“If you are what you eat, then I’m a hamburger.” – Dean Friedman
In 1980, on the heels of several hit songs (“Ariel” US Charts #26 in 1977, “Lucky Stars” UK Charts #3 in 1978), Dean Friedman penned an ode to those most crush-worthy of women, the girls who serve you your fast food.
Take yourself back to that simpler time when your folks sent you out of the house for the afternoon with a couple of bucks and you headed straight for a fast food joint. Hormonal and giggly and poised to eat greasy fast food, shy boys everywhere had to combat one of their greatest fears…talking to a girl who just happens to be the cashier at the Golden Arches. Friedman’s song,” McDonald’s Girl” transcended the novelty of its title by delivering saccharine sweet vocals over lines any teenage boy could identify with.
I count my money and then I rehearse what I’m gonna say. “I’d like an order of fries, a quarter pounder with cheese, I love the light in your eyes. Will you go out with me please?”
Like many people, my introduction to “McDonald’s Girl” and ultimately Dean Friedman was via the Canadian rock band The Barenaked Ladies. Long a staple of their live shows, they recorded it only once for Canadian radio station CFNY, but plenty of versions have circulated as bootlegs…here is one (note it was usually performed as a cover with another cover song tucked inside…bonus points if you know the band/song!)
McDonald’s Girl- Cover version by Barenaked Ladies (audio via youtube)
Thanks to the wonders of the Internet I caught up with Dean for a truly entertaining chat about “McDonald’s Girl” and, what else, burgers.
Dean shared a great story about working at the historic Palisades Park, manning the grill at the park’s burger stand “Harry’s Hamburgers.” With a forged birth certificate, the then 13 year old Friedman moved up the amusement park ladder from the Penny Arcade to the famous burger stand where he revealed a little known sales secret. Before the park opened he and his coworkers would load up the grill with burgers and then close all of the vents, creating a massive cloud of delicious, burger scented smoke which would rush out of the burger stand when they opened the front windows…”smoke would billow out into the park so the first thing people entering would smell was Harry’s Hamburgers.”
Years after his time on the midway, Dean headed off to college in the Bronx at City College, where one of his professors was the legendary David Bromberg. From the college cafeteria to the Burger King down the block from his apartment, Dean told me that “Burgers were a staple of my diet, they sustained me.”
Friedman’s career gathered traction after college and he began putting in time as a touring musician. The life of a singer/songwriter on the road far from resembled the legendary antics of the touring rock bands of the time (I forgot to ask if he ever threw a TV in a swimming pool, but I am going to guess he didn’t). “Life on the road was full of small rewards,” noted Friedman. “A bacon deluxe cheeseburger post-gig” at a roadside diner between towns was routinely the payoff for a great gig and another day living the dream.
His 3rd album, Rumpled Romeo, was chock full of songs about love and yearning, and “McDonald’s Girl” married those themes together perfectly (with a side of fries). The genesis for the song came when Friedman was 15 years old. Living on a kibbutz in Israel for the summer, Friedman mingled with older kids who were doing their stint in the army like all Israeli citizens are required to do and he especially took notice of a particularly beautiful girl, fresh from training wearing a weapon over her shoulder and sporting a “tight fitting polyester uniform.” That image, and a steady diet of late night burgers were spark enough for Friedman to write “(I Am In Love With The) McDonald’s Girl” with the lines:
I am in love with the McDonald’s Girl She has the smile of innocence oh so tender and warm. I am in love with the McDonald’s Girl She is an angel in a polyester uniform.
“McDonald’s Girl” was banned by the BBC for its overt mentions of a corporation (and unlike The Kinks “Lola”, which was re-recorded to swap out the words “Coca-Cola” for “Cherry Cola”, removing mention of “McDonald’s” from the song was impossible and thus it never received airplay in Britain where Dean had enjoyed a strong following.) Unhappy with Friedman’s inability to deliver another radio hit (thanks to the songs censoring) he was dropped by his label. Looking back on it now, this setback paved the way for Friedman to take his career and life in many different directions, eventually returning to recording an album again in 1998.
These days Friedman routinely plays sold-out tours in the US, UK and Ireland. Asked about his current burger eating habits, “I can’t remember the last time I ate at McDonald’s, but I have a habit of buying frozen White Castle burgers which are good for desperate late night snacking..
Arnold’s Drive In
1805 E Main St
Mohegan Lake, NY 10547
(914) 528-7777 A take-off on the Happy Days eatery, this Arnold’s features roller skating car-hops and according to Dean “the most delicious burgers.” .
NY Firehouse Grille
50 Welcher Ave
Peekskill, NY 10566
(914) 788-0808 .
Thanks to Dean for participating in this story.
File these videos under “guilty pleasures.” If you are curious why Dean is compared favorably to 70’s/80’s contemporaries like Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Randy Newman go ahead and click. The first is the original UK hit version and the second video is an interesting remix of the same song 25 years later.