10 Songs About Buildings and Food

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Everyone knows the old quote about how writing about music is like dancing about architecture, though nobody really knows the true attribution for who coined it (consensus is Elvis Costello, but consensus — as Mark Twain can tell you — doesn’t always make it true). So if we’re dancing about architecture, we might as well actually write about some songs that are, in some way about architecture, right? But then it hit us — Talking Heads’ second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, turns 35 this year. So, in honor of that landmark album, we offer 10 songs about buildings and food. Eat up.

Papas Fritas - Buildings and GroundsPapas Fritas – “Vertical Lives
from Buildings and Grounds (2000; Minty Fresh)

We’ve all wondered what life will be like when the humans have used up most of the planet. Some predict that we’ll all be confined to tall buildings since when space is needed, “up” is a good place to check. Boston’s defunct Papas Fritas challenges and improves on this theory. Yes, we will all be in limited spaces, but they will feature geodesic domes since “only [they] can save us now.” Best of all, the end of the earth is wrapped up in a tight, bouncy, catchy, indie-pop package. Count me in! – Chad Gorn

Willie Bobo - Uno Dos TresWillie Bobo – “Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries
from Uno Dos Tres 1-2-3 (1966; Verve)

I’m not much of a fried neckbone man, but am more than able to keep that from prejudicing me against a humid groove wrapped around that particular delicacy, especially if it speaks this endearingly to hot summer days spent mulling around city streets, casting up, as it does so, a sort of fever dream of pasts both personal and collective, not to mention cinematic. Willie Bobo also played a large part in Cal Tjader’s “Soul Sauce,” another track, released a year before “Fried Neckbones,” that wouldn’t have been amiss on this litany of food music, at least in the eyes of a hot sauce addict such as myself, and to be sure there is plenty of spice in Bobo’s percussive flights on both pieces, though I am partial to the touch of violence tucked away into the shadowy edges of the one released under his own name, part sexual, part ego strut, part of another time – one exotica among many. – Tyler Parks

Underworld - dubnobasswithmyheadmanUnderworld – “Mmm Skyscraper I Love You
from dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994; Wax Trax!)

At the dawn of the age of intelligent techno and big beat, this album was an epic-comprised-of-epics, and a phenomenal recovery from one of music’s great false starts. Its second track is 13 minutes of wobbly tom-toms, buzzing keyboards, and windblown synthesized echoes from Rick Smith and Darren Emerson. They power Karl Hyde’s abstract poetics about life in a self-contained supercity, his visions of Elvis, dogs, ninjas, accountants, and God suggesting a hallucinogenic screenplay. You can just picture Robert Altman filming intertwining storylines set in high-tech hallways 30,000 feet above the earth. – Adam Blyweiss

Kelis - TastyKelis – “Milkshake
from Tasty (2003; Virgin)

While we mere mortals spend our time blending milk and crushing ice, Kelis’ milkshake offers something unique. Not only does it cause a plethora of men to flock to her yard, (does she mean her “territory” or a physical yard? How do they all fit? This needs to be explained.) but it is, according to these loyal suitors, the best to ever exist. While this is not quite true of the song itself, it’s one of those pieces of pop music that refuses to disappear and become irrelevant. Every summer without fail you’ll hear it pop up somewhere, and most likely be torn between jeering at it or dancing along. I, for one, would certainly choose the latter. From the playground chant of “La la-la la la, warm it up” to the pounding, dancehall-esque beat, there’s no doubting that it’s one of the cheesiest and catchiest hits of the 21st century.- Grace Barber-Plentie

Madness - Rise and FallMadness – “Our House
from Madness Presents the Rise & Fall (1982; Stiff)

One of Britain’s most beloved ska-pop acts put pictures in our heads of working-class home life as seen through the eyes of its children. “Our House” is an anthem for kids residing somewhere between the everyday and the lesser classes of great literature (Tiny Tim, Charlie Bucket) after the pages close on their respective books. Songwriters Chris Foreman and Carl “Chas Smash” Smyth might have snuck in the suggestion that “something tells you that you’ve got to get away from it” but they focused on family having an idealistic view within the walls of a home: Even living on top of one another Mum’s house-proud, a mess is not allowed, and it’s such a fine time—especially with this band’s bouncy, bohemian horns and harmonies to keep things lively. – Adam Blyweiss

Beach Boys - SmileBeach Boys – “Vege-tables
from The Smile Sessions (1966/2011; Capitol)

This highlight from the famous Smile sessions famously features Paul McCartney audibly chomping — in time — a stalk of celery. But what’s striking about this seemingly silly Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks song, is the emotional ride it takes you on. It would make a wonderful children’s book. The child loves eating vegetables, then fails at something, messing up a kick at a ball, but then returning to something comfortable. And of course it’s the Beach Boys so there’s those harmonies — those nourishing harmonies. – Stephen Chupaska

Stooges - Fun HouseThe Stooges – “Fun House
from Funhouse (1970; Elektra)

One of the ironies of the carnival “fun house” as it’s generally known, is that it can provide a disorienting experience that can be claustrophobic, frustrating, even downright creepy. The Stooges’ own “Fun House” is a song that definitely provides plenty of fun, but like its namesake, lines up a hall of mirrors with twists and turns, a nasty groove and a drug trip into garage rock oblivion. It’s a fun house in the most fucked-up sense of the word, which means it’s probably the truest. Walk through the busted-up teeth in that giant clown’s face and you know there’s no turning back. – Jeff Terich

Don Cherry - Brown RiceDon Cherry – “Brown Rice
from Brown Rice (1975; EMI)

Don Cherry’s avant-garde jazz funk jam “Brown Rice” doesn’t really sound like rice, necessarily. It’s more like a stew or a soup, perhaps a bowl of steaming chili or gumbo. It’s something that boils and bubbles, and slowly comes to a simmer. There’s some spice in it, but it sticks to your bones, for sure. For while this might be jazz, and atmospheric jazz at that, built around twinkling high-end, effects-drenched bass and Cherry’s own whisper-chants, at its heart, it’s soul music. Grab a seat and dig in. – Jeff Terich

Go-Betweens - TallulahThe Go-Betweens – “The House That Jack Kerouac Built
from Tallulah (1987; Beggars Banquet)

At first glance at the title, you might be justified in dismissing it as too-clever pun, good for a snicker but easily forgotten. But Robert Forster, who along with the Go-Betweens partner Grant McLennan form arguably the best songwriting duo of the ’80s, isn’t just interested in a cheap literary quip. It’s about a supposed bohemian who’s living and loving in the wake of opening yourself himself up to a woman, who’s destined to be “on the road” with the bad crowd. It’s not just about the adventure of love, but about the aftermath, and “The House Jack Kerouac Built” does so in an original way. – Stephen Chupaska

King Khan and the Shrines - What Is?!King Khan and the Shrines – “Welfare Bread
from What Is?! (2007; Hazelwood)

The phrasing of the title of “Welfare Bread” is a bit misleading. It has nothing to do with foodstamps or government assistance, at least not in a literal sense. Rather, it’s a song about chivalry in an old-fashioned sense, and the idea of allowing someone to take care of you, to be the rock that keeps a relationship stable. Khan has a tendency to get a bit wild and wacky with his soulful garage rock tunes, but he’s all heart when he sings, “You don’t have to pay your bills anymore now/ You just have to eat my welfare bread.” – Jeff Terich

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