20 Golden Greats, of the nutritionally incorrect variety
Take a good look through your record collection. Can you think of any memorable songs or instrumental tunes extolling the joys of Iceberg Lettuce? Have you heard of a concept album dedicated to tofu? Or even a song? Well, apart from Killer Tofu by The Beets (the fictitious group in Nickelodeon’s/Jumbo Productions’ animated series, Doug), little of note.
For a start, we had a Number One single for nine weeks by an animated group. They probably had Type 2 Diabetes, after their stint in the Hit Parade. There was another group whose idea of seduction was a quarter of chocolate limes. Both of these were in the 1960s.
Much to the annoyance of the Nutritionally Correct Brigade and Jamie Oliver, there seems to be more songs about fast food than organic vegetables. Sun dried tomatoes and low calorie alternatives aren’t very rock ‘n’ roll. Hence of course, our subject for a Feast of the M60 Rebellious Mixtape. Time to fire up the Dominos Pizza app (and mine’s a large New Yorker if anyone’s offering to pay).
Junk Food Anthems
- The Fast Food Song, The Fast Food Rockers (2003);
- Sweets For My Sweets, The Searchers (1963);
- Sugar Coated Iceberg, The Lightning Seeds (1997);
- Snack Attack, Godley and Creme (1981);
- McDonalds Girl, Dean Friedman (1981);
- Big Mac, Village People (1979);
- Wimpy Bar Lil, The Biggles Wartime Band (2000);
- Burgers and Fries, Charley Pride (1978);
- Do Fries Go With That Shake? George Clinton (1986)
- Chippy Tea, The Lancashire Hotpots (2009).
For our first song, we start with The Fast Food Song, the excruciating debut tune by the Fast Food Rockers. It has the most trite set of lyrics ever committed to grace cassette and CD. The mainstay of their song is the chorus, which was the biggest free advert for three multinational fast food giants. I suppose today’s equivalent will namecheck Nandos, with Kentucky Fried Chicken referred to as KFC.
Unless you’ve stood on or burned the cassette, or freed the tape from its plastic case, the next tune is a bona-fide classic. Sweets For My Sweets is – would you believe – 55 years old. It was originally a song for The Drifters in 1961, but a 1963 cover by The Searchers gave the Merseybeat group a rip-roaring debut. Their version topped the UK singles chart for two weeks. In 1994, it was revived by C.J. Lewis, where his version peaked at Number 3.
If you’ve had your fill of sweet stuff, a nice slice of lettuce could suffice. Then you find it has been sugar-coated. Like the Sugar Coated Iceberg suggested by The Lightning Seeds. O.K., I know the song has nothing to do with foodstuffs. It is about skeletons in cupboards. The tune, which featured on their Dizzy Heights album, peaked at 12 at the start of 1997.
After leaving 10cc, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme went on to become music video directors. They also had a separate musical career with the albums L, Consequence and Ismism. The last-named album had Snack Attack as its opening track. Within this tune, any possible food stuff under the sun is mentioned. Jamie Oliver could have censured this track for promoting binge-eating.
Few paeans to fast food look at the behind the counter. Telling the story from a teenage perspective is Dean Friedman’s McDonalds Girl. Taken from the album Rumpled Romeo, it focuses on the fifteen-year-old employee he has a crush on. The only reference to food is his usual order: his fries and cheese quarterpounder. Referred to as “an angel in a polyester uniform”, he mentions how she serves his softball team. It is a warm piece and a good observational work.
Our next piece has a more brash approach. The Village People could have been as guilty as The Fast Food Rockers for product placement with Big Mac. Our sextet waxes lyrical over the McDonalds burger in macho terms. Like McDonalds Girl and Snack Attack (which should have charted, surely), Big Mac didn’t chart. It appeared on the universally panned album, Renaissance.
Back in 1981, McDonalds had yet to make a great impact on our shores. The biggest name under the bun was Wimpy. Britain’s answer to McDs inspired the double entendre-tastic Wimpy Bar Lil, by the Biggles Wartime Band. Featuring on their self-titled album, there is reference to burning sausages and a few other ‘ooh, Matron’ type moments in there.
Our eighth piece sees a different tone with Charley Pride’s Burgers and Fries followed by the more superior Do Fries Go With That Shake? by George Clinton. The latter tune was used in Kenan and Kel’s Good Burger film. As for product placement, it dwarfs the Fast Food Rockers in the name checking department, though an infinitely better tune. Furthermore, it is probably the only song to mention Nutrasweet in its lyrics.
To close the first side, we have The Lancashire Hotpots to thank. Chippy Tea is their best known work. We hear how they decry couscous and favour a baby’s head. Which, thankfully, is Lancastrian slang for a Steak and Kidney Pudding. In spite of their protestations, I am just at home with Holland’s pies and lobster thermidor. Good though it is, there is a better song on the joys of the chippy penned by a fellow Lancastrian.
- I Want Candy, Bow Wow Wow (1982);
- Sugar Sugar, The Archies (1969);
- I Like Bread and Butter, The Newbeats (1964);
- Cherry Pie, Jess Conrad (1961);
- Yummy Yummy Yummy, Ohio Express (1968);
- Pour Some Sugar on Me, Def Leppard (1987);
- Eat It, Weird Al Yankovic (1984);
- TV Dinners, ZZ Top (1983);
- Hollands Meat Pies, Bob Williamson (1976);
- At the Chippy, Victoria Wood (1987).
We start our second side with Bow Wow Wow’s I Want Candy. The original version was written and recorded by The Strangeloves in 1965. Bow Wow Wow was a product of the late Malcolm McLaren, headed by Annabel Lwin. This was the group’s best known work, peaking at Number 9 in the UK singles chart.
Unless all your teeth have rotted away, the Archies one and only UK hit was a Number One smash. Sugar Sugar was at the top of the charts for nine weeks. What made the song novel was the group – they didn’t exist in the human form. They were animated figures that featured in a comic – like Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz did years later. Two years on, it was covered by Sakkarin, a Jonathan King group-de-plume. They turned it into a heavy rock style tune. Less successfully, it was covered as an album track by Dollar.
Today, overconsumption of bread and butter could be considered a no-no. Not least the amount of carbohydrates. In 1964, the Newbeats expressed their delight with I Like Bread and Butter. Which, not only extolled the simple foodstuff, but also had a slight lovey-dovey-ness to it. Taking the food theme literally, it was used by many advertising types to sell bread. On these shores, in 1987, the Trusthouse Forte-owned Little Chef used the tune to advertise its dishes. To earworm-tastic effect (the orange lollipops used to be good).
Our fourth track on this side featured on Ronco/Yuk Records’ magnificently bad LP, The World’s Worst Record Show. Jess Conrad’s Cherry Pie is inane, and pure bubblegum music for its time. Well, not nearly as much as – or as good as – Ohio Express’ Yummy Yummy Yummy. On its B-side is Chewy Chewy. This was their only hit in the UK, and it was used in Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me film.
19 years on, Def Leppard turned to sugar for inspiration. Pour Some Sugar on Me came about after the Sheffield group was pratting about. There is little reference to sugar or any food besides the chorus. That exception being its middle eight (“I’ve got the peaches, you’ve got the cream…”).
This is dwarfed by Weird Al Yankovich’s legendary take on Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Released in Spring 1984, Eat It mentions goodness knows how many food items. For example: tuna casserole, yoghurt and Raisin Bran. As for the lyrics, well, it’s Weird Al: gloriously surreal, funny, and clever. On East of the M60, we also love Like A Surgeon, his take on Madonna’s Like a Virgin.
ZZ Top’s TV Dinners is more about our relationship with junk food. The 1950s convenience food of choice (pioneered by Swanson and noted for its foil trays) is seen by our vocalist as a distress purchase. It is seen as an inevitability to compensate for something better. Like fresh food. Or the finest curry and chips on the cosmos, which is available from a chippy on Greenbridge Lane, Greenfield.
Or, if you’re folk singing legend, Bob Williamson, Hollands Meat Pies. No Northerner’s big shop is complete without a pack of Baxendale’s finest. Set to the tune of Ebony Eyes, our Boltonian singer eulogies the joys of Walter Holland’s pastry products. It is one of his best known works, which appeared on his 1976 LP, Super Turn (which, for our younger readers, has references to Celebrity Airways and the laxative effects of Good Greenall’s Beer).
Sticking with Lancashire, there is one chippy song that trumps The Lancashire Hotpots’ Chippy Tea. It is several times better than our first entry by the power of 135. For our last track, it is (the late great) Victoria Wood’s At The Chippy.
At The Chippy celebrates one of Britain’s finest institutions in a musical style. In the lyrics department, its narrative is clear, warm, rich in wordplay, observation, and vibrant in colour. Not only the 1980s style outfits as seen in the sketches; also the way in which dripping and steak puddings can be seen from Grease style eyes.
Before we run to the end of our mixtape, we shall leave you with this clip.
Before I go…
Feel free to add a few more nutritionally incorrect food items to the playlist. If you can think of any killer rock anthems featuring green beans or calorie-controlled convenience foods, feel free to comment as well.
S.V., 26 April 2016.