Fall is quickly becoming a troubling time for the pumpkin. While the king of the squash family once ruled the season, filling the best pies, decorating all of the best Halloween doorways and flavoring all of the best heated beverages, it has become more and more of a punch line in recent years. Thanks to the Starbucks-induced pumpkin spice-mania, the pumpkin has, sadly, become a symbol of all things basic.
There are a handful of musicians, however, who believe that the pumpkin can be far more than object of derision. To the artists who have embraced this thick-skinned orange muse, it can be a metaphor for anything from broken hopes, to lost love, to the cruelty of our broken world and its inability to accept a pure, Jesus or JFK-like hero with a pumpkin for a head. It can even be used as an excuse to make fun of Billy Corgan.
So, on this National Pumpkin Day, here are eight of the best songs that have explored the pumpkin’s artistic potential.
English indie rockers Male Bonding tackled a post-jack-o’-lantern existential crisis in this song from their 2010 debut album, Nothing Hurts. In it, they ponder, “Halloween was a blast/ how long will this last? / how long before I learn? / How long before we learn?” Foreboding words before this year’s thrills.
In this track from this year’s album Sauna, Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum waxes philosophical as he takes a walk to a bookstore. Although the bookstore appears to be closed, he contemplates the intangible bigger picture as he looks at the garbage lining the streets. The catalyst for this abstract soul-searching? A broken pumpkin washed up on the shore.
“Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie, who’s not ready, holler ‘I,’” is an old schoolyard chant that was used to help kids playing hide and seek determine who was “it.” Pennsylvania pop group Jay & The Techniques played on that rhyme in “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie,” their 1967 Top 10 hit about seeking out a childhood sweetheart.
This instrumental number from Oscar award-winning singer/songwriter and film composer Randy Newman’s score for the 2003 feature film Seabiscuit is named after the titular racehorse’s longtime companion, a quiet horse called Pumpkin.
Reluctant trip-hop hero Tricky may have sampled The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Suffer” for his duet with Alison Goldfrapp from 1995’s Maxinquaye, and he may have called that song “Pumpkin,” but it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the alternative rock band from Chicago. As Tricky told Raygun in 1996: “Sometimes I sample people to disrespect them. People think it’s a compliment. Smashing Pumpkins, that was a bit of a piss take, really, what it was. I saw him in concert, I think he’s the most pretentious guy. I don’t understand how someone that pretentious can be big, so that was just a piss take.”
In an interview on BBC Radio 1, English singer/songwriter and actress Kate Nash said that her record company wanted her to name this single from her 2007 debut album, Made of Bricks, “I Just Want Your Kiss,” after one of the lyrics. She was partial to a rough title that she’d saved on her hard drive while writing the album, though, and so the song became known as “Pumpkin Soup.”
While other musicians have flirted with pumpkin-related sadness by writing about rotting or smashed jack-o’-lantern, no one has delved quite so far into squash-induced depression as Canadian singer/songwriter did when he penned this sad, reflective number about a broken-down town and its pumpkin patch from his 1998 album, Mars, Pennsylvania.
While working on what would become the 1992 album Nonsuch, XTC frontman Andy Partridge made the best jack-o’-lantern of his pumpkin-carving career. Unable to part with it, he put the pumpkin on a fencepost on the way to the studio and watched it slowly rot. This spectacle inspired Partridge to come up with a back story for the poor pumpkin, which eventually turned into “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead,” a Bob Dylan-esque tale of a kind Christ-like man with a pumpkin for a head who was martyred for being too good for this world.