Tea Top 10: refreshing songs about the national beverage

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National Tea Day: Warren Millar

For National Tea Day, Getintothis Will Neville puts the kettle on and warms a pot for a Top 10 of tea-based songs.

Everyone loves a good cup of tea, right?

OK, apart from those borderline psychopaths out there who are fully committed to the bean over the leaf.

It’s National Tea Day on April 21, one of the seemingly endless days of celebration or commemoration that litter the calendar, providing facile opportunities for marketing people to try and shoehorn their products into our daily lives.

However, there’s just something about brewing up a satisfying pot, mug or cup of tea that soothes the soul.

Tea began as a medicinal drink in south-west China, with its use first being recorded in the third century AD. It was introduced to Europe by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, becoming fashionable on our island in the 1600s.

Right, that’s quite enough history. Time for tea.

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Whether that’s bog-standard builder’s tea, Earl Grey or Lapsang souchong. Take your pick, whether your brand of choice is approved by chimps or the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Sadly, you can’t stroll down Bold Street or Smithdown Road in Liverpool in these virus-affected times to enjoy a lovely cup of Darjeeling or Chai in LEAF.

So, instead, go and make yourself a cup of your favourite brew and settle back, perhaps with a nice accompanying biscuit, and enjoy ten of the finest tea-based tunes.

Nirvana – tea anyone?

10. The KinksAfternoon Tea

A classic pairing of tea and some tasty snacks – sandwiches, cakes and scones. Yum.

Such an English stereotype goes wonderfully with one of the most English-sounding of bands, despite their early days when, like many of their contemporaries, they were US R&B copyists, .

By the time of this song, from 1967’s Something Else By The Kinks, the band had evolved into something quite different from their origins, at a time when the production reins were being handed from Shel Talmy to lead singer Ray Davies.

Such was his love for the humble cuppa, Davies returned to the theme just four years later for Have A Cuppa Tea on Muswell Hillbillies.

The latter song claims, in a somewhat tongue in cheek way, that tea is “a cure for hepatitis, it’s a cure for chronic insomnia”, but no such claims are made in this number, with Ray taking his with sugar, but not making it clear if he has milk or not.

 

9. CanBring Me Coffee Or Tea

For those of you out there who aren’t as committed to a leaf-based hot beverage, krautrock legends Can offer some uncertainty as to how to accompany a digestive biscuit over a mid-morning break.

This is the woozy closing track from Tago Mago in 1971 – a welcome respite after three numbers that each comfortably top the ten-minute mark.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, this song isn’t all that much about any kind of hot beverage, if it’s about anything much at all, although it includes the curious phrase “throw me out of my bag”, which arguably gives it a second tea reference.

 

8. Paul McCartneyEnglish Tea

This song is exactly as twee and cliched as you’d expect a Macca song about such an English institution to be. But he knows what you’re expecting too – hence the use of the word “twee” in the very first verse.

This comes from 2005’s Chaos And Creation In The Backyard, a late period gem in his canon, at a time when he was happily married to Heather, at least temporarily.

He even manages to smoothly shoehorn the word “peradventure” into the lyrics.

 

7. Action Bronson5 Minute Beats 1 Take Raps

Hip hop is quite fallow ground for songs about tea, with the subject matter tending more towards blunts, braggadocio and self-empowerment.

This track from 2012 makes the list purely due to the line “strictly Oolong on the tea”, which is impressively precise if perhaps a somewhat unusual choice.

The stream-of-consciousness lyrics also reference Ruud van Nistelrooy, Tom Selleck and Melissa Etheridge. What it all means is rather a mystery.

 

6. Cat Stevens Tea For The Tillerman

The tillerman gets tea in this song, whereas the woman who made the rain come gets wine.

There’s a time for wine, but this is a time for tea. Wise words.

This is the title track from Stevens’ fourth album, the second he released in 1970, which includes many of his best-loved songs such as Wild World and Father And Son.

This song barely passes the minute mark, but gently closes the album out rather nicely, somewhat disturbed by a loud choral burst at the end.

 

5. NirvanaPennyroyal Tea

Pennyroyal tea is classed as a poison and supposed to act as a herbal abortive, although Getintothis’ health experts do not recommend experimenting with its effects.

The song was apparently written about a person suffering from severe depression, and was composed by Kurt Cobain very quickly in 1990: “I wrote that song in about thirty seconds. And I sat down for like half-an-hour and wrote the lyrics and then we recorded it.”

It was included on Nirvana’s final album In Utero, being planned as a single in April 1994, before it was hastily withdrawn in the aftermath of Cobain’s suicide.

 

4. Belle and SebastianFor The Price Of A Cup Of Tea

A song about the search for acceptance, this one points out the equivalence of the price of a nice, refreshing cup of tea with either a 7” single, or a line of coke. (Drugs are bad, m’kay.)

This is from 2006’s excellent The Life Pursuit, which became their first album to hit the Top 10 in the UK.

This is a delightful, jangly, somewhat jaunty number, which sadly they have yet to play in concert in this country.

 

3. ShackCup Of Tea

2006’s …On The Corner Of Miles And Gil from Shack opens with Tie Me Down, which suggests “let’s have a cup of tea”, not the only other occasion on which they have mentioned a cuppa. This track appears later on the same side of the record, showing the scousers’ firm commitment to a good brew.

Mick Head bemoans a lost love, although he appears to have moved on pretty quickly, singing “my cup of tea doesn’t taste the same when she’s with me”.

Something nefarious is afoot, or more likely Mick is just being excessively paranoid, as he thinks his cuppa might have been spiked with LSD.

This lovely tune is the perfect accompaniment to a steaming mug of tea and the biscuit of your choice.

 

2. Tea and Symphony – Maybe My Mind (With Egg)

These Brummie prog folkers are probably the finest of the seemingly very few bands ever to have been named after tea, and so make it into this list.

Their 1969 debut album on the seminal Harvest label was the marvellously-named An Asylum For The Musically Insane, and included a track that also featured on the label sampler Picnic – A Breath Of Fresh Air, that also included Pink Floyd, Roy Harper and Deep Purple.

Said number, Maybe My Mind (With Egg), is spacey and slightly disorientating, with some warbling vocals a la Demis Roussos, but is very much a product of its time.

 

1. Ella FitzgeraldTea For Two

The oldest song in this list ends us on a fine note.

The melody was composed by Vincent Youmans with lyrics added by Irving Caesar, initially just draft words that fitted the tune, but Youmans insisted they worked as they were.

It found fame in No, No, Nanette on Broadway, subsequently being recorded by a range of artists, from Tommy Dorsey to The Offspring, but we have gone for a breezy big band jazz classic from Ella Fitzgerald.

The perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea and perhaps a crustless cucumber sandwich. Someone put the kettle on!

 

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