theme, so I thought I’d give it a go – and here we are. I’ve tried to avoid any songs with the names of fruit in their title – of which I know several – as those may be fodder for a future theme. As usual, the links in the titles are perhaps a little on the strained side, and the songs aren’t really about food per se, for the most part, though one of them is a little reminder of the dangers of gluttony and excess!

Let’s get started with an obvious one, to blast away those cobwebs:

The Stones have recently dropped this one from their stage shows, as some think it glorifies slavery. In my view, that is utter bollocks: it was written for Marsha Hunt, who was Mick’s girlfriend at the time, and I’ll keep playing it. It’s a piece of classic rock, after all, and if anything it is an anti-slavery song. It was released in April 1971 as the lead single from the Sticky Fingers album (the one with the zip on the front of the sleeve – yes, it worked). As a single this reached #2 in the UK and #1 in the US and Canada. The album came out a week behind the single, and was #1 in the UK, US, Canada and several other countries.

Something a little bit more restrained next. Some food for thought, perhaps:

I’m guessing that may be a new one for many readers outside the UK, as it was UB40’s debut single, the lead track from their first album, Signing Off. As a single, it was released in February 1980 and peaked at #4 in the UK, whist doing absolutely nothing across the pond. The album followed in August, and reached a UK high of #2. The band is named after the official government form for recording unemployed status, and the album sleeve was a copy of the form. At this time, the UK had recently elected the divisive government of Margaret Thatcher, and there was much disillusionment amongst young people, in particular. Unemployment rates were high, and were partly responsible for the inner city riots we endured the following year. UB40’s lyrics were overtly political, and forty years on this is still regarded as an important album. I loved it then, and still do.

Maybe I should lighten things up a bit? This seems a good one to do that:

That is the official video for the song, but the version on Weird Al’s own YouTube page isn’t permitted to be shared, so I’ve borrowed it from another site: I hope it works for you. If not – and you just get a blank screen – the song is his Michael Jackson parody, Eat It, and you’ll find a lyric video for it here. It was released as a single in February 1984, reaching #12 in the US and #36 in the UK, and went on to win him a Grammy award. It was the lead single for his second album, “Weird Al” Yankovic In 3-D, which got to #17 in the US. As you probably know, he has made many albums of his parody songs – I’ve played him before, and probably will again, as I think he’s brilliant!

This next one was the first single on what became Crowded House’s international breakthrough album, Woodface:

The song is a tongue-in-cheek dig at American excess in food and their love of ‘celebrity,’ and perhaps unsurprisingly neither this song or the four subsequent singles from the album did well in the US singles charts. The album didn’t fare much better, either, only getting to #83 there. For the rest of the world, however, this began a run of hit albums for the band. It was their third album, released in July 1991, and sold far more than the previous two, peaking at #6 in the UK, #2 in Australia and #1 in New Zealand. As a single, this reached #69 in the UK, #20 in Australia and #7 in New Zealand: the other four tracks from the album to be released as singles all did better. It did get to #9 in the Canadian singles chart: maybe they enjoyed the way it took a dig at their noisy neighbours? I still rather like this one, and have been a fan of Neil and Tim Finn’s music ever since.

I’m moving on to a couple of songs by American bands for my next two choices. The first of these is from a band I’ve enjoyed since their early days, way back in the Seventies:

I think that is superb, and their backing singers are pretty stellar, too! This was the title track on Little Feat’s third album, Dixie Chicken, which was released in January 1973. Wikipedia is a bit sparse on details of the band’s discography, but does say that this album was awarded a gold disc in the US. Neither the Billboard or Official UK chart archives mention this either as an album or a single, so I guess it didn’t make the charts. This live performance is from 1977, only a couple of years before the early death of Lowell George (at 34), from a lifestyle of binge eating and cocaine addiction. What a waste of life and talent.

The second of this American pair is from one of my favourite bands:

Alison Krauss and Union Station have made several great albums, all beautifully played and sung, and this live performance is a good example to showcase their talents. The song is a traditional American one, about the danger of being lazy and not doing your job properly, then going hungry as a result, and the band included it on their fourth album, New Favorite, released in August 2001. The album reached #35 in the US, also getting to #3 on their Country chart and to #2 on the Bluegrass listing, and made #72 in the UK. You may know Alison from her recent collaborations with Robert Plant, and if you’re wondering where you might have heard Dan Tyminski’s voice before, he provided the vocals to which George Clooney mimed in the O Brother, Where Art Thou movie – highly recommended, if you haven’t seen it.

I mentioned earlier that one of today’s songs was a homily on the dangers of overindulgence, in this case initially in alcohol, but then in huge quantities of food as well. It is actually an English folk song that comes from the mid-18th century, and can be found in a song book of 1750 called “Charming Phylis’ Garland” which became very popular in England by the 1760s. There are numerous recordings, including one by the Irish group Planxty, which always seemed out of place to me, and more recently Bellowhead have had a stab at it. The version I grew up knowing, which is still my favourite, is this one:

A cautionary tale indeed, and probably far from being the first time that gluttony and alcohol had combined to such effect, or the last! As you can see from the picture of the sleeve, that was a track on Maddy Prior and Tim Hart’s 1971 album, Summer Solstice. I bought the album way back when, and still love it today. You may recognise at least one of their names from previous posts: Maddy and Tim were founder members of Steeleye Span, and were with the band for many years, including the first few times I saw them play live. Maddy is still going strong whereas Tim, sadly, died from lung cancer on Christmas Eve, 2009. The reference to the Isle of Wight is thought by historians to reflect the fact that in the mid-Eighteenth century the island was a haven for smugglers, which naturally led to all kinds of drunken debauchery. The song is a good one for communal singing in the pub, which is probably how its popularity grew in the first place. And for anyone wondering why I didn’t play you the Bellowhead version, I’ll let you into a secret: I don’t like it very much, nowhere near as much as this one!

One final song for you today. I could hardly do a post on food songs without this one, could I?

No apologies for rounding off with another very English piece. The movie Oliver! – the exclamation mark is essential – was released in September 1968, based on a 1960 stage musical which itself derived from Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist. The film was a huge success, and went on to win six Oscars and two Golden Globes, as well as achieving box office takings worldwide of more than $77m against its budget of $10m. Not a bad return for its investors! I can remember going to see it when it first came out as a belated 15th birthday treat: a full scale family outing with Mum, Dad and my sister, and despite myself I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve never been a big fan of musicals but there are some which I’ve always liked, and this is one of them. I became very familiar with its songs as my parents bought the soundtrack album, which spent 99 weeks on the UK albums chart, getting as high as #4 – in those days, a good run at the box office and a set of catchy tunes did sometimes result in album chart success (think My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, or The Sound of Music, all of which were also in my parents’ collection after similar family outings).

So, that’s a brief look at food in songs. There are many others, so I may come back to this at some point – feel free to suggest your favourites in the comments! I hope you have a good week and can find enjoyable ways to occupy your time. I’m off to check on the latest news of our country’s stars – BoJo the clown and Andrew, formerly known as Prince – as there’s nothing like a bit of scandal to spice up the day, is there? Take care, and I’ll see you again soon 😊