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Bee Sides: A Playlist to Celebrate World Bee Day 2019

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The United Nations has designated May 20 as World Bee Day to spotlight the non- negotiable role of these busy winged creatures as key pollinators who contribute directly to our food security and help preserve the world’s great biodiversity, all free of charge. There are 25-30,000 species of bees worldwide and we are utterly reliant on them. It works like this: no bees, no plant pollination, no food, no us.

For all you songwriters out there, just as the bees’ relentless work ethic, their taste for the succulent, their collaborative nature, and their infrastructural understanding (not to mention their matriarchal leadership, and perhaps even their do-or-die fight response) have provided a ton of great artists with a wealth of imagery, so may they provide you with some handy inspiration and motivation for your own path.

As we celebrate World Bee Day and recognize these animals’ great impact, let’s do ourselves a favor and enjoy a playlist filled with our 10 favorite bee-related songs (and yes, it was really hard to choose only 10). Not pictured: the Bee Gees. Follow along with our Spotify playlist below.

1. Albert King – “Honey Bee”

For sheer blues ability, Mr. King smashes it with his vocal delivery, gritty groove, and insistent guitar in his 1983 version of Muddy Waters’s song from 1951, which was in turn adapted from Bumble Bee Slim’s (his real name, I swear!) own 1934 song, “Sail On, Little Girl.” Both songs have been repeatedly covered.

2. Julie London – “Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee”

Julie London has a voice you could drink up every night of your life. Like vintage whiskey, aged in an oak cask: it goes down smooth, with a touch of smokey. And I could go on. So don’t let the lack of strict science in the lyrics put you off. The gist is there. Written originally in 1912 by Henry Marshall and Stanley Murphy, London’s version was released in 1959 on her album, Swing Me an Old Song. And swing it does.

3. The Rolling Stones – “I’m a King Bee”

No lyric is more apt for the stage persona of Mr. Jagger. This version of Slim Harpo’s song was released in 1964 on the self-prophetically titled album, England’s Newest Hitmakers. Please note there are no kings in the real honey bee world — male drones are evicted by their sisters from the hive at the start of winter, to die.

4. Grand Funk Railroad – “Queen Bee”

In the lyrical tradition of relentless pursuit and the persistent persuasion of a high-status female, songwriter-guitarist Mark Farner’s driving rock, white-boy close harmonies, and vital lead vocals flange all the way back to the hive. And someone made damn sure this 1981 track was featured in the animated movie Heavy Metal. 

5. Lucinda Williams – “Honey Bee”

Her 2008 release, Little Honey, flips and contemporizes that bee metaphor to a heterosexual female’s raucously appreciative perspective with one couplet announcing “Now I got your honey all over my tummy / honey bee is heaven 24/7.”

And why not? Here’s another: “Now I got your sweetness all up in my hair / we make quite a pair.” You get the point. This woman knows what and who she wants, and it totally rocks.

6. Alanis Morissette – “Knees of My Bees”

Meanwhile, from her 2004 release, So-Called Chaos, the Canadian singer-songwriter’s amorous allure creates such an impact that she makes even the knees of her bees weak. Following the spectacularly overwritten, yet compelling opening lines, “We share a culture, same vernacular / love of physical humor and time spent alone,” she sagely simplifies the chorus:

“You make the knees of my bees weak,
Tremble and buckle,
You make the knees of my bees weak.”

A two-chord charmer, Morissette can turn it on when she wants to.

7. Wilco – “Muzzle of Bees”

This 2005 release cowritten by Jeff Tweedy and Jim O’Rourke brings “a muzzle of bees” into the delicate word picture describing the connect and disconnect of a phone message — that may or may not have been received with good favor. Something wobbles in the heart of those that don’t hear back. Bees beard together in the heat and when they swarm. But I love the term muzzle because it can really look and sound like that at times. This is a terrifically thoughtful arrangement with a great lead guitar by Nels Cline.

8. Wolf Parade – “Kissing the Beehive”

Canadian indie rockers Wolf Parade push the boat pretty far out to sea here in terms of song structure and time signatures with a seven-verse epic from 2011. Despite Dan Boeckner being the principal singer here, keyboardist and co-vocalist Spencer Krug gets to deliver the song’s title as a parcel of bitterness in the third verse:

“As if you didn’t know that it would sting
Kissing the beehive
And pissing down the mountain side in the rain
As if you didn’t know that it would sting
Kissing the beehive
And f*^#ing up your finger from pushing on the ring
Sing”

9. Nellie McKay – “Beecharmer” (Feat. Cyndi Lauper)

British-American vocal artist Nellie McKay made a name for herself in musical theatre but is also credited with being the first woman to have released a double album on debut. “Beecharmer” comes off her second album, Pretty Little Head, released in 2006, and features the wondrous Cyndi Lauper in this happily hook-laden pop duet, laced with irony for your complicated listening pleasures.

10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – “Hunnybee”

Lastly, let’s take a taste of “Hunnybee,” written by vocalist-guitarist Ruban Nielsen, his brother Kody, and bassist Jacob Portrait. It was released on UMO’s 2018 album, Sex and Food, and it landed them a finalist spot in New Zealand’s APRA Silver Scrolls Songwriting Awards, among other accolades worldwide. The music video is equal parts mesmerizing and funky, and has clocked in over 20 million views last time I bothered to count.

World Bee Day is also my birthday, so I’ll likely be sipping a sweet, honey-crisp cocktail up in my hive as you read this. I hope today has been as productive and reflective for you as it has for me. On a final note, make sure you take a closer look at the insects who share your space. They might give you your next big hit— or least a bit of buzz!

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Charlotte Yates
Charlotte Yates

Charlotte Yates is an independent New Zealand singer-songwriter with a growing catalogue of seven solo releases and thirteen collaborative projects. She also composes music for TV, theatre and short film, and provides a songwriting coaching service, Songdoctor.