Making a Meal of Music
To a certain extent the act of constructing a mixtape has changed irrevocably since, well, there aren’t actually tapes. These days the act of simply clicking and dragging to create an itunes playlist, the possibility for repeated trial and error removes the levels of prior planning, stopping and playing that were once involved. The composition and structure of a song compilation, whether tape or playlist, hasn’t really changed, though, there are still rules to consider. Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, essentially a love letter to the mixtape as, well, love letter, expounds greatly on the subject in words that became the concluding advice of the charming John Cusack film adaptation: “A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention, and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and…oh, there are loads of rules”.
In many ways, putting together a recipe is much like putting together a mixtape. It’s about providing a selection of elements that, although good individually, also create something even better in combination. You have to know which types fit well together and which leave a bad taste in the mouth, you have to know when to kick it up a notch or when to cool it down. You can’t just throw things together in a pot like the creative yet horrible concoctions you throw together as a child. But, what if the one was used to create another? Could the contents of a food themed playlist become the basis of a recipe to eat while listening to it? In honour of the fact that I’ll be at Glastonbury all this week I decided to see if I could make a mixtape my meal.
Obviously a number of songs that may superficially appear to have foody titles are not really about the pleasures of the table. This year’s Glastonbury headliners The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” is less about culinary additives and more of a somewhat creepy tale of slaver-slave relations (although in terms of the supremely catchy tune – morally reprehensible lyrics dichotomy it still lags some way behind their danceable slice of misogyny “Under My Thumb”). Fellow Glastonbury performer Azealia Banks’ reference to her “molasses ass” in her filthy hit “Liquorice” is perhaps a reclaiming of this same imagery (incidentally, Mick Jagger’s bedroom preferences, or rumour thereof, are also perhaps the inspiration behind the Undertones’ “Mars Bars”).
The sugary theme also extends to the Stones’ fellow headliners Arctic Monkeys who recently gave us “Black Treacle” and peppered confectionery through previous album “Humbug”‘s provocative talk of gobstoppers and strawberry lace. Sadly, third headline act Mumford and Sons have disappointingly not followed suit with banjo backed vocal harmonies waxing rhapsodic on the merits of golden syrup. Dessert foods, though, continue to be a preoccupation for the up and coming indie bands in this year’s Glastonbury line-up, with The 1975’s “Chocolate” or Palma Violets, the only band at Glastonbury to also have a confectionery themed name, and their “Johnny Bagga Donuts” (reputedly about a studio engineer for whom this was his fee). Amongst the drink based lyrics, there are some surprisingly soft ones, with Rufus Wainwright listing “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” amongst his many vices (jelly beans are one of the others) in the song of the same name and Vampire Weekend showing preference for the eponymous nutty rice drink over an aranciata on “Horchata”.
Once again, many of these songs are not so much about food as using food reference points. Naturally unless you’re in a Lionel Bart musical there are unlikely to be many songs that are literally just a list of reasons why food is good, but I think in order to qualify for the mixtape-recipe mash-up there has to be a sense that, even if there is a little subtext, food is at least properly part of the text (The President of the United States of America’s “Peaches”, for example, isn’t really just about peaches, but it uses enough peach related imagery and references to qualify compared to, say, Blur’s “Peach”, which isn’t really about anything). While we’re on the subject of rules, I also decided it was vital that each song on the mixtape had the relevant food in the title and the recipe had to use that ingredient. Finally, the key detail was that the mixtape had to function as something worth listening to. Therefore each song had to be as much a good listen as it did a flavour suggestion, so no place for Fast Food Rockers in so many respects. I could just about pull together a dessert from the options available in the Glastonbury line-up (although at least Cat Power’s “Red Apples” and Amanda Palmers aversion to “Vegemite (The Black Death)” offer a few less sickly sweetened lyric options at this year’s festival), I would really need to look across the wider spectrum of popular music for much savoury. I decided, then, to utilise the mix-tape theme and have a Side A for the main course and Side B for dessert.
There are a few songs to use food in their lyrics, but far fewer to use it as an instrument. The one that stands out, though, is the Beach Boys’ “Vegetables”. “Vegetables” was the long awaited collaboration between two of the 1960s most highly admired musical innovators – Brian Wilson in the midst of the drug fueled madness of the hugely ambitious Smile sessions, and Paul McCartney, in the era of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – and what did they work on together? Chewing celery, of course. Yes, the song’s percussion is provided by the sound of chewing celery over which acid tripping Wilson sings lyrics like: “I’m gonna chow down my vegetables, If you brought a big brown bag of them home, I’d jump up and down and hope you’d toss me a carrot”. (The only other song I’m aware of about celery is the obscene one sung by Chelsea fans, but probably best not to include that here).
A little while after McCartney leant his celery chewing chops to what would eventually be released on the album “Smiley Smile”, The Beatles moved on to their self titled meanderingly vast ninth album usually simply referred to as The White Album. As the various Beatles split into their different styles of songwriting, George Harrison decided that what he really wanted to add was a tribute to friend Eric Clapton’s love of chocolate. His song “Savoy Truffle” is essentially just reading out the list of chocolates in a Mackintosh’s Good News selection box (essentially the Mackintosh chocolate box for those who think Quality Street is a bit mainstream).
John Lennon played no part in the recording of Savoy Truffle, with The Beatles already starting to go their separate ways. Many years later, and not long before his death, Lennon would declare his interest in recording new music to have returned thanks to poppy new wavers The B-52s and their breakthrough hit “Rock Lobster”. While lobster is potentially a foodstuff, that’s probably not really what the song was about. But, that’s not to say that the band weren’t quite keen to get their culinary interests across in the quite general “Cake” and the impressively specific “Quiche Lorraine”. Quiche offers a savoury central element of a main course around which I could built the rest of my mixtape dinner, allowing me then to look for songs that would go with that.
Next, then, I looked for songs that could conceivably be ingredients for a quiche, such as onions. Marvin Gaye’s “The Onion Song” is probably the standout song about onions, albeit given it’s lyrics about “the spices that make you cry” possibly not the most gastronomically expert. The thing that differentiates a quiche lorraine from other quiches is partly the use of bacon, but there aren’t really any notable songs with bacon in the title (Lou Reed did say “life’s like bacon and ice cream” on “What’s Good”, but that’s more a subject for last week). While bacon and egg may not make much of a lyrical appearance in many songs, Tom Waits did give us “Eggs & Sausage” and A Tribe Called Quest “Ham n’ Eggs”, although given the latter begins “I don’t eat no ham n’ eggs” it probably doesn’t count. My mum used to make us a sausage quiche as a child so I reckon Tom Waits’ throaty blues can fit on the mixtape (although it’s not as inspired as the avant-garde Waits’ “Chocolate Jesus” in which he advocates melting your saviour down and pouring him over ice cream “for a nice parfait”).
With The Beach Boys already offering us carrots and celery, there may not be much need for a further accompaniment to the quiche sort of lorraine but for some further salad. One of my favourite food band names is Half Man Half Biscuit and they too had a song about vegetables (being sold by the side of the road in an untrustworthy manner) with “Asparagus Next Left”. I decided to round Side A off with some potatoes. I’m only aware of two songs about potatoes, The Kinks “Hot Potatoes” and Bob Marley’s “Milkshake and Potato Chips”. Given that it’s hard to be sure whether Marley means “chips” in the British or the American sense and Rufus Wainright has already covered milkshake for us, I decide The Kinks might be a better fit. So, that completes Side A, the main – an onion, egg and sausage quiche with hot potatoes and an asparagus, carrot and celery salad.
Surprisingly, given the list of songs I’ve already been given, dessert proved a little trickier. It’s not so much that there weren’t so many potential dessert foods, more the difficulty of making a list of elements that would all go together. There’s people that very impressively manage to do this kind of cooking all the time, but they only do one song at a time, finding a dessert dish with a mixtape of ingredients is a different challenge. Vampire Weekend and Rufus Wainright have already suggested a dessert-y kind of drink. Horchata is not too far removed from a variety of milkshake, so I found a recipe for a chocolate horchata and combined the two. But what to serve this with? Wainright has also been known to perform the Irish folk standard “Do You Love and Apple”, perhaps this could provide some possibilities. Given the American diner qualities of everything from the Tom Waits song to the milkshake to the pastry, I thought a pie a good way to use the apple.
There are a few songs about pie (I’m not really sure “American Pie” is really one of them), but Bob Dylan’s contribution to the expanding pie songbook “Country Pie” takes the most enthusiastic attitude to listing a full menu of options (apple included). “Apple tart” incidentally, also gets a mention in the lyrics of “Savoy Truffle”, bringing us back to that and rounding off both the mixtape and the menu. I have no idea what went into a Savoy Truffle in the 1960s chocolate selection box, so I just opted to use the leftover chocolate from the horchata and whipping cream from the quiche to make a plain truffle that I then coated in chocolate.
Here, then, is the menu mixtape in full, along with a Youtube playlist for those who want to listen along at home (I’ve opted for the version of “Do You Love an Apple?” from the Secret Sisters debut album as the best version of the song, Beck appears on the Youtube list because Youtube has some kind of issue with Dylan).
SIDE A – Main course
The B-52s – Quiche Lorraine
Tom Waits – Eggs & Sausage
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – The Onion Song
The Beach Boys – Vegetables
Half Man Half Biscuit – Asparagus Next Left
The Kinks – Hot Potatoes
SIDE B – Dessert
Vampire Weekend – Horchata
Rufus Wainright – Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
The Secret Sisters – Do You Love an Apple?
Bob Dylan – Country Pie
The Beatles – Savoy Truffle
And how did it turn out? Does a mixtape really make a good recipe? The quiche was good, it was nice to be doing something not so reliant on meat as the main element as in some previous weeks and I probably wouldn’t have made one were it not for the song suggestion (it’s the first time I’ve made a quiche so I was fairly happy with the way it turned out, although I am fairly confident with pastry – hence the pies as well), although without the Tom Waits song I’d have used bacon or lardons instead of sausage and that may well have been nicer. I don’t know whether I’d have had the asparagus, carrot and celery salad with it ordinarily though, salad works well as an accompaniment, but, were it not for those songs I might not have picked those ingredients, the celery didn’t entirely work with the flavours to my mind. With the dessert, I’ve made apple pies loads of times so I was confident they’d come out well, although it was nice doing cute little cupcake size ones, but I’ve never made (or had) horchata, so I don’t know if that’s what it’s supposed to be like (or if putting chocolate in it was sacrilege).
In terms of the audio element, I enjoyed listening to the mixtape while eating, it created subjects for discussion and (impressively) was pretty much the right length for the main course to last the time of Side A and be tasting the chocolate truffles by the time “Savoy Truffle” came around. So, overall pretty good. It’s worth using music as a culinary inspiration, talking point and audio accompaniment, but perhaps it’s best to take things off in your own direction as well!
Professor Plum in the Dining Room: Something that worked out really well with this one was the face the food was nice and summery – just right for a festival warm up! That the playlist was the right length for a meal was also lucky. My favourite food song (that Colonel Mustard didn’t even include!) is Allo Darlin’s Heartbeat Chili, which is how we discovered Eating the Beats blog.