Popular music has a long and well-documented tradition of fomenting rebellion and social change, both overtly and covertly. Not as well documented, however, is pop’s embrace and endorsement of that ultimate Jewish dietary taboo: treyf. The consumption of meat, shellfish and other comestibles that do not conform to the laws of kashrut has long been celebrated by recording artists ranging from Muddy Waters (“Catfish Blues”) to the B-52s (“Rock Lobster”), and yet this gastronomic insurrection has gone widely unreported. But with America’s bacon-mania at an all-time high, the time has come to reflect on the way that pop music promotes nonkosher eating. Here, then, are our top 10 songs about treyf.
•‘Do the Clam’ Elvis Presley
The King was no stranger to Judaism. During his teens, Presley served as a “Shabbos goy” for a neighboring rabbi and his family, and he wore a chai around his neck during his later years; some even claim that he had a Jewish great-great-grandmother on his mother’s side. But he openly flouted Jewish dietary law, both at the dinner table and in the studio: This bivalve-inspired number from his 1965 film “Girl Happy” was just the tip of an unclean iceberg that also included such shellfish paeans as “Clambake” and “Song of the Shrimp.”
•‘Bacon Fat’ Andre Williams
Given how “I Heart Bacon — LOL” now more or less constitutes a spiritual mantra for a large percentage of the American populace (and oy, we do mean large), it’s really just a matter of time before some fast-food chain repurposes this greasy 1957 R&B dance hit — which Williams says was inspired by a particularly oleaginous sandwich — to promote its new “Bacon Aporkalypse” burger.
•‘Cheeseburger in Paradise’ Jimmy Buffett
One would have difficulty thinking of a performer more intrinsically goyish than Buffett, whose songs generally involve drinking to excess, willful indolence and sailing, to name three things not generally associated with the Jewish people. So it’s no surprise that one of his biggest hits would celebrate the mixing of milkhik and fleyshik.
•‘Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer’ Bessie Smith
The Empress of the Blues hits the taboo trifecta in her 1937 smash, not only endorsing the consumption of “reefer” and (surely nonkosher) alcohol, but also expressing her desire to feast upon the cloven hoof of an unclean animal.
•‘Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)’ Squeeze
This English band’s tuneful 1980 tribute to fun at summer resorts was clearly not based on visits to kosher hotels in the Catskills, which never would have served them the titular shellfish — or any other finless, scaleless bottom dwellers, for that matter.
•‘Muskrat Love’ Captain & Tennille
Not only does Captain & Tennille’s 1976 schmaltz-fest center on the romantic activities of the sort of anthropomorphic “creeping things” judged impure by Leviticus, but the song also depicts said creatures as “nibblin’ on bacon” and “chewin’ on cheese” — in the same meal, no less.
•‘Spam’ Monty Python
The British comedy troupe’s lusty ode to the canned combination of pork shoulder and ham has been ingrained in popular culture for many decades now, though many learned rabbis would surely disagree with its characterization of spam as something “lovely” and “wonderful.”
•‘Meat Man’ Jerry Lee Lewis
In his 1973 rendition of the Mack Vickery rockabilly classic, the man known as “The Killer” brags about eating hogs, dogs and rats. His claim of “plucked me a chicken in Memphis / Mama, I still got feathers in my teeth” leads us to believe that the fowl was not slaughtered using shechita, kosher slaughter, techniques; we would also wager that the chicken was not properly inspected by kosher supervisors, before Lewis consumed it.
•‘Eggs and Sausage’ Tom Waits
That Waits would eat eggs with sausage may not, in itself, be such a shande, a shame — unless, of course, it’s pork sausage that he’s referring to — but his references to “patty melts” and “a breaded Salisbury steak… topped with a provocative sauce of Velveeta and half-and-half” are most provocative, indeed. Evidently, the singer-songwriter did not spend much of his “Nighthawks at the Diner” period at kosher delicatessens.
•‘H. A. M.’ Jay-Z and Kanye West
Yeah, we know it’s supposed to be an acronym for “Hard as a M-F-,” But when the two rap giants boast on this 2011 hit that they’re “’bout to go HAM,” it really just sounds like they’re rolling up to the local HoneyBaked franchise.
Dan Epstein is the author of ‘Big Hair and Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball and America in the Swinging ’70s’ (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010).
This story "Top 10 Songs About Treyf" was written by Dan Epstein.