Everybody knows Thanksgiving is about two things: whitewashing the brutal history of colonialism against America’s native peoples, and eating a lot of goddamn food. And while I’ve had it up to here with racism this week, food at least is something we can always get behind. So here’s a playlist of food songs to get you ready for this most absurdly gluttonous of holidays. I don’t necessarily recommend playing it at Thanksgiving dinner–we’ll already have plenty to argue about with our extended families without having to bring R. Kelly into it–but if I do say so myself, it wouldn’t be a bad choice to listen to it on headphones while you hide from your more annoying relatives. By Thanksgiving night, we’ll all probably never want to think about food again. But in these difficult times, let’s join together and pay tribute to the one thing we all truly share as a nation: the vast, ever-present potential for morbid obesity.
1. MF DOOM: “Beef Rapp”
(from MM… Food?, 2004)
The opening track from his 2004 concept album MM… Food?, “Beef Rapp” finds underground hip-hop artist Daniel Dumile–better known by his “supervillain” persona MF DOOM–deconstructing the phenomenon of hip-hop “beefs” with lyrics comprised almost entirely of food references. It’s typically clever stuff, with the first verse in particular serving equally well both as a warning against stepping to DOOM in a rap battle and as a warning against consuming too much red meat: “I suggest you change your diet / It can lead to high blood pressure if you fry it / Or even a stroke, heart attack, heart disease / It ain’t no starting back once arteries start to squeeze.” Arguably even more impressive, however, is Dumile’s production, a dense musical collage sampling everything from the usual Fantastic Four cartoons to classic hip-hop film Wild Style, ’40s Bela Lugosi vehicle Bowery at Midnight, ’70s British sci-fi Logan’s Run, and the immortal “Would You Like a Snack?” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention featuring Flo & Eddie. I don’t know what Dumile likes to eat when he takes off that mask, but it’s clear that his pop culture diet, at least, is both rich and diverse.
2. Fat Boys: “All You Can Eat”
(from Krush Groove, 1985)
Of course we would be remiss in making a food playlist without including a track from the Fat Boys: easily the greatest weight-based novelty hip-hop trio of all time. And if you’ve ever heard a Fat Boys song before–or even just, you know, read their name–it should be pretty obvious what “All You Can Eat” is about. As Prince Markie Dee exclaims at the beginning, “$3.99 for all you can eat? Well, I’mma stuff my face to a funky beat!” He then goes on to underline exactly where his dietary priorities lie: “Give me some chicken, franks, and fries / And you can pass me a lettuce, I’mma pass it by.” Indeed, by the end of the first verse the song has already ceased to be a jolly ode to gluttony and turned into a disturbing cry for help, with “Human Beatbox” Darren Robinson, a.k.a. Big Buff Love, shouting “give–me–some more food PLEASE!!!” in a borderline inhuman bellow. Robinson, incidentally, would die of a heart attack ten years later at the age of 28, reportedly weighing in at 450 pounds. Wow, this blurb really took a dark turn, didn’t it? Maybe it’s best that we just move on. R.I.P. Buff.
3. The Kinks: “Maximum Consumption”
(from Everybody’s in Show-Biz, 1972)
And we continue with another subtly depressing song about binge-eating–albeit this one for the opposite reason. One of several Ray Davies songs from the early ’70s dealing with the pressures and monotonies of rock stardom, “Maximum Consumption” details the dietary regimen required by a rail-thin English rocker to “stay fit, stay alive,” and “sustain a non-stop high-grade performer.” Davies recites a long list of food consumed without pleasure but merely for sustenance: “I keep burning up calories as fast as I keep putting them down,” he laments. “Eat food, put it in my mouth / Chew it up, swallow it down.” It’s the perfect anthem for that moment, all too common at Thanksgiving dinners, when eating starts to feel distressingly like work.
4. Led Zeppelin: “Custard Pie”
(from Physical Graffiti, 1975)
Blues music has a long, storied tradition of often-disgusting culinary metaphors for genitals, stretching back at least to when Robert Johnson instructed some lucky lady to “squeeze my lemon / ’til the juice run down my leg.” And as devoted pilferers of the blues tradition, Led Zeppelin were only too eager to carry the torch: first with their directly plagiaristic “The Lemon Song,” and then with an “innovation” all their own in the form of 1975’s “Custard Pie.” I won’t mince words here: “I chew on a piece of your custard pie” is the grossest euphemism for cunnilingus I’ve ever heard that was not written by Marvin Sease (more from him later). I consider it nothing short of a miracle that I want to go anywhere near a vagina after listening to this song as much as I did in my teenage years. But it’s also a Led Zeppelin track, which means it has a kick-ass Jimmy Page riff and a backbeat by John Bonham that sounds like it’s being pounded directly into the back of your skull. Just try not to think about the whole “custard pie” thing, especially immediately before or after you…well, you know.
5. KISS: “Lick It Up”
(from Lick It Up, 1983)
Speaking of disgusting hard-rock sexual euphemisms, here’s KISS, whose title track from 1983’s makeup-free comeback album Lick It Up is…surprisingly tame, actually, from the guys who brought us creeper classics like “Christine Sixteen” and “Room Service.” In fact, the lyrics by singer Paul “Live to Win” Stanley often more closely resemble motivational speaking than lip-licking double entendres: “Life’s such a treat and it’s time you taste it / There ain’t no reason on earth to waste it / It ain’t a crime to be good to yourself.” Sage words to recall the next time you’re trying to get your partner to, ahem, lick it up.
6. Bob Dylan: “Country Pie”
(from Nashville Skyline, 1969)
Now here’s a welcome reprieve from the food-based innuendoes–or at least, I’m pretty sure that when Bob Dylan sings, “Oh me, oh my / Love that country pie,” he’s actually referring to a food item and not some farmer’s daughter’s snatch (though some rascal on SongMeanings.com is making a surprisingly convincing case that it might be about heroin). In fact, I imagine that the Dylanologists of the world probably wished for a little more symbolism when Nashville Skyline first released in 1969: after years of his lyrics being pored over for hidden meanings, now he was just Country Bob, pickin’ and grinnin’ and singin’ in that stupid affected timbre that sounds like Levon Helm after having the soul surgically removed from his singing voice. Still, from the distance of 45 years, it’s a fun little song, and Dylan’s wordplay–while lightweight–is as deft as ever: “Little Jack Horner’s got nothin’ on me.”
7. The Mothers of Invention: “Call Any Vegetable”
(from Absolutely Free, 1967; edited version available on Mothermania)
I’m not sure if Frank Zappa had heard “Vega-Tables” from the Beach Boys’ legendary abandoned album Smile at the time when he wrote “Call Any Vegetable,” or if he just had his finger that firmly on the pulse of hippy-dippy Southern Californian navel-gazing. Whatever the case, the result was vintage mid-’60s Mothers: a wry, absurd parody of stoner pseudo-profundity that finds Zappa imagining a future with “you and your little green and yellow buddies… Grooving together… Maintaining your coolness together… Worshipping together in the church of your choice! Only in America!” This being a Zappa composition, it’s as musically sophisticated as it is lyrically goofy: a multi-movement rock suite (edited here into a single track) that incorporates yodeling, doo-wop backing vocals, and a quote from Gustav Holst’s “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.” Plus it includes the immortal line, “the pumpkin is breathing hard!” What’s not to like?
8. R. Kelly: “In the Kitchen”
(from TP.3 Reloaded, 2005)
Now here’s a guy who knows a little something about breathing hard–and has probably written at least one song involving elaborate sexual metaphors about pumpkins. With “In the Kitchen,” though, R. Kelly is all about the carbs: specifically the “buttered rolls,” which mark the bizarrely specific location in which he plans to bang his lady friend on the countertop. Like most latter-day Kelly tracks, you can imagine pretty much the whole song just from a glance at its title. But it takes a true R&B savant–and, let’s face it, probably also a confirmed sexual predator–to make it all build to the stunning declaration: “Girl! I’m! Ready! To! Toss! Your! Salad!” On second thought, Robert, maybe we should just order a pizza.
9. Todd Rundgren: “Hungry for Love”
(from A Wizard, A True Star, 1973)
Continuing with the “sex as sustenance” theme, this rollicking 1973 cut from Pennsylvania pop/prog-rocker Todd Rundgren is about those needs that can’t be satisfied with food: not “mom’s old-fashioned cooking,” nor “caviar and champagne,” nor a “meal at McDonald’s.” Though I will say from experience that when “love” isn’t forthcoming, food sure doesn’t hurt.
10. The Time: “Chocolate”
(from Pandemonium, 1990)
Released as the second single from their underrated 1990 comeback album Pandemonium, “Chocolate” is like a supercut of everything that made jheri-curl music masters the Time great. There are ludicrous come-ons by singer Morris Day: “I ain’t tryin’ to brag, baby, but I ever get you in the bed / I’ll work that body so hard you’ll wish all you had was an achin’ head.” There are numerous, weirdly unflattering references to Morris’ “Tootsie Roll.” There’s even an uncredited vocal cameo by the song’s ghostwriter, Prince, in character as a sassy waiter spouting off a litany of soul-food specials. Toss in a typically funky performance (by the band themselves, even!) and you have a musical confection as irresistible as its namesake. So I guess what I’m saying is, yes, Morris, I do want to see your Tootsie Roll. (He was sure I would.)
11. Paul and Linda McCartney: “Eat at Home”
(from Ram, 1971)
A lightweight but infectious track from Paul McCartney’s 1971 proto-Wings album Ram, “Eat at Home” finds McCartney and his wife/co-writer Linda, who would give birth to their second daughter Stella later that year, reveling in the pleasures of domestic love and sex. Yes, this is yet another euphemistic song where the items being consumed are not exactly foodstuffs; to the McCartneys’ credit, however, the mood is lightly ribald and cheeky, not vulgar and offputting (I’m looking at you, Robert Plant). Plus, given the couple’s adoption of vegetarianism a few years later, in retrospect it’s actually a pretty successful attempt at making a meat-free diet seem fun and sexy, which is more than the inventors of the Tofurky can claim.
12. John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band: “Cold Turkey”
(1969 single; available on Power to the People: The Hits)
Speaking of things that aren’t actually turkey, yes, I am aware that this 1969 solo single by McCartney’s ex-bandmate, John Lennon, is about the brutal method for abruptly kicking an addiction (heroin, in Lennon’s sake) and not about the traditional holiday meat. But while I can’t say I know how it feels to experience heroin withdrawals, I have lived through the bleak procession of post-Thanksgiving leftover meals enough times that I basically know how John feels: “Thirty-six hours / Rolling in pain / Praying to someone / Free me again / I’ll be a good boy / Please make me well / I promise you anything / Get me out of this hell.” This, people, is why it’s always smart to buy a smaller turkey. Leftovers might sound good now, but a few days after Thanksgiving and the prospect of a cold turkey sandwich will have you clawing at the walls.
13. George Clinton: “Do Fries Go with That Shake?”
(from R&B Skeletons in the Closet, 1986; available on Greatest Hits)
A mid-’80s solo highlight from the P-Funk ringmaster, “Do Fries Go with That Shake?” is gloriously dumb evidence of the lengths George Clinton will go to follow his muse: six minutes of minimalist electronic dance-funk, lame food-based come-ons (“Baby, can I cut your cake?”), and Clinton bellowing the title as if it’s the most soulful sentiment in human history. It’s no “Atomic Dog,” that’s for sure, but it did predate Timbalake’s “Carry Out” by over 20 years, which makes it a pioneer in sexualized fast food anthems.
14. Bootsy’s Rubber Band: “Munchies for Your Love”
(from Ahh… The Name is Bootsy, Baby!, 1977)
Even earlier to the sex-as-gluttony game was Clinton’s protégé Bootsy Collins, who recorded this slow-burning ode to his “chocolate star” while he was still a member of Parliament/Funkadelic. It’s arguably the weirdest of Bootsy’s slow jams: a deliberate, almost ten-minute-long crescendo that sounds alternately stoned and sinister, even as the lyrics consist wholly of banal comparisons to candy bars and bass guitars. And it’s probably a better weed song than it is a sex song or a food song–but on the other hand, listening to it may just give you enough of a contact high to inspire some “munchies” of your own.
15. A Tribe Called Quest: “Ham ‘n’ Eggs”
(from People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, 1990)
Hey look, another food song that’s actually, literally about food! Coming in near the end of A Tribe Called Quest‘s 1990 debut, “Ham ‘n’ Eggs” is all about the dishes Phife Dawg and Q-Tip like to “snack on when [they’re] questing”–which pointedly do not include the titular, cholestorol-heavy items. “Strictly collard greens and the occasional steak goes on my plate,” Tip explains, also citing asparagus tips, candied yams, apple sauce, and “some nice red beets.” Lest you think the song is too preachy, though, Phife does cop to indulging in the occasional Slim Jim; and then there’s the cameo by Posdnuos of fellow-travelers De La Soul, who breaks up the closing call-and-response section by replying that he eats ham and eggs “all the time.” Hey, even Native Tongues need to consume the occasional protein.
16. Marvin Sease: “I Ate the Whole Thing”
(from The Housekeeper, 1993)
What would a playlist about eating be without Marvin Sease: a man who built his entire, astonishingly long career out of commemorating the act of “eating” a particular part of a woman’s anatomy? On this disco-flavored opening track from Sease’s fifth (!) album, he hints at some “changes in [his] diet” that have made him go from “losing [his] appetite” to “eating the whole thing”–and if you don’t know what “the whole thing” is by now, well, you just need a little “Candy Licker” in your life. “It’s just like good corn bread, black-eyed peas, and collard greens,” Sease testifies; a pretty weird way to describe a vagina, but hey, at least it’s better than one of his later songs‘ choices of “soup” and “ham.” One last thing, though–since Marvin apparently isn’t willing to come out and say it, I guess I’ll just have to say it myself: cunnilingus, while usually pleasurable for all parties involved, is not in fact a replacement for a full and nutritious diet. Please be safe this holiday season.
17. Cab Calloway and His Orchestra: “Everybody Eats When They Come to My House”
(1948 single; available on Are You Hep to the Jive?)
But enough about Marvin Sease’s insatiable appetites; the real meaning of Thanksgiving lies in its uniquely American blend of family bonding, excessive consumption, and neurosis, which is basically what this latter-day track by big band showman Cab Calloway is all about. Calloway plays the generous host, feeding a litany of diverse guests whose names all conveniently rhyme with food items, from “Hannah” and “Mandrake” to “Fagel,” “Nashville,” and “Plato” (!). But, like many a Thanksgiving host, his benevolence is underpinned with desperation and resentment: “Worked my hands to the bone in the kitchen alone,” Calloway complains, so “you better eat if it kills ya!” It’s the perfect manic, yet celebratory song to kick off a holiday season full of manic celebrations. So get with the gravy, Davy. But please don’t, as Calloway suggests, eat the tables and chairs.