The wisdom of pop songs – Kitchen songs

The human condition explained in three-minute bursts

 

Yes, songs about kitchens. You will be surprised.

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I started thinking about this theme while listening to the Lemonheads song, Stove. You know when you get a new album, you might not study it, but just play it a few times to let it grow on you? That’s what happened with this one. The album is called Lovey, and it’s a bit patchy – not in the same league as It’s A Shame About Ray, but features some great songs.

Gradually I found myself singing an emotional line that started “I know I shouldn’t think about it anymore” and it sounded like the usual post-breakup business. But when I looked up the lyrics (because they’re not very clear when you listen), I found this:

The gas man came and took out our electric stove
I helped him carry it

Looking more closely, we learn that the gas man was once a boxer and had a son at UVM (University of Vermont). And they put a new stove in and the old one sits in the corridor, but every time the singer (the peerless Evan Dando) sees it, he gets upset.

All of this is dressed in a scorching fast rhythm that would get me going if it was about, well, a stove.

So, here it is. No video to look at, just a great, quirky rock-pop song.

Kitchen songs in general – and there are a few – are not usually so off-the-wall. There’s the blues classic by Robert Johnson, Come On In My Kitchen, which is a not particularly subtle invitation to join him not in his kitchen, but somewhere else warm and comfortable where he can stir the lady’s passions and probably serve up some special sauce in the end, but it’s all mixed up with somebody else having done him wrong, stolen his girl and he steals her back again. There is a brilliant live version by Steve Miller, revving up a 12-string guitar like you have never heard.

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It’s s similar tale in the Doors’ Soul Kitchen:

Let me sleep all night in your soul kitchen
Warm my mind near your gentle stove
Turn me out and I’ll wander baby
Stumblin’ in the neon groves

A typical Jim Morrison stew of imagery, you might say; thought-provoking but nonsensical and with one thing on his mind.

About 10 years ago when Corinne Bailey Rae was the new rising Brit-soul songwriter, before Amy Winehouse crashed the party, she gave us Till It Happens To You, a dreamy song of lost love remembering how : “we used to stay up all night in the kitchen when our love was new”.

Returning briefly to the Lemonheads, their song, Kitchen, tells of how “It all started in the kitchen” without getting at all specific.

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Jona Lewie, post-punk oddity of Stiff Records fame, who has a recurring source of UK income from his Christmas song Stop the Cavalry, also sang  about how you would always find him in the kitchen at parties, which fellow introverts recognise as being a safe zone, away from the expectant hurly burly of the front room with its music and frantic socialising.

Early 90s pop beanpole Martika had a hit with Martika’s Kitchen, another thinly veiled invitation to sample spices and condiments of the human variety. This was written and produced by Prince, in his instantly recognisable 1999-type style.

The strange link between cooking and sex is demonstrated once again by Joni Mitchell in Raised on Robbery, her 1974 hit from the Court and Spark album. This is the story of an unfortunate woman whose husband drank away all their money, leaving her to resort to selling her body.

I’m a pretty good cook
Sitting on my groceries
Come up to my kitchen
And I’ll show you my best recipes

Tongue sandwich, anyone? Insert your own food-based smutty remark here.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wisdom of Pop Songs – The drugs don’t work

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If your thing is done and you want to ride on: cocaine. Don’t forget this fact, you can’t get it back, cocaine. She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie…

It is true to say that people who work in the music business  are more likely to use drugs than, say, bricklayers or accountants. Anyone can get hold of something if they really want to, but if you’re a professional musician, you won’t have to try too hard. It sounds like fun to many people, and most will try something and either continue with it occasionally or just decide they don’t want to do that.

Smoking cannabis is like a rite of passage in such circles, but what worries non-users who care about someone who is exposed to that world is that the same people who sell a bit of grass are quite likely to have access to other things.

The 1960s saw an explosion in freedom of choice, and for a while everyone was happy. But trouble was lurking, as Steppenwolf pointed out in The Pusher.

The dealer is a man with a lump of grass in his hand
But the pusher is a monster and God he’s not a natural man
Goddam, goddam the pusher

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Come on – do I look like I smoke dope?

Then the drug-related deaths started to happen.

Whatever you believe about the 1970 demise of Jimi Hendrix – and ‘choked on his own vomit’ tells only part of the story among the conspiracy theories –  he was no choirboy. A gentle, peaceful character by all accounts, despite the media’s portrayal of him as the ‘wild man of pop’, he was living the rock’n’roll lifestyle all right, and that didn’t mean mineral water and early nights.

Janis Joplin’s number was up around that time, too, with heroin and alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.

Jim Morrison checked out of the hotel of life soon afterwards, with heart failure blamed for his departure and no autopsy performed. A heroin overdose is widely believed to be the real cause.

And so to the death of Gram Parsons, who succumbed to a mixture of morphine and alcohol.

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The ‘Jake’ they were encouraging to clean up his act was guitarist Paul Kossoff (centre, front) and guess what – he died of  a “heroin-related heart problem”

With ‘drugs’ now considered all one thing by many people, in the US and elsewhere the ‘Just say no’ campaign sent a clear message to the youngsters who are presented, as on a conveyor belt, as potential customers for the purveyors of drugs, prescription and illegal alike. But even though the next generations couldn’t claim they weren’t aware of the dangers, and their spokespeople may have said the right things, humans are fallible.

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Yeah, cos it’s like serious. It’s by our friend Ed Sheeran and it’s called… The A Team

The bravado continued.

While the highly intelligent, studious Walter Becker of Steely Dan gained worldwide respect for his contribution to their music, he and Donald Fagen (but I suspect Walter either wrote or strongly influenced the lyrics) gave us Time Out of Mind and the blasé lines

Tonight when I chase the dragon
The water may change to cherry wine
And the silver will turn to gold

Becker is still alive, but in 1978, before the song was released on 1980’s Gaucho album, he was sued over his girlfriend’s overdose death in his apartment. Shortly after Gaucho, Steely Dan split up and he moved to Hawaii, where apparently he managed to quit drugs altogether.

Johnny Thunders, one-time guitarist with the New York Dolls and then his own band the Heartbreakers, bragged about his drug use on Chinese Rocks and duly died a drug-related death years later.

Whitney Houston came through a stormy, cocaine-fuelled marriage to Bobby Brown, only to fall victim to her weakness in 2012.

Amy Winehouse’s breakthrough album Back to Black is like a diary of her substance-abusing life. On Rehab she proudly declares that they’re trying to get her to enter a rehabilitation program but “I won’t go, go, go”.

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The man said “Why you think you’re here?”  I said “I have no idea”

It was tragically predictable that, with that wonderful album under her belt and a bountiful future ahead of her, she wouldn’t be able to get it together and live a careful life, although the terrible irony is that when alcohol finally nailed her it was because she had been dry for a while and had lost her tolerance to it, so when she hit the bottle like old times, her body couldn’t handle it.

And so it goes on. Defiant and foolhardy, the rebels carry on while knowing it can only lead to trouble.

The warning songs continue too, such as Ed Sheeran’s song The A Team, about a crack-addicted prostitute, which was covered by teen sensations One Direction.

But it won’t stop the tide. Rock’n’roll is rebellious, and if you tell it not to do something… it’s not going to listen.