I like to play music while I’m doing stuff, singing along where appropriate – and even where it’s not, come to think of it. Below is a list of tracks or artists with notes about where they work well and where they don’t. Suggestions for additions are very welcome and will be included after testing by me. I’ll add new ones as I think of them, too.
1812 Overture: Well obviously you’d play the right bit of this for popcorn-making but at fifteen minutes long, if your popcorn’s cooking when it starts you’ll have burned the house down by the time it finishes. You only actually want the last minute: perfect as the popcorn goes mental, the korma explodes in the microwave (the most explodey of all the curries, I’ve found) or when frying sausages.
3 Doors Down: Play Kryptonite while you’re chucking grated cheese on stuff, bunging things in the oven or even just quickly buttering toast and your food will be better for it. You may find there’s a bit more clearing up to do afterwards: chucking stuff generally leading to mess. Entirely the wrong choice for calmly icing cupcakes or making anything other than angry-looking gingerbread people.
Adele: Whether I’m making a nice omelette with Make You Feel My Love, or grating stuff to Rolling In The Deep, I will invariably play something by Adele at some stage during a successful kitchen session.
Aimee Allen: Calling The Maker is good flour sifting or slow to moderate stirring music, although some people may choose just to have a general bop round the kitchen while it plays. It doesn’t count as dancing (if, like me, you are entirely unsuited to that activity) if you’re unloading the dishwasher or generally doing stuff as you move about.
All About Eve: There’s only one thing for those times when you decide to make stock from scratch, or you’re sculpting fluffy, uncooked meringue onto baking paper, and that’s Martha’s Harbour, obviously. If you haven’t tried making a Gooseberry Fool to What Kind of Fool, you need to have a conversation with yourself about the direction your life is taking.
AWOLNATION: You’ll find that Sail works well with chopping, mashing, throwing stuff together and simmering curries.
Axis of Awesome: If you don’t know what music is best suited to your cooking task, or you’re the sort of person who thinks life’s too short to think about what you listen to in the kitchen, stick on 4 Chords, which is a goes-with-everything comedy track that becomes an earworm because of what they’ve done. If you get good enough with this one, you can sing along (impressions mandatory) while you do almost anything – pausing to recreate Morten Harket‘s impassioned waily bit from Take on Me, when that comes along, with whatever you happen to be holding as your pretend microphone. Bonus points for singing that bit at an unimpressed-looking cat or child, if you have one. Double bonus points for doing it if you don’t have either of those and borrow someone else’s. Always ask permission, etc…
Cranberries: I have always an uneasy relationship with the Cranberries in that I love the music but am not with them on the political side. That said, going purely on the sound of it, Zombie is one of the best tracks for hand-grating carrots and other hard stuff that I’ve found. (Also: Cranberries, I couldn’t omit them from a kitchen music collection.) The overwhelming urge to grate like you’re playing a guitar means that grating anything soft, such as cheese, will almost inevitably lead to injury and so should not be attempted by the inexperienced cook.
Deadrise: The Serbian heavy metal band’s track The Flame Still Burns is really only a good accompaniment to angle grinding or possibly smashing things with a hammer. Bet it’d be a great accompaniment to demolishing a shed, actually. Not to be confused with the track of the same name, including by Strange Fruit, who are much more kitchen-friendly. The two tracks produce entirely different results. Sadly, Deadrise split up: in part because of the throat problems suffered by their singer, which was probably inevitable, with the benefit of hindsight.
Death Cab For Cutie: Play Someday You Will Be Loved while making a Bechamel sauce from scratch and see what happens. Obviously I’m referring to the method involving making a roux, not the arcane practice of whisking everything in together – that would never work. Switch to Talking Bird for stirring sauce while it thickens, or risotto – something slow.
Deep Blue Something: Lending itself especially well to a lovely blueberry pancake recipe, or a home-made sausage and egg breakfast muffin, Breakfast At Tiffany’s is best played on Saturday mornings, around 11 a.m.
Elbow: On a Sunday morning when you’re trying to wake up and make a cup of tea, trying to avoid burning yourself and even making toast seems like a culinary impossibility, stick One Day Like This on and be glad you did. Grounds For Divorce is one of my favourite songs and makes the collection for that reason. Goes with everything. Play The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver while taking breaks from the kitchen. Sit down, relax for five minutes and have a nice cup of tea while you listen, before getting on with the next thing. Or decide you’re done for the day and have a little sleep.
E.L.O.: Specifically, Mr Blue Sky, which is good music for getting stuff out of cupboards while you get ready to make something, or for tidying up afterwards when you really can’t be bothered. If you’re not the sort of person who will sing into a jar of mixed herbs while you’re having a kitchen music session by yourself then we probably can’t be friends.
Fleetwood Mac: The obvious choice for when you’re just making it up or diverting massively from a recipe is Go Your Own Way, purely because of being able to sing “you can go your own way” at frequent intervals and the air guitar opportunity at the end – not for insomnia-induced cooking sessions. Their 1987 classic, Tell Me Lies, can be adapted easily to a pie-making session (little ones or otherwise) but only if you never ever tell anyone that you giggled through the track because you changed the words to pie-themed ones. (Produces excellent pies.)
Fun: Be aware that We Are Young is an appalling choice for when you’re trying to organise the cupboard where you dumped all your plastic boxes. You’ll feel compelled to drum along on some upturned Tupperware and your productivity will drop to zero. Although: fun, etc. Anyway, correctly applied for tasks such as putting shopping away, scrubbing down surfaces or anything boring like that, it’s very effective. Also makes excellent washing/drying up music. Not just for Saturday nights, All The Pretty Girls works well if you’re trying to convince yourself that buying pans that couldn’t go in the dishwasher really was a good idea whilst you clean up after a mammoth cooking session.
Gothic/Symphonic Metal: Verbose as I am, even I can’t be bothered to type out the stuff I like to play because there’s too much of it. It’s often Scandinavian in origin and I play it to make myself do stuff when I can’t be bothered, either because I’ll start wailing along, or because I remember it’s good and will brighten up, which always makes stuff go better.
Howard Shore: The Original Soundtrack to the Lord Of The Rings works well for background music while gardening, as it drifts faintly out from the house. The robin seems to like it anyway, or at least doesn’t object. Various bits work well for walks in the woods and driving to nice outdoor places, in preparation for adventures. It’s all about trial and error so try it a few times and decide which tracks work best for you.
Jack Johnson: Generally anything by him is excellent for when you have to be quiet – like when you decide that 3 a.m. is the best time to bake a carrot cake. Good with poached eggs.
James Blunt: You can get a bowl of spuds peeled in the time it takes to play High, his first single. It’s ideally suited to any sort of peeling activity since you’re not under pressure of time and the peeler lends itself perfectly to becoming a pretend microphone when you join in for the high bits. You might think that You’re Beautiful would make the most perfect cupcake icing music, but you’d be wrong. Your tears will mix with the icing and cause it to spoil. Likely causes of tears are (in no particular order) a Bridget Jones ‘All By Myself‘ moment, a general aversion to the man or a reaction from it being massively overplayed back in the day. In any case: don’t go there unless you’re trying to make a really sad recipe – probably anything involving bean sprouts or quinoa.
Jonsi: Sticks & Stones is quite possibly the most versatile piece of music in my library. I can’t help but be lifted by it and it’s even good for playing really loud if you’re not likely to piss people off by doing that. You can play it while doing almost anything apart from using a knife, which would almost certainly end in tears or, more likely, blood. Especially good for mixing cakes by hand and keeping the stirring at the right speed. Lovely video, too.
Kate Bush: If I’ve been singing along to Tori Amos, sooner or later I’ll end up singing along with Wuthering Heights or Babooshka, both of which I’m banned from playing when my daughter’s home. She’s wrong about both of them: they’re fab for making lasagne, crumbles and shepherd’s pie.
Kate Rusby: It’s pretty much mandatory to play her cover of The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society when making any sort of preserves, Victoria Sponges and Spotted Dick.
KC & The Sunshine Band: If you don’t already lip sync your way through Give It Up, copying the classic dance moves whilst waiting for jelly to strain through a muslin, stop what you’re doing and do nothing else until you’ve learned it. Obviously, I don’t dance, so you’d never see me performing this to a traumatised feline, but if I sometimes did commit a crime against rhythm, it’d probably be to this. You get double bonus points if you can nail the intense (?) looks and triple bonus points for being able to do the bizarre little squat move they keep doing without giggling. Here, look:
KT Tunstall: Bacon sarnies and toasties are best with Suddenly I See, whereas I Don’t Want You Now is good while preparing picnics or packed lunches. Reminder: it’s not dancing if you happen to be doing actual stuff like clearing the drainer while you bop, so it’s allowed. Through The Dark works well while stirring cheese into sauces and waiting for it to melt. Also good while making jelly or dissolving stock cubes.
Lady Antebellum: Play Need You Now while stir-frying or while at the chucking-it-all-in stage of cooking so you can bop about while you poke at it. Helps pass the time. Goodbye Town is good for grating cheddar and similar cheeses, courgettes and anything a bit softer where air-guitar grating won’t lead to skinned knuckles.
Lascia Ch’io Pianga: Used to great effect in Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and sung by the rather good Tuva Semmingsen in my favourite version, to which I sing along when I know the neighbours are out. Best suited to gently folding stuff in to mixtures and all stages of making soufflés, although you may have to leave Tuva to get on with it so you can concentrate.
Lily Allen: Another reliably good cooking choice and pretty much anything of hers is good for providing the soundtrack to kitchen fun. Love her cover of Naïve – another one to reserve for those times where you can pause what you’re doing to sing along. You have to do it justice.
Ludovico Einaudi: Anything by him is good for having on in the background when you’re concentrating on something you really don’t want to screw up.
Married Life: from the wonderful film, Up, is best for icing: especially swirls.
Muse: Anything by them is generally best reserved for defrosting the freezer, scrubbing the kitchen floor or cleaning. Not bad for cooking a weekend fry-up.
Our Lost Infantry: Their album, The New Art History has reliably produced an excellent roast dinner, time and time again. Day After Day is really too good to be a washing up song, although it is a very good one, and is best reserved for producing light cakes, mixed by hand. I’m sure my hob came up brighter after playing this too. Buy it. Oh, and play All The Streetlights Of My Hometown while preparing veg. Time it right so the veg can be utilised as a microphone at the right time. You’ll know when that is…
Paramore: The absolute best track for icing cupcakes or smoothing the surface of something is The Only Exception. Also superb for drizzling chocolate onto stuff or for more general household tasks such as painting internal walls. Hallelujah is another one to add to the washing/drying up playlist, as is Decode. If you fancy a different sound, play Now while mixing all sorts of stuff by hand. Makes a good scone, does Now. Baking seems to always go well when mixing along to Still Into You, which should really be another reason to play it more often than I allow myself to do. Wooden spoon microphone absolutely mandatory for that one, as is an apron and probably something daft tying your hair up, because it’ll never be as good as Hayley’s.
Pentatonix: Cleverly arranged a capella stuff from this lot works for almost any situation. Beware playing Royals after something quiet has caused you to turn your sound up to ridiculous levels. You may require a clothing change. You should also check out the original, by Lorde.
Placebo: I’m allowed to play their version of Running Up That Hill without violating my daughter’s Kate Bush ban, so would usually make family-favourite recipes to this one when she’s home – some sort of special request for something she thinks I do well.
Poker Face: The Lady Gaga original is a good chopping, washing/drying up, shredding stuff track. If you’re making popcorn (microwave or in a machine) then try the Glee version with the brilliant Idina Menzel showing us all how to do musical theatre properly. If it’s Halloween or you’re just in the mood for something really disturbing, then go for Christopher Walken reading it.
Pomplamoose: Just everything, really, but especially their cover of Single Ladies for general cooking on the hob; Expiration Date (obviously) for when you’re cleaning out the fridge; Telephone for groovy washing/drying up sessions or when you’re creating a meal comprising only that which you can throw into the pot, and Gatekeeper is a great one (as is the original by Feist) for playing for those chilled out 3 a.m. cooking sessions. If that one doesn’t have you doing a small dance with a bemused cat, you should probably reassess the amount of fun in your life. It’s not enough.
R.E.M.: It’s The End of The World is good prep music and also works well when cleaning out the fridge. I hate drying up more than almost anything but will hate it less if I’m bopping along to this. A good choice for when you’re in a rebellious mood or making stuff up and know it’s liable to go horribly wrong but you’re having fun anyway.
Sevenfold Amen: I once caught myself doing one of these while making a Bolognese sauce and it was pretty disconcerting – not least because you ideally want more than one person joining in and the cat wasn’t playing. It’s not ideally suited to the kitchen.
Skunk Anansie: I’m most likely to be playing old stuff like Hedonism, Twisted or Brazen from the album, Stoosh, which is lovely and shouty. Surprisingly good cooking music this: chopping veg, making batter, mashing spuds to purée without a ricer: even good for playing over the sound of a food processor, and some might say better for it. It is entirely unsuited to bread-making by machine or anything that is liable to sink. This is due to the effect of the cook leaping up and down while screaming like a walrus caught in a mangle. Yeah, I cook like nobody’s watching.
Skylar Grey: Listen to the Buried Sessions – just generally. In the kitchen, though, Love The Way You Lie is another epic peeling accompaniment, slow enough to pause and sing into your peeler should the mood take you. Coming Home is the perfect thing for when something tells you to cook something, stirring, for 2 minutes and it feels like ages. Also nice when chopping loads of veg. Not suitable for use with raw onions.
Strange Fruit: They might have been a fictional band, but the soundtrack to Still Crazy still works well in the kitchen. If you have a Jimmy Nail phobia, you’ll want to avoid The Flame Still Burns. Don’t, under any circumstances, get that confused with Deadrise‘s much growlier, shoutier track of the same name as it might curdle your sauces.
Suzanne Vega: If you play Cracking while you measure stuff into the bread machine, provided you measure accurately and your yeast isn’t a year old, you’re guaranteed a beautifully risen loaf every time. Knight Moves is a good choice for chopping things up. Just sing along as you slice things and chuck them into bowls for later. I do tend to vary my chopping tempo quite a bit during this one, so it’s possibly better suited for the more resistant vegetables, such as raw butternut squash or parsnips in case you get a bit carried away.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street OST: I can’t believe this didn’t make the original list, especially when Fleetwood Mac‘s Tell Me Lies did. But, then, I had been making pies: sweet little pies (apple and blackberry, specifically). Today I’m making savoury ones: steak-type stuff, so it’s perfectly obvious. If it all goes horribly wrong, as it so often seems to, then The Worst Pies in London easily lends itself to adaptation, purely by inserting any two syllable place-name into the lyrics. If you live somewhere amusingly but unhelpfully named, like Affpuddle, or Bottom Flash, try using your county name instead. If that doesn’t work, you will need to move somewhere else to gain the maximum benefits from baking to this song.
The Calling: Never play Wherever You Will Go after normal people are asleep as it’s impossible for most humans to resist singing along to this one. Good for making drying up seem a bit less rubbish, though.
The Killers: If you can’t cook something tasty while jumping up and down and singing to Mr Brightside then there really isn’t much hope for you and you should probably just hope that science creates the food pill sooner rather than later.
The Kooks: Well-suited to general baking, mixing and rubbing fat and flour into breadcrumbs, which is a boring task. Try equal parts of Naïve, She Moves In Her Own Way, Junk Of The Heart and Be Mine while you throw some stuff together for reliably enjoyable results. Add Princess Of My Mind to the relaxing/need to be quiet playlist – this version.
Thin Lizzy: Whisky in The Jar is good for stir frying, with occasional air-guitar/singing into chopstick interludes, as needed.
Tori Amos: It is a source of never-ending disappointment to me that my daughter can’t stand Tori’s voice or style, which are the very reasons why she’s so good. Cornflake Girl gets played quite often when I’m by myself, cooking something with which I’m so familiar that I don’t need a recipe. It will usually segue into Kate Bush. If it doesn’t, chances are I’ll head into Leather, which is good for finely chopping fresh herbs. Also boiled eggs. Actually just play it all the time – it’s simply brilliant and at the very least will have you tapping a toe as you do whatever it is you’re doing. I get lost in the rhythm of that one and have a tendency to stick it on repeat. 🙂
Train: Hey Soul Sister is the perfect choice for a happy weekend breakfast-making/assembly session. Dressing gown and slippers should almost always be worn when playing this track, unless you’re very experienced, for reasons of safety. Onesies should never be worn outside a fancy dress party/cosplay by anybody who is ever seen by another human being and should therefore be disregarded as a clothing option. That’s disregarded, not discarded. In the name of humanity, if you’re wearing a onesie don’t ever remove it in public – I can only imagine it looks like a Slitheen undoing a skin suit made from Stitch, or some other cute character that you wouldn’t want to see split down the middle before your eyes. Horrible, just horrible. Drive By can be usefully employed when it’s all gone horribly wrong and you just need to get on with saving the situation.
Trevor Morris: The soundtracks for the TV series, The Tudors, are generally good for baking Victoria Sponges, fairy cakes and other traditional bakes where you’re in an apron, the sun is shining and you start to feel guilty for playing out such an obvious female stereotype. If your recipe includes lavender, spices or game, you should be playing this as you make it.
You And Me: by One Night Only is a nice one for generally bopping along to with the cat. Or, you know, another human if you have one.
Even more Music For Doing Stuff, here.