Food Music Playlist #12: Victuals without vocals

Most of the songs I’ve featured on Food Music Playlists focus on food metaphors, where lyrical references to honey or milk or coffee create a mood, evoke a feeling, or stand in for something else.  But what does it mean when a song with no lyrics mentions food in the title? Why name an instrumental composition after something to eat? How does a food reference in the title affect how you interpret or experience the song?

Booker T. & the MG’s, “Green Onions”

You may not realize it, but you have definitely heard this classic funky track in everything from The Sandlot to Grand Theft Auto. It’s worth checking out the Wikipedia page not only for a longer list of media appearances, but for no fewer than three conflicting explanations for the song’s title. Is it named after a cat called Green Onions, or after the allium itself? Is green onion meant to connote nastiness or classiness?

The Champs, “Tequila”

Made famous to my generation by a memorable scene in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, this sax-fronted rock song has only one word–the important one.

Karen O & The Kids, “The Food is Still Hot”

From the soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are.  The distinctive voice of Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) hums sweetly over slow strumming; the mood is warm and tender and calm. This tracks plays quietly toward the end of the film, when Max returns from his adventure and is embraced by his mother and given dinner. The still-hot food of the title evokes the warmth and care of Max’s welcome home, but it also indicates how much time has passed since the start of Max’s fantastical journey.

The Civil Wars with T. Bone Burnett, “Food Deserts”

Also from a soundtrack: the documentary A Place at the Table, which explores food insecurity in the United States. This song plays while the film traces a Mississippi woman’s journey to buy fresh fruit several towns away; the track has a Western, saloon-piano feel, which (along with the cartoon tumbleweed which blows past the animated car depicting her gas expenses for this trip) emphasizes the vast “desert” of land without access to fresh food. But the desert imagery is ironic: after all, as the text accompanying this graphic points out, about 75% of all food deserts are urban. In the very next scene, the map zooms in on North Philadelphia.
This documentary is on Netflix right now if you are interested.

You, You’re Awesome – “Two Muffins”

This song squeaks into this roundup even though there are vocal recordings layered in like instrument tracks throughout. I have no idea what this joyful electronic romp has to do with muffins, but I dare you to listen to the track unmoved. It’s an instant mood elevator.

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