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December 3, 2011

Where do I plug in these Electric Prunes?


Daily Star

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Those of us who make the family feasts of Thanksgiving and Christmas magically appear on the table know there's nothing magic about it.

Long before the turkey floats aromatically from oven to platter, there's a lot of preparation leading up to the big moment when carving knife meets drumstick.

There is the menu planning, the grocery lists, the coupon-cutting, the shopping, the baking ... you know the drill. And it's no longer fashionable to simply duplicate the holiday meal your parents and grandparents laid out in all its traditional splendor.

There are 9 million cooking shows and magazines that shake a judgmental finger if we dare condemn our guests to the banality of plain old mashed potatoes and canned cranberry sauce.

By this weekend (one past Thanksgiving and three before Christmas), I'm sick to death of food and thinking about food. Even though I enjoy the occasional Hallmark TV Christmas movie, do you know how much holiday dining is scripted into these stories, and how much holiday food is the essence of the gazillion commercials that interrupt every few minutes of storyline?

Listening to music on my car radio the other day was a nice break from "everything food" -- until I realized that in one 20-minute set, I had just heard "Under the Bridge," "Let's Get It Started" and "I'd Do Anything for Love." I actually had to pull my car over to the side of the road and write this down before I forgot it. That's right, I had just heard three songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Eyed Peas, and Meat Loaf. So much for freedom from food.

I'd been blaming the holidays for a food obsession that runs much deeper than the festivities of November and December. This got me thinking about the number of bands that have taken their names right out of the supermarket. You know what?

There's a bunch of them.

Given that we have hundreds of thousands of words and proper names in the English language, I must say I'm intrigued by the singular popularity of food names in the popular music industry.

I could not tell you with any certainty the earliest instance of a band naming itself after food, but I can say with confidence that this practice rose to the level of phenomenon in the 1960s.

Alas, I'm old enough to remember the emergence in that decade of Tangerine Dream, Chocolate Watchband, Moby Grape, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Cream, Vanilla Fudge, Electric Prunes, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Hot Tuna and Ultimate Spinach. The food-name trend continued into the 1970s (but nowhere near as prolifically) with bands such as Bread, Wild Cherry, Blue Oyster Cult and Hot Chocolate, all of which seem less "psychedelically inspired" than many of the names from the previous decade.

In the 1980s, there was a food-name resurgence when we were introduced to the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Salt-N-Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Bananarama, the Cranberries and Blind Melon. Through the 1990s, food had not lost its appeal for new bands, but the names chosen were often as succinct as "Bread" (which, for a 1970s band name, was unusually succinct). So in the 1990s, in addition to the Spice Girls, Apples in Stereo, and Eve's Plum, we also saw the birth of four of the most succinctly named bands ever: Wheat, Eels, Cake and Olive.

Now I'm just confused. Food and music. Music and food. And only three weeks till Christmas. I'd better set my Strawberry Alarm Clock so I can get an early start Smashing Pumpkins for pies. I will put Martha Stewart to shame with my Ultimate Spinach, served in a tureen illuminated with Electric Prunes.

Probably going to send Rachael Ray a photo of my Cake frosted with Vanilla Fudge and decorated with Eels. Also have to remember to sprinkle the front steps with Salt-N-Pepa -- don't want anyone slipping on the Vanilla Ice ... .

Edmeston resident Christine A. Lindberg, senior U.S. lexicographer for Oxford University Press, is the principal content editor of Oxford's American English dictionaries and thesauruses. Opinions expressed by Lindberg in this column are done so independently, and do not necessarily reflect the policies and practices of Oxford University Press. Have a question or comment relating to the English language? E-mail: languagewithlindberg@gmail.com. Selected submissions will be answered here periodically.