The relationship between food and music is a long and illustrious one. Throughout history, many composers and performers have considered themselves gourmets, and some have even been known to offer recipes. Food and drink have been major sources of inspiration for the composition of musical masterpieces – you need only to look at the culinary references in the operas of Mozart, Rossini, and Verdi for evidence of the power of food. In a sense, food and music have served a similar purpose throughout history; whether you look at Western or non-Western cultures, food and music have both been allotted significance as part of the same ritual. What are the similarities between the two? Well, the sense of community both can foster is a major likeness. Indeed, you can also point to the way in which both can affect a trance-like state in the eater/listener – the same buzz you get from listening to your favourite album is in many ways comparable to the energising feeling you get from eating totally delicious food.
When musicians write directly about food, then, it is a wondrous thing. There are so many hidden gems to be discovered – songs that sound strange, but somehow move you in their discussion of all things gourmand. I like to call it ‘Fusic’: the amalgamation of food and music so that two distinct realms meld like the flavours of a slow-cooked Boeuf Bourgignon. Here are my top 5 foodie hits that will become the ‘plat du jour’ on your Spotify playlist.
1) Aber bitte mit Sahne (Udo Jürgens, 1976)
This comedic German Schlager hit is everything you want a food-based song to be: irreverent, light-hearted, and somehow appetite-inducing. I say somehow because the premise of the song is a group of girlfriends who go to a pastry shop every day, only for their limitless consumption of sweet treats to kill them off. They storm to the cake buffet, consuming ungodly amounts of Black Forest Gateau, Bee-Sting Cake and chocolate covered marshmallows. Such a lifestyle is unsustainable – for one of the girls, Liliane, it all proves too much, as she topples from her stool in the pastry shop. Death by cake – what’s not to like about that? Instead of wreaths, people place cakes on her casket. Yes please!? This song taps into the humour of food and places it alongside the campy glare of 1970s pop – listen to it and you too will be begging for more cream like Liliane.
2) Eat the Music (Kate Bush, 1993)
Kate Bush has never been one to shy away from the relationship between culture and sexuality (indeed, her first hit Wuthering Heights is proof of the artist’s dedication to reinventing the sexual by cultural means in the wailing cries of the song’s protagonist to her lover), and this is made explicit in the song Eat the Music, taken from her 1993 album The Red Shoes. In it, she asks for us to strip away all our layers, like peeling a piece of fruit, so that we may be the most authentic version of ourselves. Here, returning to an unbridled sexuality reminiscent of the sticky mess that is fruit, Bush highlights the exuberant and the marvellously filthy (how many times have you been told to ‘’split the banana, crush the sultana?’’) What is more, the title’s reference to eating music ties the two realms together indelibly – food, music, and life come together in an orgiastic display of life-affirmation.
3) Savoy Truffle (The Beatles, 1968)
By 1968, the Beatles were beginning to suffer under the divisions within the band; mixed experiences while attending an advanced course in Transcendental Meditation in India earlier in the year had instigated disharmony within the group. It was then that George Harrison began to spend more time with Eric Clapton, a musical collaboration and lifelong friendship that would inspire Savoy Truffle. The song was inspired by Clapton’s love for chocolate, the flavours of chocolates listed in the lyrics a warning to Clapton about the negative impact that gorging on chocolate could have on his teeth. Many of the chocolates listed, most notably the titular truffle, were taken from a box of Mackintosh’s Good News chocolates, which Clapton began eating during a trip to Harrison’s home. Harrison didn’t only stick to real chocolates – cherry cream, coconut fudge and pineapple heart were all inventions of the guitarist’s mind. This song is overloaded with the joy of chocolate, a pleasure that in too great a quantity is seen to be dangerous.
4) Chitlin con Carne (Junior Wells, 1966)
This song by Junior Wells is a powerful reminder of the intersection between food and politics, here racial segregation in America. During the years of segregation, the only place many black musicians could get work was on the chitlin circuit, at cheap juke joints and diners. Chitlins, otherwise known as pig intestines, were a staple of the slave diet, a dish which became associated with the comfort of soul food because of the inventiveness of black Americans. Cooked low and slow for hours on end, they become sumptuous. This is a song that appeals to the listener in its discussion of politics from within the everyday sphere – in a move reminiscent of the second-wave feminists, the body is always political, and in this case, you are what you eat.
5) Carbonara (Spliff, 1982)
Carbonara is one of the biggest hits of the ‘German New Wave’. The song is one big celebration of that most comforting pasta dish: the carbonara, a dish that ought to be served with ‘una coca cola’ in the eyes of the songwriter. Whilst this song is a fun, reggae-inspired pondering of Europe’s love and appropriation of Italian cuisine, it is also a commentary on the development of Europe under tourism. An obsession with the ‘Paese dei Limoni’ has permeated German culture for centuries (some of the lyrics of the song echo Goethe’s Mignon Lied’), and the song places this cultural fascination in the context of the early 1980s: a period of economic crisis, rising inflation and mass tourism. It further questions the traditional understanding of Italy as a holiday destination and a representation of exoticism. How is this questioning manifested? Through the deceptively innocuous spaghetti carbonara.