“I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
— Jon Stewart
What better way to celebrate our approaching national day of gluttony and over-indulgence than by listening to our Top 11 Food Songs? Dig in!
- Coconut by Nilsson
Harry Nilsson originally planned to sing all three parts of Coconut — the narrator, the sister with the bellyache and the doctor who offers useless advice — in his own voice. Producer Richard Perry persuaded Nilsson to impersonate each in quasi-Caribbean accent. The novelty song was a No. 8 hit in 1972.
The inspiration for Coconut came when Nilsson scribbled the single word on a matchbook while on vacation in Hawaii. At the time it was just something that might make an interesting lyric. The rest of the song came to Nilsson when he returned home. “I was in L.A. driving along the Freeway when I picked up the matches,” Nilsson said in the liner notes of Personal Best: The Harry Nilsson Anthology. “I started writing the song in the car. Then I made it like the cause is the cure. You put a lime in a coconut, it makes you sick, you call the doctor and he tells you, ‘Well, put a lime in a coconut and call me in the morning.'”
Coconut by Nilsson
- Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) by Squeeze
Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) by Squeeze recalls a young man’s days at an English seaside vacation resort. Though it never charted in the U.S. the tune became an FM radio favorite in 1980. Pulling Mussels was written by singers Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford. “That was inspired during our holidays,” Difford told Songfacts. “My parents sent us to this sort of holiday camp. And by the Small Faces — an English band that wrote very English lyrics. Like a postcard-snapped image of holiday world, really. Holiday life.”
Tilbrook, the band’s lead singer, wrote the music to Difford’s lyrics. “I’d just stay in the middle of the night and write and write and write, and that was great for me,” said Tilbrook. “It was really good. I was also smoking a bit of weed at the time, so everything was very slow.”
Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) by Squeeze
- Savoy Truffle by the Beatles
George Harrison‘s Savoy Truffle appeared on 1968’s The Beatles (White Album). The song was recorded without John Lennon present. Harrison explained in his autobiography I, Me, Mine that he wrote Savoy Truffle for a famous friend.
“Savoy Truffle is a funny one written whist hanging out with Eric Clapton in the sixties. At that time he had a lot of cavities in his teeth and needed dental work. He always had toothache but he ate a lot of chocolates — he couldn’t resist them, and once he saw a box he had to eat them all.
“He was over at my house, and I had a box of Good News chocolates on the table and wrote the song from the names inside the lid.”
Harrison incorporated selections from Mackintosh’s Good News mixed chocolates, a longstanding British brand taken over by Nestlé in 1988. Harrison’s lifts included creme tangerine, coffee dessert, montelimart, ginger sling and the savoy truffle.
Savoy Truffle by the Beatles
- Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White
In 1967 Tony Joe White was performing Elvis Presley and John Lee Hooker covers when he was inspired by a No. 1 hit by Bobbie Gentry. “One day, I heard Ode to Billie Joe on the radio, and I said, ‘Man, how real.'” White told The Bluegrass Situation. “‘I am Billie Joe. I’ve been in the cotton fields. I’ve been in the rivers and all that. If I ever write anything, it’s gonna be about something I know about.’ About two weeks later, I was playing my guitar, and a little bit of Polk Salad came out.”
Polk Salad Annie became a Top 10 hit for White in 1969. White’s family, like many in rural Louisiana, ate cooked pokeweed, or polk salad, because it was plentiful and cheap. “I just kept trying to stay with what I knew. I knew about polk salad because I’d eaten a lot of it growing up on the cotton farm. My mother used to cook it. She was part Cherokee Indian, and it had a lot of herbs in it.”
Presley recorded the song live in 1970 for his On Stage LP. “Elvis’ producer Felton Jervis was a good friend of mine during the early days in Nashville,” White told the Elvis Information Network. “All of a sudden I released Polk and it was a big hit single and then Felton called and invited my wife and me out to Las Vegas to see Elvis perform. He flew us out just to let us see Elvis do it live on stage! He did a good version of it, which of course he recorded for the live album. We hung out with Elvis for two or three days and just sat back in the dressing room and talked. We played a little guitar together — he really liked music. Elvis said, ‘Man, I feel like I wrote that song.’ I said, ‘You know, the way you do it on stage, it feels like you wrote it.'”
Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White
Polk Salad Annie by Elvis Presley
Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White & Foo Fighters, 2014
- Cheeseburger in Paradise by Jimmy Buffett
Cheeseburger in Paradise was never a Top 10 hit for Jimmy Buffett but it became a favorite of Parrotheads, the singer’s devoted fans. The song was released in 1978 on Buffett’s Son of a Son of a Sailor LP. On his website, Buffett reveals the inspiration for what he calls his “cheeseburger roots.”
“The myth of the cheeseburger in paradise goes back to a long trip on my first boat, the Euphoria. We had run into some very rough weather crossing the Mona Passage between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico and broke our bowsprit. The ice in our box had melted, and we were doing the canned-food-and-peanut-butter diet. The vision of a piping hot cheeseburger kept popping into my mind. We limped up the Sir Francis Drake Channel and into Roadtown on the island of Tortola, where a brand-new marina and bar sat on the end of the dock, like a mirage. We secured the boat, kissed the ground, and headed for the restaurant. To our amazement, we were offered a menu that featured an American cheeseburger and pina coladas.
“We gave particular instructions to the waiter on how we wanted them cooked and what we wanted on them — to which little attention was paid. It didn’t matter. The overdone burgers on the burned, toasted buns tasted like manna from heaven, for they were the realization of my fantasy burgers on the trip. That’s the true story.”
Cheeseburger in Paradise by Jimmy Buffett
- Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie by Jay and the Techniques
In the mid-sixties Philadelphia producer Jerry Ross discovered and signed Jay and the Techniques, an R&B band fronted by singer Jay Proctor. Ross, who had also discovered Bobby Hebb (Sunny), offered the group a new song: Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie.
Hebb had already passed on the tune. “I’m raw off the street, I don’t know anything about music, so I just opened my mouth and whatever came out, came out,” Proctor recalled in Carolina Beach Music From the ’60s to the ’80s. “Well, whatever came out pleased him, so we got to release it.”
Ross brought in a team of crack session musicians and backup singers that included Melba Moore, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. Proctor was the only member of the Techniques allowed to perform. “Jerry used session musicians on everything we did. The band was the road group, and they never went in the studio. I asked Jerry to use them, but he just felt they weren’t good enough because they didn’t read music well.”
Though it reached No. 8 on the charts in 1967, Proctor wasn’t thrilled with the song. “I didn’t like Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie,” he said. “I’m a very soulful singer, and there wasn’t any soul in that song at all. I didn’t want to sing about no damn fruit!”
Though the hit Keep the Ball Rollin’ followed, Proctor doesn’t remember the era fondly. “The music was way too bubble-gummy — they even called it bubble gum soul. You look back at it, and it was kind of ridiculous,” Proctor said. “It was way far from what I thought my career would be like. I never really had the chance to do anything soulful like I wanted to.”
Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie by Jay and the Techniques
- Breakfast in America by Supertramp
Though Breakfast in America was the title track of Supertramp‘s 1979 LP, keyboardist Roger Hodgson wrote the song years before. “I actually wrote the song at age 18 which was 12 years before we recorded it,” Hodgson told ICON. “And it was a song I wrote in about an hour. And I was in England, and dreaming of going to California, and seeing all the pretty girls there, and I don’t think I censored myself. I was just writing whatever came into my mind. And little did I know that 12 years later, we’d be recording this song and it would become the title track of such a huge album. But when we did record it, it seemed like a great title — at that time we were living in California and had been for a few years. And it just felt like a good title for an album. And summed up the feeling of the songs on that album.”
As was their custom, the songwriting credits were shared with bandmate Rick Davies, who had turned the song down before. “If Rick had his way,” said Hodgson, “it wouldn’t have been on this album either. He never liked the lyric to Breakfast. It’s so trite: ‘Take a look at my girlfriend.’ He’s much more into crafting a song. He would have been happier if I’d changed the lyric to either something funnier or more relevant. I tried, but it didn’t work out, so I was stuck with the original.”
Breakfast in America by Roger Hodgson
- Vegetables by the Beach Boys
Most Beach Boys fans know the whimsical Vegetables from the 1967 Smiley Smile LP. An earlier version, Vega-Tables, was recorded in 1966 for the cancelled Smile album. “I want to turn people on to vegetables, good natural food, organic food,” Brian Wilson said in The Beach Boys: The Definitive Diary of America’s Greatest Band. “Health is an important element in spiritual enlightenment. But I do not want to be pompous about it, so we will engage in a satirical approach.”
Paul McCartney dropped by the earlier session. McCartney was recorded chewing celery for the tune and helped Wilson produce Al Jardine’s vocals. “It was pretty late, and I was really anxious to get home because we had to go out and tour the next morning,” Jardine told Music Illuminati. “So my memory of it is exasperation that Brian and Paul couldn’t seem to get on with the song, so I said a couple of probably nasty words. ‘Can we get this thing over with, please? We have to get up and go to work tomorrow.'”
“Vegetables is one of those unheralded and seldom heard tunes from the ‘psychedelic era’ of the Beach Boys,” observed Jardine in BAM magazine. “We went through all these phases, just like all the other ’60s bands, yet ours were somewhat more subtle. The Beatles were ‘a big explosion,’ Brian would say, and were kind of a quiet and long-lasting one. I always thought we should have done a concert together with the Beatles.”
Vegetables by the Beach Boys
Vega-Tables by the Beach Boys
- Sweet Cherry Wine by Tommy James and the Shondells
Psychedelic music was popular in 1969 when Tommy James and the Shondells released Sweet Cherry Wine, a No. 7 hit. Its anti-war message and instruments like the Moog synthesizer and a flute that fades out at the end contributed to the song’s spacey appeal. It was the latest in the evolution of James’ sound, which started in 1966 with the garage rock classic Hanky Panky.
“You know, we started as the garage band and we ended up selling albums with a lot of different kinds of music,” James told Psychedelic Baby. “One thing I must say is that we felt our records were like chameleons for a while, because we literally went from Mony Mony to Crimson and Clover, Crystal Blue Persuasion and Sweet Cherry Wine and we kept dragging the line and changing the sound! It wasn’t that we were trying to do that, it’s just we were writing so many different kinds of songs and we just picked the best one of them, and each of them was a snapshot of what we were writing in that moment.”
Fans are sometimes surprised to learn that Sweet Cherry Wine reflects James’ strong Christian faith. “What I’m saying is that the Lord has not only directed my path, but He’s been my Shepherd all my life,” James said on CBN. “He’s been kind to me. He’s been generous to me. But He’s also let me know that it’s Him. When I’m appearing somewhere, I get to throw little seeds out there. I’ll say at the end of Sweet Cherry Wine, which is about the blood of Jesus anyway, I always say, ‘Keep looking up. Jesus is coming.’”
Sweet Cherry Wine by Tommy James and the Shondells
- Rubber Biscuit by the Chips and the Blues Brothers
Rubber Biscuit was a minor hit in 1956 for the Chips, a doo-wop group from Brooklyn, N.Y. The song took shape in an upstate detention center for teens. “Kinrod Johnson had been incarcerated in a place called Warwick Correctional School for Boys,” said tenor Sammy Strain in Echoes of the Past magazine. “When they would go from the barracks to the mess hall, instead of saying ‘left right, left right’ they’d say things like ‘Hi lovedova lovadue.’ It was like a cadence that they walked to. But it wasn’t as extensive as what we turned it into. We started making up ‘woody woody pecker pecker’ and all kinds of crazy things like that. And then we started putting the breaks in it. We’d stop and then Kinrod would say, ‘The other day I had a cool water sandwich and a Sunday-go-to-meeting bun.’ It was a novelty song and it was different.”
Rubber Biscuit got some airplay on New York’s black stations but the Chips never recorded a follow-up and soon disbanded. There was renewed interest in the tune when it was used in Martin Scorsese’s 1973 film Mean Streets. In 1979, the song became a Top 40 hit for the Blues Brothers, the John Belushi-Dan Aykroyd duo that started as a Saturday Night Live skit.
Rubber Biscuit by the Chips
Rubber Biscuit by the Blues Brothers
- Rock Lobster by the B-52’s
Rock Lobster is a New Wave novelty tune first released in 1978 by the B-52’s. Vocalist Fred Schneider and guitarist Ricky Wilson wrote the surf rock spoof about the discovery of a rock lobster at a beach party. At the song’s end, singers Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson provide the imagined sounds of a litany of sea creatures: dogfish, jellyfish, piranha and more. Wilson’s high-pitched sound effects were inspired by Yoko Ono.
“All of us really loved her, so it was definitely an inspiration when Cindy did her vocal part and some of the background parts,” Pierson told A.V. Club. “Those were definitely Yoko-inspired. And we truly loved her as an artist. It wasn’t, like, a joke or anything. We just thought she was a genius. I still think she’s a genius.”
Rock Lobster in turn inspired John Lennon to return to the studio with Ono after a five-year hiatus from the music industry. “I was at a dance club one night in Bermuda,” Lennon said in Rolling Stone. “Upstairs, they were playing disco, and downstairs I suddenly heard Rock Lobster by the B-52’s for the first time. Do you know it? It sounds just like Yoko’s music, so I said to meself, ‘It’s time to get out the old ax and wake the wife up!'”
The result: Lennon recorded 1980’s Double Fantasy. “You can imagine it blew us away,” Wilson told azcentral. “John and Yoko were statuesque figures in our lives. And when he said that? I mean, it was unreal. We were tickled to death.”
Rock Lobster by the B-52’s
- Eat It by ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic
No list of food-related songs could be without the services of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, who achieved ‘immortal’ status with his spot-on parody of Michael Jackson’s now-classic hit Beat It…cheers to ya, Al.