By The Landlord
“Once you told me I was mistaken
That I'd awaken with the sun
And ordered orange juice for one.” – Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
"Sailin' 'round the world in a dirty gondola.
Oh, to be back in the land of Coca-Cola!" – Bob Dylan
"I met her in a club down in North Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like
Cherry Cola. C-O-L-A Cola." – Ray Davies
“The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.” – Ogden Nash
“Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness.” - Shakespeare, Macbeth
Songs and playlists about drinking very often, and inevitably, turn to intoxication, but there is always another way. And when you think about it, we probably spend far more of our inbibing time on non-alcoholic liquids that just as effectively control or change mood, energy levels and state of mind. Tea, coffee, milk, fruit juices, and many soft-drink brands have regularly frothed and fizzled up into many song lyrics from the last 100 years at least.
So, while coffee is a topic has been tackled before, and drinking in general, which was dominated by booze songs, this week, in musical form, do you care for a milkshake of any flavour, a mocktail, orange squash, iced tea, or a lemonade, for example? How about a cup of tea, a lassi, a cordial, a smoothie (fruit or vegetable), a Pepsi Cola or its many forms or rivals, a Dr Pepper, a Swiss-made Rivella (a fruity juice made from whey milk), a Perrier or a Seven Up-style bottle of the fantastically onomatopoeiac French Pssshhh or Pschitt?
It’s not just carbonated drinks such as lemonade that gets poured as a mixer round here. We're on a health trip too. Avoiding the booze is meant to be good for you, isn’t it? Well, not always. More often, soft drinks end up being just another way to imbibe lots of sugar. As the actor Dustin Hoffman put it: “The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk.”
Many soft drinks give you a buzz in a different, but just as powerful way as booze. After all, when Coca-Cola was first put on the market in 1886, invented by John Pemberton as a medical tonic type of drink, it was above all, a stimulant. What did it contain? Caffeine, but also, in no small dose, cocaine! Have a Coke and a smile indeed! It’s the real thing! Oh yes! Pemberton put five ounces of the coca leaf per gallon of syrup, and that’s a pretty hefty dose considering a standard line of cocaine is roughly 50–75mg. So it’s probably no wonder that Coca-Cola gets many mentions in song lyrics, even though this primary ingredient disappeared 1903 to be replaced by other stuff. But the common mention of Coke in song lyrics is also probably down to the most greedy, all-pervasive and psychologically effective serious of brand marketing compaigns the modern world has ever seen. Let’s take a look at how, in 1961, Coca-Cola can help keep you slim. Go figure:
And then, 10 years later, as featured at the end of the advertising series Mad Men, possibly the most watched TV ad of all time, conceived perhaps as a message to the subconscious of the masses that Coke takes us to some kind of all-singing world-holding-hands utopia. It was written by Billy Davis, and then later recorded by The New Seekers. Pretty unreal, that real thing. More like a cult, perhaps:
“Coca-Cola remains emblematic of the best and worst of America and Western civilization," says our first guest in the Bar, American writer Mark Pendergrast. "The history of Coca-Cola is the often funny story of a group of men obsessed with putting a trivial soft drink "within an arm's reach of desire. But at the same time, it is a microcosm of American history. Coca-Cola grew up with the country, shaping and shaped by the times. The drink not only helped to alter consumption patterns, but attitudes toward leisure, work, advertising, sex, family life, and patriotism." Yep. That's it. In a bottle:
But let us not allow the Coca-Cola Company or its big rival, Pepsi, to gain a total monopoly on our musical drinks selection. How about an old-school sarsaparilla, a flavoured drink particularly popular in the United States in the 19th century, and was originally made from the smilax ornata plant from Central America and Mexico? According to advertisements for patent medicines of the period, it was considered to be a remedy for skin and blood problems. But like Coke, possibly not for tooth decay though.
But there are plenty of other stimulating drinks from the past and present. Did any of you learned readers have your childhood boosted by the likes of Tizer, Dandelion & Burdock, ginger beer, Vimto or Ribena? Those were the days! Since then there's been others such as Kia-Ora, or that fuel for all hyperactive children, Sunny Delight. If nothing else many British drinks have been pepped up by some amusing advertising campaigns. Irn-Bru, the classic Scottish hangover cure, often referred to as “brewed in Scotland, from girders”, has also been brought to our attention by these often witty, and sometimes saucy gems, with a humour that's particularly flavoured by banter from north of the border. Among my favourites is the one for “Fiery” Irn-Bru featuring a series of pensioners, but all of these are in various ways funny, and refreshing:
And taking things to a more surreal, if sometimes disturbingly funny level, we must include the 1990s football commentary-style campaign for that fizzy orange stuff, Tango, explaining how the drink gives you that unexpected, phantom hit. Slap me sideways.
But if you want to shock the drinkers at your local boozer, who could always just innocently ask for one of these. It might just catch on:
Fizzy drinks, the actress Marlene Dietrich said, are “the gooey, bubbly sea drowning our American children”. She probably had a point. Perhaps instead she would have approved of milk, as requested by her co-star Jimmy Stewart, in the highly entertaining film Destry Rides Again (1939), in which there’s not only one of the great fight scenes, but Stewart, playing the deputy sheriff, uses conventional methods to clean up the town, including not carrying a gun, and indeed ordering that very drink, instead of whisky at the bar. This has nothing to do with John Wayne's famous quote "get off your horse and drink your milk", though Wayne did get in the saddle and have an affair with Dietrich.
Milk often comes up in song lyrics when mixed with booze, honey, or instead as a metaphor. Many of us got given it, no questions asked, in junior school. DId it do us good? Maybe, though some might say dairy is not really a natural beverage. I’ve moved onto alternative forms in recent years in particular the soya version. “The human body has no more need for cows' milk than it does for dogs' milk, horses' milk, or giraffes' milk,” said the US physician and and writer Michael Klaper. He may have a point, but at least mention of it in song lyrics won’t clog our musical arteries. Still, our Song Bar milkshakes may still bring a few boys, and girls, to the yard.
But what soft drinks are healthy, once you get away from the sugar and cholesterol? Fruit juices? Vegetable smoothies? Mocktails? Apple, elderflower and mint, anyone? Check out these beauties:
But really, when you think about it, water is the only drink guaranteed to hydrate you (dubious “isotonic” drinks not included). But if you want to give it any flavour, don't do the sugary syrup. Let’s instead have a taste of this lovely number by the wonderful poet and reggae artist Macka B. You know the man talks sense:
So then, serving the drinks behind the Bar this week, and mixing those mocktails and other delicious musical items, I’m delighted to announce the return of the wonderful radio host Rachel Courtney aka uneasy listening, who will encourage you to pour forth your non-alcoholic drinks-related songs to hydrate, stir and stimulate our mutual tastes, but also serve up playlists out of them. Deadline for last non-booze orders is 11pm UK time on Monday, for playlists published on Wednesday. I hope you accept this 'cordial' invitation. Let the refreshment commence!
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.