Cooking to the Music

"Dance Dance Dance." Remember that song? It's an oldie-but-goodie from Chic, one of the great disco bands of the 1970s that also produced classic dance-floor hits such as "Le Freak" ("Freak Out") and "Good Times."

Dance is something I used to do a lot of growing up in the late 70s, when disco was king. Purple Haze was the DJ of choice at most Bar Mitzvah record hops in my neighborhood outside of Philadelphia, and we kids would dance to Chic, Earth Wind and Fire, the Jackson Five. The theme song for my high school prom in 1984 was Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long."

Sadly, I no longer make time to cut the rug the way I used to -- unless I'm cooking. Given the amount of time I spend in the kitchen, that hardly sounds like a change in the ole dance routine, I know. The reality is, I often cook without a musical note in the background, particularly if I'm testing a new recipe or need all of brain cells to connect.

But when I've got a long project in the works, such as a dinner party or holiday feast, I crank up the tunes. And baby, when I do, I gotta dance to get with the rhythm of my food.

That does not mean show tunes or indie rock (or even classic rock, sorry) or garage band punk. These genres, all good and earworthy, but not fit for my kitchen, where the playlist is chockfull of disco, soul, R&B, reggae and the occasional jazz/blues songwriter ditty. This is the music that makes me happy and fills my heart, and this is the music that makes good food.

Depending on my mood and what I'm fixing, the play list varies, but without a doubt, it's music that makes me wanna dance.

The one instance when I refuse to play any kind of music whatsoever is when I'm making bread. The dough needs the sound of silence to grow.

For kicks, I created an IMix, a play list on ITunes that you can publish on the Web and make searchable in the ITunes database. Mine is called "Stir It Up," and can be found here, but I've been told that if you are not registered with ITunes, you will not be able to access this page.

In anticipation, I pulled audio samples from some of my favorite tunes, so you can get a little taste of the beat in my kitchen. And by all means, share your favorite kitchen grooves in the comments area below!

The YouTube screen below features gospel singer Kirk Franklin doing his version of "September," one of my all-time favorite tunesby Earth Wind & Fire, in or out of the kitchen. If this doesn't help stir your pot, I don't know what will.

I'm a sucker for anything by the late Luther Vandross, and kitchen time never feels complete without playing something like "Never Too Much" (RealPlayer file)...

...Which is why I love R&B singer Ledisi's kicky remake of Vandross's "My Sensitivity"(RealPlayer)...

...Aside from "Stir It Up,' by Bob Marley, one of my all-time reggae tunes is "Stop the Fussing and the Fighting" (RealPlayer) by the late Dennis Brown, who always seems to keep things in perspective. It's a good one to play when you're cooking as a team or are trying to patch things up with a sore sous chef, ahem...

This classic jazz ballad, "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" (RealPlayer), sung by Dinah Washington, is sexy, sassy and most appropriate when sharing your counter space with a suitor or mate who's been slim on affection...


There's a reason that "Best of My Love" (RealPlayer)" by disco-girl group The Emotions is still heard, from television commercials to the dance floor. It's disco perfection. This is best played at any time during kitchen prep, but most useful when you're getting tired or need a literal kick in the pants.

The Brit funk/jazz band Incognito, popular in the 1980s and 1990s, did a bang-up job of remaking Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" (RealPlayer). Carrying an upbeat and carefree vibe, this tune is best played when you're freaking out because the guests are arriving in 45 minutes and you're covered in flour.

The musical/vocal ensemble Sounds of Blackness offers so many uplifting, danceable compositions, but I'm partial to "Optimistic," (RealPlayer) particularly when a recipe has taken me in the wrong direction.

The groovy but not grindy "Together Again" (RealPlayer) by Janet Jackson always makes me smile, and I love hearing it particularly when I'm just gearing up for a long stint the kitchen. This tune always puts me in a good mood.

When I told a fellow food writer in Dallas about the idea for this blog post, he immediately said, "I hope you're including 'Family Reunion' (RealPlayer) by Jill Scott," to which I replied: "I wouldn't have it any other way." In only the way Scott does, this song is part groove, poetry and life story. In this tune, you can practically see the motley cast of characters that inevitably are part of every family gathering. The food references are detailed and delicious.

There's something about "Now/At the Party" (RealPlayer) by R&B crooner Maxwell that sets you straight and brings you back to the reason you're in the kitchen in the first place - to have a party. Crank this one up, and dance your pants off, at any stage of cooking. It's like a tonic for the soul.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 3, 2007; 10:40 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Music
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Yea for writing on this subject, Kim! I almost always have music in the kitchen; I'm convinced it intensifies the cooking mojo. I agree, that for some reason, old-school funk and R&B works really well. Last night I was throwing together a Shepherd's pie for a supper, and listening to a complination that included George Clinton and P-Funk, early Commodores, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Curtis Mayfield. Seems you and I like the same kind of kitchen music, so I'll definitely have to check your playlist.

But my prom song, if I remember correctly, was something from Footloose. Oh, well...can't have everything....

Posted by: Organic Gal | May 3, 2007 1:15 PM

Bollywood film songs are the best thing to cook to.

Posted by: anon | May 3, 2007 2:36 PM

When I lived in Richmond, my apartment was above a gentleman who was a DJ. It was like I had my own personal mixologist. He would come home about the time I would cook dinner. As delicious smells filled my kitchen, the accompanying soundtrack was that of my childhood filled with James Brown, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Lenny Williams, the Emotions, ETW, etc. Now, the soundtrack to my cooking is ESPN as my husband watches games, sportscenter, PTI while I prepare dinner.

Posted by: LisaLuvs2Cook | May 3, 2007 2:45 PM

Don't laugh, but after extensive study, I've found Christmas cookies turn out best if made while listening to Neil Diamond's Christmas album...

Posted by: Maryland | May 3, 2007 3:46 PM

As a Sous Chef in a Private Country Club in Scottsdale Arizona, it's always oldies, and that station has a Saturday Night Disco Dance Show. It's great for a busy line or busting out a banquet for 500. Great music Choices!!!

Posted by: Jonathan | May 3, 2007 4:45 PM

I also love to have music on when I cook! I created a playlist on my IPod called Kitchen Mix -- I think I bake better if I have some tunes.

Posted by: Jen | May 3, 2007 5:22 PM

For me, it's all about salsa... regardless of whether or not there are Latin flavors in the food!

Posted by: Reine de Saba | May 3, 2007 8:04 PM

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