Coffee's Greatest Hits

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For reasons largely unbeknownst to us, today has been dubbed International Coffee Day, with such convenient fast-food purveyors as 7-11, Thorntons' and Krispy Kreme handing out free cups of java to customers in celebration. (Though not Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, the heartless bastards.) Whatever the inspiration, though, we'll drink to that #norihanna—it'd be hard to imagine us getting through a day at the Popdust offices without a couple cups each from our trusty DeLonghi brewer. And besides that, coffee has played such a key role in pop music history that we're indebted to the stuff on multiple levels.

Don't believe us? Check out our ten favorite cameos from Mr. Joe in lyrics, song titles and music videos over the years, and remember: One cream, two sugars. And god help you if we even get a hint of Sweet'n Low.


The verses for Jewel's classic heartbreak ballad depict the singer/songwriter eating what appears to be the loneliest, most miserable breakfast ever consumed by an Alaskan. She's got her eggs, pancakes and maple syrup—"everything but you"—but she can't make up for the lack of company, and after making a smiley face with her egg yolks, she turns to her beverage for empathy: "Consult a cup of coffee / But it didn't want to talk." Ouch. It doesn't get much better from there, as Jewel spends the rest of the song walking in the rain, reading in the newspaper about hearts being broken (in the paper, really?) and eventually retreating to bed, "alive, but...mostly dead." Maybe go with the stronger stuff next time, Jewel.


Easily the greatest bean-juice-related song to ever clock in at under 40 seconds, "Coffee Mug" is one of the definitive anthems from the band who once summarized their discography as being fueled by "rejection, food, coffee, girls, fishing and food." "Coffee mug / to clear away the haze / Liquid proof / that I can win this race," yells Descendents singer Milo Aukerman in tribute, concluding on the hold-your-breath chorus that he "don't need no booze or drugs / I just chug-a-lug my coffee mug." Hey, if you're going to write a song strictly devoted to the awesomeness of coffee, it probably should be short, energetic and hyper-focused, shouldn't it?


Probably the greatest video ever to take place in a diner—unless you count the non-cartoon sections of "Take On Me"—"Brass in Pocket" features an unbelievably cute Chrissie Hynde peddling coffee to a number of disinterested and/or downright unconscious customers, trying to keep up her brave face. The harshest blow comes with her final customer, of whose attention she is quite obviously desirous (give it to her!!), who leaves not only without drinking the coffee she delivers, but doesn't even appear to pay for it. No special for you, young man.


This would be much higher if the song's music video—believed by many to be among the greatest ever filmed, and rightly so—had prominently featured a walking coffee cup (or at least a walking non-dairy creamer) instead of a walking milk carton. Still, the song's a winner as well, with guitarist-playing-lead-singer Graham Coxon wistfully crooning about a simple life consisting largely of the two titular items, amidst some lovely strumming, a jaunty little beat and a fairly underrated solo. Peppy, but certainly not over-caffeinated.


Suzanne Vega's hypnotic slice-of-life cut—turned into a hypnotic proto-trip-hop jam by British dance duo DNA—is another diner anthem, a stream-of-consciousness observation-fest with Vega imbuing some very mundane occurrences with great imaginary meaning. This is how lyrics like "I am waiting at the counter / For the man to pour the coffee / And he pours it only halfway / And before I even argue / He is looking at the window / At somebody coming in" become tragic, mysterious and deeply symbolic words of near-Joyce-ian prose. Waiter does sound like kind of a dick, though.

For lots more of our favorite mud references in pop music, including Shakira and the all-time greatest coffee jingle, click NEXT.


One of the more adorably weird—or maybe just more awkwardly translated—pop songs of recent years, Shakira's "She Wolf" featured a whole lot of lyrics that didn't quite sound right but sounded just right all the same. The best of these was probably Shakira's complaint of "starting to feel just a little abused / like a coffee machine in an office." Cute, but speak only for yourself, Ms. Mebarak Ripoll—we don't know how they do things over at Sony, but here at Popdust, we treat our coffee machine with the love and respect that it deserves.


Perhaps a slight cheat here, but it wouldn't feel right to draw up this list without the greatest coffee-related commercial jingle of all-time, and probably one of the ten or so greatest ever written for any category of product. No piece of music ever conceived has you made you feel sunnier about the act of sipping bitter, dark, watery liquid than "The best part of waking up / Is Folgers in your cup." Plus, the theme (composed by Susan Spiegel Solovay, Bill Vernick and Leslie Pearl, and even sung by Aretha Franklin and Randy Travis over the years) has its roots in pop, being at least partly based on girl group The Ronettes' 1964 hit "(The Best Part of) Breaking Up."


Throw a dart at a printed-out lyric sheet of Carly Simon's chart-topping hit "You're So Vain" and you're bound to land on a classic couplet, from the opening "You walked into the party / Like you were walking onto a yacht" to the climactic "Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia / To see the total eclipse of the sun." But one of the best and most memorable still has to be the lead-in to the song's second chorus, where Carly laments "I had some dreams / They were clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee, and..." If you watch a poured bin of creamer swirl into a cup of black without being reminded of that line, congrats on avoiding classic-rock radio all your life.


Like Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me," Squeeze uses coffee as a key symbol in their breakup song (and new wave-era blue-eyed-soul gem) "Black Coffee in Bed," with singer Glen Tilbrook obsessing over "the stain on my notebook from where your coffee cup was." But unlike Jewel, who seemed determined to wallow in as much gloom and self-pity as possible, Glen does not plan on letting the heartbreak ruin his day, as he looks to the future—"Now knowing I'm single / there'll be fire in my eyes / And a stain on my notebook / From a new love tonight." We hope he's still talking about coffee, anyway.


Or as you and the rest of the Western World probably better know it, "It's time for the percolator." Many songs on this list mention coffee, but only one of them has the beverage sewn into the song's very DNA, as Cajmere's "Coffee Pot" is built on the sonic foundation of a brewing coffee pot. (An approximated one, anyway). The song's bubbling hook made it one of the definitive hits of early-'90s Chicago house, and a slam-dunk club favorite to the day—though we're guessing that it's best (and most frequently) appreciated while drinking beverages other than coffee. Nonetheless, if you're as obsessive about your pop music as you are about your java, you've probably gotten "It's time for the percolator" stuck in your head more than once while impatiently tapping your fingers on the office kitchen counter.

Did we miss anything? Do the Carly Simon and Jewel lyrics irritate you incredibly? Do you want to rip our heads off for ignoring Prince's "Starfish and Coffee"? Easy, easy there, caffeine-head—just let us know about it in the comments section.

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