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Music to Cook to: A Contemplative Culinary Playlist

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Listening to music while cooking can provide the same joy and solace as a delicious meal paired with the perfect wine. Deciding on what music to listen to while cooking is typically a simple matter of personal taste (with one celebrity chef insisting that Bossa Nova is the only music to listen to while generating culinary masterpieces in the kitchen). But, in the spirit of creating a universally appealing mix to help one pass (and celebrate) the time spent experimenting in the gastronomical laboratory, we’ve created a playlist that attempts to up the ante of what one might listen to while braising, marinating, and sauteing. The challenge: produce a playlist made entirely of food, cooking, and meal-related songs while maintaining just the right vibe and flow throughout. And so, we invite you to follow us along this musical odyssey through a myriad of genres, styles, and history to ultimately provide you with a robust meditative sojourn into food-based tunes that will help inspire you to attain even higher levels of epicurean brilliance.

Our melodious farm-to-table voyage begins in the hallowed halls of fruits and vegetables based classic rock with Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” and The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Our first highlight comes with the oft overlooked densely layered harmonies of the point-blankly named “Vegetables” by The Beach Boys. This unique track (along with the rest of the landmark Smiley Smile album) was initially thrown out the window by Mike Love as he accused songwriting mastermind Brian Wilson of being “too crazy” and the song and album being “way too out there.” Luckily, history has proven Mike Love to be the crazy one/villain and Wilson the genius/hero. With lyrics such as “I’d jump up and down and hope you’d toss me a carrot,” this remarkable song offers us the first opportunity to become truly excited about the meal we’re preparing while ruminating on the rarely fawned over subject of vegetables, the gentler, kinder, misunderstood little sister to meat.

“Pizza and Pinball” by Afghani/British singer Rumer brings us up to date with her Burt Bacharach-ian shout out to children’s activities before we slowly build up the tempo with some food-alicious funk. The foodie funkiness is best punctuated by Mtume’s “Juicy Fruit,” which was note-for-note sampled by Notorious BIG & Puff Daddy in their ginormous 1994 hit “Juicy.” For those unfamiliar, Mtume (pronounced em-tu-may) explore the nether regions of erotic confections with their tongues firmly planted deep within their collective cheeks (pun graciously intended) over the killer hook and groove with which the world is already quite familiar. Perhaps you will likewise ask yourself, while tapping your wooden spoon on the rim of your sauce pan, “Why on earth wasn’t this song a ginormous hit as well?”

Interwoven within the breakfast-pondering instrumental funk section, we twice celebrate Prince (the shock of his loss still being heart-breakingly felt). First, by demanding that our lover be late for breakfast, work and whatever else the day may hold, as we need to do perform various food/eating related analogous tasks upon them beforehand (“Breakfast Can Wait”). And then, with the quietly concerning “Starfish and Coffee,” quirky artisanal ice cream-esque combination ode to Prince’s childhood friend, Cynthia Rose.

Following the funk, and with some help from Yo La Tengo’s contemplative instrumental “Return to Hot Chicken,” we shift gears down into the classic “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James & The Shondells. It’s hard to say what exactly the crimson and clover that James intends to show his lover over and over ultimately is but, it sure sounds inviting and groovy. We then slowly scale the mountain of alt/indie rock beginning with Oakland’s Sugar Candy Mountain and their sleepy trippy tune “Breakfast In Bed.” Pavement’s lesser known “Cherry Area” and Yuck’s more rocking “Milkshake” build us up to “Sandwiches” by Detroit Grand Pubahs. Sure, this track may very well mark the high point in being left of center geographically speaking within the playlist but, with wine/beer/spirits safely in hand while cooking, this should (hopefully) find you in that, “Oh hey there, what’s this?” open mind frame needed for prolonged big meal food preparation (and to properly appreciate this song). Which then deftly brings us over into Har Mar Superstar’s punch-packing “Power Lunch,” complete with old school internet connection noises and hot sultry business lunch related metaphors galore.

We then cruise along the high quality ridge of Mount Rock ‘N Roll with Radiohead’s dystopian “Packt Like Sardines In a Crushed Tin” (note: contains no actual sardines); the Southern cooking, enlightening “Polk Salad Annie” by Tony Joe White; the mysterious slumber-yearning “Soul Kitchen” by The Doors; and culminating with the poultry-centric “Know Your Chicken” by Japan’s Cibo Matto. Ratcheting up the tempo gets us into the high octane seafood celebrating couplet of Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” and The B-52’s “Rock Lobster” (complete with Katie Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s various marine animal noises throughout). In keeping with The B-52’s oldies, doo wop style, “Let’s Turkey Trot” by Little Eva follows through and takes us home with the real deal and all its Thanksgiving dance time, Ned Flanders-inspired, gobble-gobble-diddily madness. And, of course, how can you turkey trot without some “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sanders on the side?

“Home Cooking, Pt. 1” by The Soul Investigators then gives us some proper greasy skillet instrumental funkafied funkiness to help us to prepare to switch it up into the eclectic section before we wind it on down. “Microwave Dinner” by Floppy Circle is a nice floating airplane ride into the garbage man scream inducing “Peaches and Cream” by Beck. In Love With A Ghost’s “I Need A Cup of Coffee and Some Bread To Wake Up” then provides just the right transition into the head-scratchingly odd yet uniquely fascinating take by The Carpenters on the New Orleans-celebrating Creole classic “Jambalaya (On The Bayou).” Upon first glance, one might discount this seemingly high fructose corn syrup version of the more typically gritty Louisiana cuisine-saluting tune, but damned if that Karen Carpenter doesn’t figure out a way to sneak into your heart with her soothing tones (and light rock drumming skillz).

“Mango Taco” by Mexico’s Caloncho is a catchy down-tempo tune that provides an awesome almost Sigur Ros-ian rumination on the song title (yet is likely best to avoid getting deeply into lyrically). Ween’s “Pork, Roll, Egg, and Cheese” is a spaced out drum machined offbeat tribute to one of New Jersey’s finest culinary creations, which makes the stark simplicity of “Fishing Blues” by Taj Mahal that follows all the sweeter, as we clean the slate with his public service announcement: You will catch many fish if you have the correct bait.

“Coconut” by Harry Nilsson starts nice and calmly before getting nice and weird as our narrator takes us through his harrowing quest for a stomach aching cure in a tropical environment. Which then creates a nice headspace to go back in time all the way to The Four Clefs’ 1941 hit “I Like Pie, I Like Cake,” which compares all number of dishes with the object of the singer’s affection. And while we’re there in historic Americana, it’s always worth taking a trip up and around “Big Rock Candy Mountain” by Harry McClintock, made famous by The Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou.

In beginning the slow push toward finishing strong, Julie London’s honey-dripping version of “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” (made popular by The Archies), takes a saccharine sweet pop song and gives it a tasty sexy makeover to get us all ready for a feast of love. “After Dinner Drink” by George Duke provides just what the title implies: a jazzy wind down aperitif to help us calm our brains after a big day of cooking, eating and revelry. The sorrowful and apologetic “Dinner For Breakfast” by Jasmine Kennedy lets us know that the train is coming into the station before “Midnight Snack” by HOMESHAKE (their capitalization, not mine) fully down shifts us into the final track by Johnny Cash. Yes, “Breaking Bread” becomes a way of saying of grace (if you’re into that kind of thing) before enjoying the marvelous meal you’ve prepared.

Cheers, good cooking, and happy Thanksgiving!

Feature image courtesy of Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

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