Eat The Beatles!
Well dear readers - I'm pleased to say that at long last someone has done it! Someone has finally come up with the definitive Beatles survey that I've been waiting for years to read. A careful analysis of the food and drink that fueled and inspired the Beatles. At last we can discover what was their favorite nosh - what was their preferred tipple!
And who is the scholar with too much time on his hands? Well I'm simultaneously ashamed and proud to admit that it's me! Ashamed because this is obviously the work on an obsessive. And proud for the same reason.
You may have read a few headlines of this survey in newspaper reports such as USA Today which interviewed me about the story in April. But the key details of the survey have not been published until now.
I conducted the survey for a reason similar to the one George Harrison gave when he was asked why he financed Monty Python's "Life Of Brian" movie. "I liked the script and I wanted to see the film" said George. Well I've always loved the Beatles - and I've always loved food - so I wanted to see such a survey!
The idea for the survey took root in the spring of this year. I was asked to become guest host of an L.A. radio station's Sunday morning breakfast show "Breakfast With The Beatles" after the sad passing of the program's host. I didn't want to do one of those genteel "...well that was a song Paul wrote in 1964 - now here's one John wrote in 1966" type of mellow shows. I decided that I would come up with themes for the shows I hosted. The first show I fronted was on the morning of the Oscars - so I put together a Beatles Oscar special. Songs from their movies, coupled with tunes written and/or performed for movies by all four Beatles as solo artists. The show also featured live Beatles movie tunes played in the studio by the inestimable Laurence Juber - and interviews I taped with Beatle-loving movie folks such as Mike Myers, Drew Barrymore, Kathy Bates - and Sting. The grand finale was a live interview with "Let It Be" director Michael Lindsay-Hogg on what after all was the 30th anniversary of the Academy Awards where the Beatles won their first and only Oscar - for Best Score for "Let It Be."
The show was judged a huge success - and immediately I started wondering how I could possibly top the show. The answer came instantly to me. Food Glorious Food! I would pull together all the wonderful songs written by the Beatles that had food in their lyrics. Well a list came together very swiftly but even as I scribbled it down - I knew that it was not enough. I decided that merely playing the songs was not sufficient. i had to also present the songs in context of the Beatles' actual culinary likes and dislikes. So I started looking up on the Internet for the definitive analysis of the Beatles' eating preferences according to their music - and discovered that there wasn't one. Put simply - no one had been as stupid as me! Or if someone had - he or she hadn't wanted to reveal it.
So that's how the mission started. I resolved to go through every Beatles lyric, (group and solo) song title, album title, movie dialogue, books, major interviews - and enter all the food and drink references into a database. Crazy? You bet! And a ton of fun!
So I combed through over the lyrics of every Beatle-related recording, watched movies, documentaries, read books etc. By the end I was exhausted - and starving!
Anyway - for those of you who love the Beatles, food and drink in equal measure - here are the key points of the survey. I do stress one thing before you read it. While factual in basic content - it is obviously a light-hearted, fun analysis of a Beatles-related topic - and should be taken with a pinch of salt - and some Sgt. Pepper. I'm very aware of the actual culinary persuasions of the Beatles - and this study is as much a celebration of their irreverent humor as of their taste in food. And it should be consumed with that in mind!
This new study, which has entailed detailed analysis of every recording, film, video and major utterance by the Beatles collectively and individually over the past 40 years reveals that the all-time favorite food of the Fab Four is Honey - which features in no less than fourteen song lyrics recorded by John, Paul, George and Ringo - and that their preferred drink is Tea - with over a dozen musical references.
This survey has analyzed over 1,800 separate recordings from the 130-plus albums written, performed or produced by the Beatles as a group and as solo artists in the 40 years between 1961 and 2001. The study has also dissected over 40 hours of their 5 feature films and numerous documentaries; album artworks, books, major interviews, folklore and mythology. Every reference to food or drink made by a Beatle has been carefully annotated and logged into a database.
I thought it might be useful to discover the nutritional stimulants which helped the Beatles create the music which made them the most popular and most critically-acclaimed group in history. They were creating great music before and after their much-heralded but brief drug phase. So I think we need to look carefully at the other substances they ingested for clues to the source of their creativity! The startling news is that I think we can say that the Beatles owe much of their muse to the delights of much-maligned British cuisine! And the chief inspiration was undoubtedly the British 'cuppa' - a cup of tea!"
This survey divides Beatles food and drink references into nine distinct food groups:
MEAT/POULTRY . FISH . DAIRY . VEGETABLES . FRUITS . CONDIMENTS . CEREALS, GRAINS, NUTS & STARCHES . PASTRY, BAKERY, DESSERTS & CANDIES . BEVERAGES
Surprisingly - given the stated vegetarianism of the three surviving Beatles - there are far more references to meat, poultry and fish than vegetables, grains or pasta! On the other hand - the sweet-toothed Beatles have plenty to sing and say about cakes, bakes and candies. When it comes to beverages while wine gets its share of plaudits - it's English tea that collects the most musical mentions. Here are some of the highlights revealed by the survey:
Cows are a popular theme in Beatle songs - all four members of the Fab Four have written a composition featuring the creature: John's "When I Get Home," George's "Cockamamie Business," Paul penned an instrumental with the title "Cows." And even occasional composer Ringo wrote a line about cows into his single "Early 1970"
Vegetarian George has the most carnivorous references - with lyrics about pigs, pepperoni, pork chops, bacon (in two songs!), two varieties of chicken (Spring and Tandoori), Burger King and Macdonalds. Paul wrote a song cautioning people to exercise portion control with his nursery ditty "Mary Had A Little Lamb." John was the poultry-lover with lyrics about birds "And Your Bird Can Sing" - and his paean to Thanksgiving leftovers - "Cold Turkey."
The group favor seafood such as octopus (Ringo's "Octopus's Garden") oyster and eel (the latter from Paul and George respectively.) John named his greatest hits compilation "Shaved Fish" and included a peculiarly British fish the pilchard (a plump sardine) in his "I Am The Walrus." John, Paul and George all wrote songs with "fish" in the lyrics.
The Beatles may have grown to love vegetables but they rarely sang about them. There's John's "Glass Onion" of course and George's "Savoy Truffle" (though the truffle was covered in chocolate so it became a candy) - but veggie-lover Paul dispenses with all his vegetable mentions (sweet potato, green beans, garlic and salad) in just one song "Cook of the House" from his "Wings At The Speed of Sound" album - and that was sung by Linda - though Paul wrote and produced it. Let's not forget that when the Beatles went to India to study Transcendental Meditation under the Maharishi - it was Ringo who expressed his true feelings by taking with him several crates of Heinz Baked Beans - which undoubtedly enabled him to attain a higher state of spiritual understanding than the other three!
The Fab Four are certainly fans of dairy. John told us that he was the Eggman in "I Am The Walrus" - while Paul named an album "Back To The Egg." Until Paul came up with the words for his famous ballad "Yesterday" its working title was "Scrambled Eggs." Cream, cheese and butter crop up occasionally and milk pops up with the ever-popular honey on a John album title ("Milk And Honey") and as "Sour Milk Sea" in a George composition he produced sung by fellow Liverpudlian Jackie Lomax.
Paul McCartney is the Beatles' King of Condiments! His "Cook Of The House" song features salt, sugar, vinegar, cinnamon, curry powder and of course pepper - the spice he immortalized in his title song for the classic "Sgt. Pepper" album. John's wry corollary to Sgt. Pepper was "Mean Mr. Mustard."
In the realm of sweet condiments we have John's 'marmalade skies' from "Lucy In The Sky" and his "Jam Rag." George was partial to "Apple Jam." John's infamous mutter of "Cranberry Sauce" at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever" (see Fruit) was of course misheard as "I Buried Paul." (Though perhaps he was saying "I BERRIED Paul" - which might have been a reference to pelting McCartney with mixed berries in season.)
The fourteen references to honey occur in songs and albums ranging from Paul's "Honey Pie" and "Wild Honey Pie"; John's "Milk And Honey"; George's performance of "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby" ("Well they took some honey from a tree...") and Ringo's renditions of "Honey Don't" and "Matchbox."
CEREALS, GRAINS, NUTS & STARCHES
A British TV commercial for Kelloggs Corn Flakes was the inspiration for John Lennon's "Good Morning, Good Morning" from the "Sgt. Pepper" album - and a couple of months after recording that he envisioned himself "sitting on a corn flake" in his "I Am The Walrus." At various times John sang about seeds, semolina and acorns. Paul sang of rice twice - including his famous "Eleanor Rigby" - and peanuts once (in "Drive My Car.") And both John and Paul have crooned about macaroni. In their "Magical Mystery Tour" film - John dreamed up the sequence where he appears as a very greasy waiter who is (quite literally!) shoveling massive quantities of spaghetti on to the plate of Ringo's size-challenged aunt.
PASTRY, BAKERY, DESSERTS & CANDIES
The Beatles had sweet teeth galore and a fine taste for baked goods. John wrote of chocolate cake in "Ballad Of John & Yoko," George crooned about birthday cake in "It's All Too Much" and Paul just sang of plain old cake in "Too Many People." John and Paul both sang the praises of pie. John favored 'marshmallow pies' (in "Lucy In The Sky") - while Paul's favorite varieties are 'butter pie' in "Uncle Albert" and "Flaming Pie" the title song of his 1997 album - inspired by a humorous story John wrote about the group having been named by "a man on a flaming pie."
George sang of apple tarts and ginger slings while John dreamed of yellow matter custard and sugar plum fairies. And though John and Paul feuded in the 1970's about many things (including money) - at the same time they were both singing about the glories of bread (the edible variety.)
George wrote "Savoy Truffle" for the Beatles' White Album - an entire song inspired by a box of British chocolates (the "Good News" assortment) which included such delights as Cream Tangerine, Montelimat and Coconut Fudge.
Apples are naturally the Beatles' favorite fruit and they were immortalized in song by George with "Apple Scruffs" and "Not Guilty"; John with "One Day" from his "Mind Games" album - and on the label of all the Beatles' releases from "Hey Jude" onwards. George was notorious for having difficulty naming his compositions and the working titles for two of his three songs on the "Revolver" album were varieties of popular British apples - "Granny Smith" - which was finally titled "Love You To" and "Laxton's Superb" which was eventually named "I Want To Tell You." Strawberries were of course John's fruit of choice - while Ringo sang of peaches twice - "You're Sixteen" and "Matchbox." Other popular Beatle fruits include cherries (Paul, George and Ringo have all paid tribute); bananas (by Paul in two songs), papaya, lime, coconut, pineapple and tangerines.
The Fab Four definitely liked their wine. John drinks it in "Norwegian Wood," Paul wants a bottle of it "When I'm 64" and a bellyful of it in "Her Majesty." Both Paul and Ringo sing of the charms of Strawberry Wine - a particularly Beatle-ish wine.
They also liked a variety of other drinks. John sang about lemonade in "Rain" and Coca-Cola in "Come Together." Paul sang of gin in "Rocky Raccoon" and rum in "Helen Wheels." In 1964's "A Hard Day's Night" film, Ringo orders a half-pint of "mild" (a light English beer.) By 1965's "Help!" movie he was on to "lager and lime." Before he gave up drinking - Ringo had graduated to rhapsodizing about moonshine whisky (on his 1970 "Beaucoups Of Blues" album.)
But without doubt tea was the Beatles' top tipple of choice! In one 3-month period in 1967 when they were ostensibly at the height of their drug period - they actually recorded no less than five songs referring to this most English of habits! "Lovely Rita," "Good Morning, Good Morning," "A Day In The Life," "All Together Now" and "It's All Too Much." They actually recorded more overt references to tea than to drugs!
OTHER FOOD & DRINK REFERENCES
Beatle songs are full of other food and drink references. There's talk about feeding ("When I'm 64" and "Lady Madonna") and drinking ("I Don't Want To Spoil The Party" and "I'm So Tired") kitchens and restaurants; dinners, breakfasts, and teas. Both John and Paul as solo artists wrote about TV dinners. In their movie "Help!" John discovers a season ticket in his soup ("I like a lot of seasoning in my soup.")
Excluded from the survey were what I deem 'items of international cuisine.' While there may be Beatles fans in some countries who eat frogs, dogs, lizards, monkeys and horse - I didn't consider them likely to be served up in the average Beatle-loving American household!
Now obviously the Beatles didn't always eat what they sang! And vice versa. Though there's a reference in the movie "A Hard Day's Night" to "jam butties" - they never wrote a song about one of their favorite foods from their impoverished Liverpudlian childhoods. A 'jam buttie' is actually a sandwich made of processed, sliced white bread, butter and a filling of strawberry jam! And it's savory version is the 'chip buttie' - which is the same processed, sliced white bread, butter and a filling of hot chips - the British french-fry! Yum-yum! And don't knock it till you've tried it! After all - those jam butties and chip butties - along with plenty of honey and endless cups of tea - is partly what fueled the Beatles fantastic creativity!