Food is good in so many ways. mmm mmmmmm.
Eat the right stuff and you’ll wave goodbye to rickety legs, hollow cheeks and scurvy skin. You’re hair will have that shiny bounce of the L’Oreal girls’ and your nails will be ridgeless and strong. Eat your heart out, acrylics.
* Eat the wrong stuff and you’ll get fat and acquire blocked arteries but we won’t dwell on that today.
You see, food is a jolly important part of life and, to be quite frank, I wouldn’t be without it. But is it important enough to sing about?
Oliver certainly thought so. And if a diet of gruel can inspire music then we really shouldn’t be surprised when we hear songs about cake, pork chops and, er, ‘celery stalks at midnight’. Because they’re all out there.
Intriguingly, it seems that the Swing Era produced more than its fair share of songs whose lyrics focus on food.
What could possibly have befallen the singers and songwriters of the 20s, 30s and 40s to make them quite so keen to extol the virtues of potato chips, doughnuts and banana splits, you might ask?
Of course, we can approach the matter like esteemed professors of History – always a fun game. You know the sort of people I mean – those who are cultivated in highly respected, long-standing universities. Universities built with the all important red bricks that everyone raves about, and that put on formal dinners, and which only accept students who make a Scout’s Honour promise that they will be high achieving genii and dedicate their lives to hard work and study.
We can don a tweed suit, stitch leather patches to our elbows (study-wear should always be reinforced) and while away the hours in a wood panelled library that smells of dust and leather bindings and learned people.
We’d look at society’s increasing prosperity during the first half of the 20th century, at the increasing availability of food and at a culture that was enjoying more and more leisure (read: eating) time. We would break for tea and scones at 4pm to discuss our findings and maybe have a quick punt on the canal before returning to our study.
Research of this manner would all be very well and good (I do like tea and scones) but I prefer sandstone to red brick and I only ever wear tweed in the country. We’re in London now and must behave accordingly. (According behaviour, in this instance, is to realise that all is not what it seems in the world of foodie lyrics…)
Oh, those Swing musicians were crafty! Sure, they were hungry. But hungry for what, exactly?
When the Four Clefs sing of liking pie and cake, don’t be fooled. That delicious sounding jelly-roll is not what you think it is! Not at all! Being an absolute lady, I shan’t talk about its true meaning in this post. Click here to find a perfectly succinct explanation.
(Excitingly bizarre video accompanying this recording…!)
To further my ‘hidden meaning’ point, have a listen to Julia Lee’s The Spinach Song. When she tells us that she ‘didn’t like it the first time’ she’s referring to quite a different green substance to that which is in the title. The sort of substance that is often found growing in student houses. And I don’t mean mould.
When Nat King Cole asks for Frim Fram sauce with ‘shafafa on the side’… well, do you really know what shafafa is?! One only needs to see where the camera cuts at 0.50 and to look at Nat’s expression at 2.18 to see that it may not be something one can buy. Not in a respectable café, anyway…
And Slim Gaillard’s potato chips? Were they just potato chips? Were they?
(well, actually, I think they were)
Anyway, it’s food (ha!) for thought. Jolly good songs, all of them, too. But if the very thought of their secret meanings leaves you feeling quite overcome with shock, then spare your blushes and make like the Historian. I promise you, you’ll have quite a fun time sitting quietly in the library. Tweed is really very warm so you won’t catch a chill despite the lack of heating. And the tea and scone break will provide a most pleasant interlude.
For those brave enough to pursue the matter of hidden meanings further, I’ve compiled a list of links to some more foodie songs from the Swing Era. Make of them what you will…
Shoot the Sherbet to me Herbert – Edith Wright
That Chick’s too young to Fry – Louis Jordan
Tutti Frutti – Slim Gaillard
Cole Slaw – Louis Jordan
It must be Jelly cos Jam don’t Shake Like That – Ray McKinley
Beans and Cornbread – Louis Jordan
Banana Split for my Baby – Louis Prima
Dunkin’ Bagel – Slim Gaillard
Salt Peanuts – Dizzy Gillespie
Celery Stalks at Midnight – Will Bradley
And, to finish off, a couple on drinking …
Black Coffee – cover by The Careless Lovers
Bad, Bad Whiskey – Amos Milburn
Rum and Coca Cola – The Andrews Sisters