If I were a sitcom character, one of my recurring gags would be to insert ridiculous, obvious innuendo in the midst of casual conversation and then protest “Not a euphemism!” The process of cooking recommends itself particularly well to this kind of silliness: what with all the turning things on and heating things up, the verbal instructions of cooking can lend itself to double entendre.
In honor of the made-up holiday of Valentine’s Day and the real extended revelry that is Mardi Gras, I present a playlist of songs about cooking and eating that are most definitely euphemisms–or, at times, a more literal invitation to sate hunger of any kind. Unlike the weird longings of the various Ice Cream Men in the Summer Sweets playlist, these songs are about getting something hot and satisfying. (On the other hand, the extremely naughty “Peach” from that earlier playlist would be utterly at home here too!)
Carolina Chocolate Drops and the Luminescent Orchestrii, “Knockin”
This song was sent to me by a friend precisely because of one lyric: “There’s chicken in the fridge, half a bottle of wine . . . come and eat your fill and give me what is mine.” It’s an odd song that slips alternately invokes clichees of giving and taking along with suggestions of plying trade (“show me the money and the milk and the honey”) and frank avowals of lust (“I wasn’t listening but watching your lips”). But whatever the relationship of the lyrical narrator to the “you” who might come knockin, I love how the lyrics are simultaneously languid and intense, and the invitation is casual–if you come on by, there’s always something set aside to welcome you.
Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”
“If I’m butter if I’m butter if I’m butter then he’s a hot knife,” Fiona seethes, rocking with intensity. Although there are other metaphors mixed in, the impression is of a desire that cuts through the singer and hammers like the drums that dominate the musical arrangement. This video is absolutely stunning: filmed by Fiona’s ex P.T. Anderson, the camera hardly ever deviates from Fiona Apple’s intense and glowing face–particularly her mouth, rigid with singing but sensual.
Tori Amos, “Raspberry Swirl”
One of my first favorites of Tori songs. Its rapid, gasping beat made me want to dance wildly in my room when I first played the album as a teenager; not until I was a bit older did I catch the lyrics. “If you want inside her well, Boy you better make her raspberry swirl. . . .”
Nina Simone, “Gimme Some”
Much of this song is not a euphemism: it’s unblushing, unpretty, sexy greediness. Foods like yellow cornbread and fried chicken roll in to close some rhymes (“yellow”/”fellow”) but also suggest a desire for satiety and home comfort.
More explicitly in the classic food euphemism category, we have:
Bessie Smith, “I Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl”
Nina has a sweet, swingy song about needing sugar in her bowl too, but Bessie Smith’s earlier version is. . . . I mean, she also needs a hot dog on her roll. Whaaat! And there is a snake involved. Oh, just listen.
Julie London, “Come On A’ My House”
This song as an odd little history. The lyrics were written by William Saroyan, an American writer and playwright who based the song on the folk music of his native Armenia. Then it was handed over to Rosemary Clooney, who was compelled against her wishes to sing it in a mock Italian accent (or risk losing her contract). She sang it at the same frantic, furious pace that she later sang “Mambo Italiano”–a recording that came about precisely because “Come On A’ My House” and Clooney’s mock accent became wildly popular.
I’ve opted for a slower, sultrier Julie London version, which is how I first heard it–at a burlesque show, as it happens, where the slow peeling away of gloves and whatnot accentuated the lyric’s erotic promises of the apples and plums and apricots.
Happy Carnivalentines, y’all!