My fifth blogiversary isn’t the only milestone this month–this is also the year I finally become old enough to run for president. To celebrate, this month’s playlist features songs about birthday cakes.
Cibo Matto, “Birthday Cake”
The custom of having a sweet cake specially made to celebrate one’s birthday dates all the way back to the ancient Romans (according to the Food Timeline), although like many of our special occasion food rituals, the practice became more widespread and popular in the 19th century.
My love of this whimsical riot of a birthday song dates all the way back to my freshman year of college, when a friend introduced me to Cibo Matto’s Viva! La Woman and our peer group celebrated one another’s birthdays by screeching “Shut up and eat! Too bad no bon appetit!” This short AV Club article touches on some of the reasons we became obsessed with this song: the lyrics are strangely catchy if non sequitur, like an anthem, and the narrator’s bombastic dismissal of maternal domesticity could have had an added appeal for very young adults not yet able to imagine ourselves as caretakers.
Noel Gallagher, “Here’s a Candle”
According to custom, many birthday cakes have the same number of candles as the birthday celebrant’s age. Consequently, the image or idiom of putting another candle
Here’s a candle for your birthday cake
Here’s a drink for the wish you made
Here’s a map for the road you’re on
You need a map ’cause the road is long
Fiona Apple, “Love Ridden”
I love the way the birthday cake wiki page explains the folk magic of birthday candles: “Traditionally, the birthday person makes a private wish, which will be realized if all the candles are extinguished in a single breath.” Birthday cake candles shape the opening lyrics in Fiona Apple’s “Love Ridden,” which does not actually mention cake at all but invokes the candle ritual to convey longing.
Love ridden, I’ve looked at you
With the focus I gave to my birthday candles
I’ve wished on the lidded blue flames
Under your brow
And baby, I wished for you
Rihanna, “Birthday Cake”
Birthday cakes are often served at birthday parties, which are often associated with childhood innocence and fun even though adults also enjoy them. But like many other sweets, in song lyrics the birthday cake can become innuendo or stand in for private pleasure. Birthday cakes may also have the birthday celebrant’s name written on them, as part of the way of the birthday party custom to elevate the status of that person for the day; this song plays on that ritual to invite the listener to take ownership of the figurative birthday cake.
Lenny Kravitz, “Happy Birthday”
The presentation of the birthday cake is typically accompanied by group singing of the “Happy Birthday” song, which oddly was not considered public domain until a very recent ruling, so it’s challenging to find a good recording of the traditional song. Instead, birthday celebrations for a paying audience–restaurants whose servers sing as they bring out the cake, or musicians who record birthday songs–were compelled to use alternate melodies to avoid copyright infringement. That is probably for the best; I don’t think the “Happy Birthday” melody really showcases anyone’s vocal stylings particularly well. In any event, Lenny Kravitz has got you covered with a catchy tune and a pretty great party that includes not only cake and candles but beer.