"If Music be the food of love - play on!" - William Shakespeare
Like Music (and Duke Orsino from Shakespeare's mixed-up comedy Twelfth Night, cited above), food can overwhelm and drown even the most ravenous appetite or just a few nibbles from a cornucopia of plates can satiate one and all. However, albums about food, with food on the cover or with food as a title are few and far between. So we sally forth to dine on a smorgasbord of the very best.
Our appetizer is not an album with food in the title, but its cover bears an iconic banana that is seen everywhere. 1967's "The Velvet Underground and Nico." Andy Warhol's seminal image was slapped on here (literally, early versions urged you to "Peel here and see") for marketing reasons and the rest is history. With Washington Square folkies moving out West, the dark Downtown scenesters took over and gave the world an exploded view of how desperate life in the city was and would continue to be. Like Baudelaire in Bohemian France, Lou Reed was creating contradictory images. This was meant to first be Pop, and then Pop Art. However, once you rifled through your initial trial of their platter - the taste was hard to resist.
Next, we drift a little further back to 1965 for another of the most famous "food" covers in Rock history. First, a lesson. Originally, there was just Herb playing a little trumpet in his garage studio. Herb took a trip to Tijuana and heard the intoxicating polyrhythms of a mariachi band. He was struck with an idea. After recording on his own (with overdubs,) he was forced to put together a backing band. They left the bullfighter songs behind and pressed into a new set of standards. "Whipped Cream and Other Delights" would be their classic statement. Alpert's update of "A Taste of Honey" was a smash and the Allen Toussaint-penned title cut a hidden delight that would start many a swingin' party.
Our main course comes from 1969, a heaping plate of Soul food from Mongo Santamaria. One of the first conga player to come to the US from Cuba, Santamaria injected the lighter side of jazz with exotic Latin rhythms. After discovering how to his fierce conga patterns with the hits of the day, Santamaria had a string of hit albums coalesceing in "Stone Soul." Like Alpert, these were swinging versions of Pop songs ("Little Green Apples,"Stoned Soul Picnic" and a cha-cha laden trip to "Cloud Nine" that became a Top 40 hit. The "Watermelon Man" hall of famer is going to spice up any meal with his good taste.
Simply could not settle for one album for your meal, so I must also contribute the elegantly simple yet extremely diverse Kelis album "Food." While she may concoct a tantalizing milkshake, "Food" is themed around eating. These titles will just make you hungry ("Biscuits N' Gravy", "Cobbler") but its grooves keep you coming back for seconds and thirds. The intoxicating and danceable "Jerk Ribs" should have been a massive hit. Maybe, they should have used the Jamaican delicacy on the cover.
Dessert is the hardest facet to formulate. However, this after-dinner treat has far more to do with the music than its cover. The intricate "cake" sculpture on the cover of "Let It Bleed" by the Rolling Stones has always been strangely appetizing. Like the giant sheet cakes you stroll past in the grocery store, it is both pure sugar and pure danger. The second in the Stones' historic run of classics, "Let It Bleed" is often overlooked since it falls inbetween the monolithic blues of "Beggars Banquet" and the eye-opening maturation on "Sticky Fingers." (Both are even slightly food related as well.) "Let It Bleed" speaks volumes for where the Stones are going. Here is a feast of Blues (Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain,") Country ("Country Honk" - a sizzling Country-fried steak version of "Brown Sugar" and even a dollop of Gospel (the sanctified conclusion of "You Can't Always Get What You Want.") "Let It Bleed" is the Stones' four-course meal.
Finally, while completely untraditional and not exactly the post-meal snack one would be after, we conclude the meal with the Hip-hop Pop Art installation "Donuts" by the late J.Dilla. Few instrumental Hip-Hop albums have ever found the immediacy and the poignancy of this masterwork. Dilla ascended to a producer that was as inventive as the artists he worked with. However after being diagnosed with a fatal blood disease, he was largely bedridden. So there on his hospital bed with a handful of records and the most rudimental recording equipment he pulled apart the sounds of all of his favorite records. "Donuts" remains like a work of art. You can listen to it in any order at any time. You can excerpt it between almost any styles of music (especially since his samples here run toward Dionne Warwick, Eddie Kendricks and Kool and the Gang.) But you cannot ignore what sounds like the most innocuous portion of your meal.
So, dine tonight with friends, family and neighbors. Pour over your meal. Savor every bite. Crank up some music because as Shakespeare also said:
"Unquiet meals make ill digestions."
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T-BONE's Records and Cafe, a GED instructor, and a genuinely awesome dude.