Five For The Record: Judy Collins, “Cook With Honey.”

The return of an occasional feature in which I pick something I like, and force myself to explain five reasons why.

Today’s subject: Hippie-ish first single from popular folksinger’s album True Dreams and Other Stories. Written by singer Valerie Carter. Minor Top 40 hit (No. 32) in early 1973.

And here’s why I like it:

1. It’s happy and homey. The Great Commune Dream was pretty much shot by ’73, I think, but the Back-To-The-Land Ideal was not.

And this song makes me think of some family — or maybe a group of ’em — up in Vermont somewhere, shearing their own sheep and spinning their own fabric and eating whole-grain muffins and generally living in an idyllic self-sufficient granite-ribbed world where Pontiac Catalinas dare not tread.

That’s not my dream in life, particularly; but it is all charming and cozy and hearth-fired, and a pleasant thing to come across in three-minute doses on pop radio.

2. No, it’s neither happy nor homey. My perception of the song depends on whether White Kurt or Black Kurt is in control when I listen; and my darker interpretations are at least as entertaining as my lighter ones.

The preternatural calmness in Collins’s voice, and the way she keeps switching from “I” to “we” on the chorus, suggests that she’s part of a chorus of center-parted Stepford Hippie farm wives dedicated to organic cooking for the Greater Good. (Whaddya suppose they put in that “sweet wine before dinner”?)

Less absurdly, I also imagine her narrator as a woman who ditched the plasticity of suburbia and family life for some sort of rural communal ideal … only to find out that she still spends eight goddamned hours a day cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.

3. Two great chords, three great minutes. The best songs aren’t always the simplest, but there’s a pretty good correlation there. You don’t need a single chord change to write a classic pop song, if you’re creative enough. (“Everyday People” says hi.)

“Cook With Honey” consists of two chords. No bridge, no modulation up, just two chords, strummed all day. (The Internet says Gmaj7 and D, if you’re scoring at home.)

Easy enough for every first-grade teacher in San Rafael to strum and sing to her kids during gather-’round-the-rug time. And what’s so wrong with that?

Edit: On further listening, it appears that a third chord makes a brief, furtive appearance near the end of the flute solo. But its presence is easily enough omitted or ignored.

4. Is that … a double-entendre? It must be Black Kurt who hears, “Finding favor with your neighbor / Well, it can be so fine” and thinks of Seventies-style wife-swapping. Hubba hubba.

OK, that’s probably a misread on my part. That line’s probably a totally straight-faced paean to going across the way to meet a new neighbor with an apple pie and a smile … just as the entire song’s an ode to generosity, neighborliness and home cooking.

Doesn’t mean I can’t throw it the side-eye, though. Especially when Collins asks, “Tell me, how’s your appetite / For some sweet love?”

5. Hey, a new (old) tune! Seems clear that White Kurt and Black Kurt are fighting for control of this entry. Well, they can both agree on Point Number Five.

I came across “Cook With Honey” some years ago while listening to a satellite radio rebroadcast of a Casey Kasem American Top 40 show. I had no recollection of the song at all. It was a surprise, and (excuse the cliche) a fairly sweet one.

I’m enough of a pop-music junkie to know most of the stuff I encounter on ’70s satellite radio, usually within the first 30 seconds. So, it’s a rare pleasure to come across a buried nugget — a song that is unknown to me and yet not totally obscure.

I haven’t heard the song much at all since then, either. So it still has that refreshing cinnamony air of a fresh muffin … er, I mean, of an out-of-the-ordinary pop surprise.

2 thoughts on “Five For The Record: Judy Collins, “Cook With Honey.”

  1. That was a really nice writeup. All 5 points are interesting! Thanks for sharing (oops … slipped into a little Stepford there (-: )

  2. Love this song back in the day 1973 just got into Valerie Carter and her biography What a life in the background of so many great songs. Never knew she wrote it. They say the Steve Winwood song Valerie is written about her too.

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