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"HONEY PIE"

(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)

John Lennon had been famously of the opinion that Paul McCartney compositions such as “When I'm Sixty-Four,” “Your Mother Should Know” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” were “granny music.”  So when Paul debuted a new song called “Honey Pie” at George Harrison's Esher home “Kinfauns” on May 29th, 1968 for consideration to be on the next Beatles album, John undoubtedly viewed this piece in the same way.

John may have been very relieved to realize that, as four months of recording for their astounding “White Album” had progressed, Paul never attempted “Honey Pie” in the recording studio.  He brought in newer creations, such as “Helter Skelter,” and even composed things on the spot with the group, such as “Birthday.” “Could he maybe have forgotten about 'Honey Pie?,'” Lennon may have wished.

This, of course, was not to be.  In the final push to finish what became a full double-album, Paul ushered The Beatles into Trident Studios in London to start recording this delightfully campy piece of newly created nostalgia.


Jim McCartney, Paul's father
Songwriting History

“My dad's always played fruity old songs like that, you know, and I liked 'em,” Paul recalled in 1968.  “I like the melody of old songs, and the lyrics actually as well.  There's some old lyrics, like, you know – the woman singing about the man, and she's saying something about 'I wanna have his initials on my monogram.'  You know what I mean?  There's good lyrics and just good thoughts that you don't sort of hear so much these days, you know.  And so, I would quite like to have been a 1920's writer, 'cause I like that thing...you know, up in a top hat and tails and sort of coming-on to 'em.  So this kind of number, I like that thing...So this is just me doing it, pretending I'm living in 1925.”

Paul elaborates further in his book “Many Years From Now”:  Both John and I had a great love for music hall, what the Americans call vaudeville.  I'd heard a lot of that kind of music growing up with The Billy Cotton Band Show and all of that on the radio.  I was also an admirer of people like Fred Astaire; one of my favorites of his was 'Cheek to Cheek' from a film called 'Top Hat' that I used to have on an old 78.  I very much liked that old crooner style, the strange fruity voice that they used, so 'Honey Pie' was me writing one of them to an imaginary woman, across the ocean, on the silver screen, who was called 'Honey Pie.'  It's another of my fantasy songs.  We put a sound on my voice to make it sound like a scratchy old record.  So it's not a parody, it's a nod to the vaudeville tradition that I was raised on.”

Although a high percentage of the songs that appear on the “White Album” were written during their stay in India in the spring of 1968, Paul never mentions this being one of them.  Nor do the lyrics of “Honey Pie” appear to reflect their India experience at all. Although the song was demoed on May 29th, 1968 at George's home in Esher, it can be estimated to have been written sometime between Paul's return home to London on March 26th and the time of the official recording on October 1st.  As to John contributing as collaborator, he simple stated that it was entirely written by Paul in his Hit Parader magazine interview in 1972.  Nor was John involved in the writing of the experimental namesake piece "Wild Honey Pie," which appears to have begun life as an instrumental concocted during their stay in India.


George Harrison's "Kinfauns" home, Esher, Surrey

Recording History

On May 29th, 1968, The Beatles met at George's “Kinfauns” bungalow in Esher, Surrey, the second of two consecutive days, to record demos for what would become the “White Album.”  The demo for “Honey Pie,” recorded on this second day, consists of Paul on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, overdubbing himself on another acoustic guitar as well as various background vocal effects.  Other elements on this demo include tambourine and percussive thumping (undoubtedly the back of an acoustic guitar) as well as other extraneous voices that can easily be attributed to the other three Beatles that were present on this day.

There are various lyric and arrangement differences on this demo, the most noticeable being the omission of the introductory section (“she was a working girl”) of the song.  Verse one as we know it (“making me crazy”) never appears in the demo, the first verse here being what we know as the second verse (“position is tragic”). The official third verse is the second verse on the demo (“driving me frantic”) which is followed by the first bridge although he didn't quite have the lyrics nailed down yet (singing “la, da, da, da, dee, dee” at the end).  Next Paul sings the “driving me frantic” verse and goes directly into a solo section, singing the melody line as “da, da, da.,” etc.  This is followed by the second bridge which is ultimately the same as the released version but with the minor lyrical change “blew her boat away to sea” instead of “across the sea.”  Then Paul repeats the “position is tragic” verse, followed by two solo verses sung with various overdubbed Paul vocals before it concludes suddenly.  Interestingly, the version of this demo that appears on “Anthology 3” edits out the middle solo, second bridge and third verse.

The Beatles entered London's Trident Studios on October 1st, 1968, for what became a week's worth of recording sessions at this facility.  Trident Studios were used by the group earlier in these sessions (such as with the recording of the song “Hey Jude”) primarily to take advantage of their eight-track recording capabilities, something EMI had yet to institute.  However, by this point, The Beatles did have access to eight-track recording at EMI so this week's work was either for a “change of scenery,” as Mark Lewisohn's book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” suggest, or because this week was already fully booked at EMI.  In any event, they started this week off by recording the rhythm track for Paul's “Honey Pie” on this day, the session beginning at 4 pm.

Two reels of tape were filled with rehearsals for the song, although the finished rhythm track on this day was deemed “take one.”  This rhythm track consisted of Paul on piano, George on bass, John on electric guitar and Ringo on drums.  The solo section of the song begins with a quick lead guitar passage played by John, something that George greatly admired. “Sounded like Django Reinhardt or something,” George related in 1987.  “It was one of them where you close your eyes and just happen to hit all the right notes...sounded like a little jazz solo.”

Once this was complete, George Martin, along with engineer Barry Sheffield, made a rough mono mix for himself so that he could write a score for brass and woodwinds for a future recording session.  At 3:30 am the following morning, the session was over with work to be resumed later that day.

This day was October 2nd, 1968, also at Trident Studios and starting at 4 pm.  It may very well be that Paul was the only Beatle in attendance on this day, the only accomplishments to “Honey Pie” being his lead vocal as well as lead guitar in the introductory passage of the song.  This session was complete also at 3:30 am the following morning, indicating that either Paul was late on this day or there was a good amount of unproductive goofing around during the session.

The Beatles decided to start work on George Harrison's composition “Savoy Truffle” for the next session on October 3rd, but resumed work on “Honey Pie” on October 4th at Trident Studios, this session also beginning at 4 pm.  A good portion of this session was taken up working on yet another new Paul track, namely “Martha My Dear,” Paul beginning the session with this song.  At 6 pm, however, attention turned to “Honey Pie” as seven session musicians entered the studio to record the brass and woodwind arrangement that George Martin had recently prepared. By 9 pm this was complete, these musicians leaving to allow for fourteen other session musicians to enter for recording brass and strings for “Martha My Dear.”

Sometime after midnight, Paul turned his attention back to “Honey Pie.”  “We put a sound on my voice to make it sound like a scratchy old record,” Paul explained in his book “Many Years From Now.”  The book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” explains this “quaint touch:  the vocal line 'now she's hit the big time!' which was heavily limited, chopping off the signals at both ends of the frequency range, and superimposed with the sound of a scratchy old phonograph, to make the end product like a vocal from a very early and worn 78 rpm record.”  While this sounds like a very inventive idea, a Michael Nesmith track entitled “Magnolia Simms,” from the album “The Birds The Bees And The Monkees,” utilized this same trick throughout the entire song, even including a simulated record-skipping effect.  This April 1968 released album predated this Beatles session by over five months, possibly influencing Paul or George Martin to experiment with the same thing.

At any rate, “Honey Pie” was completed at this session, which finally ended at 4:30 am the following morning.  Both the mono and stereo mix of the song was done later that evening, October 5th, 1968, at Trident Studios by George Martin and engineer Barry Sheffield. After overdubs for “Savoy Truffle” and “Martha My Dear” were recorded, only one attempt were needed for both the mono and stereo mixes of “Honey Pie.”  John's lead guitar break in the solo section of the song is heard more fully on the mono mix, while the stereo mix fades it down noticeably after the first four measures.  A tape copy of both the mono and stereo mixes of the song was made on October 7th, 1968 in the control room of EMI Studio Two, undoubtedly to create uniform sounding mixes for use on the finished album, the majority of which was recorded at EMI Studios.

Song Structure and Style

The structure of “Honey Pie” is quite similar to a large percentage of the early Beatles catalog, following a basic 'verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse' format (“Please Please Me” being a prime example).  This foundation is built upon, however, with a separate introduction that is not heard elsewhere in the song, this being reminiscent of early 20th century songwriting (such as with “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”).  The Beatles used this approach themselves before this time, such as with “Do You Want To Know A Secret” and “Here, There And Everywhere.”  The final structure for “Honey Pie” then becomes 'intro/ verse/ verse/ bridge/ verse/ verse (instrumental)/ verse (instrumental)/ bridge/ verse/ verse (instrumental)' (or abbcbbbcbb).

While the introduction is purposely labored for dramatic effect, it can still be parsed out to be twelve measures in length.  It consists entirely of Paul, him playing piano from the rhythm track with overdubs of lead vocals and lead guitar flourishes.  Measures five and six incorporate the above mentioned scratchy record effect along with Paul's flat vocal (“now she's hit the big time”) to simulate an old 78 rpm platter on a Victrola.  Easy evidence of the vocals being overdubbed and not being performed during the piano playing is heard in measures nine and ten during the lines “and if she could only hear me,” which are noticeably off in timing.  Paul's quiet guitar passages are heard in the open spaces between vocal lines in measures two, four, six, eight and twelve, the final one incorporating an anticipatory segue into the first verse that follows.  The final measure of the introduction concludes with a descending piano line that takes us perfectly into the body of the song.

The first verse then appears which, like all the verses that follow, is eight measures in length.  The full instrumentation of the rhythm track comes in immediately, consisting of piano, guitar, bass and drums played by all four Beatles, as well as Paul's overdubbed single-tracked lead vocals.  Ringo appears to be playing lightly with brushes throughout the song while George thumps with staccato bass notes and John strums electric guitar appropriately for the nostalgic feel of the song. George Martin's clarinet and saxophone score is first heard in the seventh and eighth measures.  This verse goes directly into the second verse which has the exact same instrumentation but with the clarinets and saxophones playing throughout all of the measures, ending with a descending line juxtaposed nicely with the chord pattern that moves us into the bridge.

The bridge is also eight measures long and consists of the same instrumentation as the second verse.  A straight 4/4 swing beat is heard here throughout the first seven measures as in the previous verses, the only deviation to this being the eighth measure of this bridge which has all instruments perform a three-note accent followed by two slight taps by Ringo on a closed hi-hat.  This is followed by the third verse which is nearly the same instrumentally as the second verse, Paul segueing vocally into the following instrumental verse with the words “Honey pie, come back to me.”

Two instrumental verses come next, the initial focus here being John's lead guitar from the rhythm track, although all of the other instrumental elements are present here as well.  The clarinets and saxophones take a backseat in the arrangement for the first verse, playing only background chords to allow for John's guitar solo.  However, Lennon's solo is primarily heard only in the first four measures (as well as the fifth through seventh in the mono mix), propelling Paul to pick up the slack a little in the seventh and eighth measure, singing “I like that, aah, ooh, aah” in a gruff whispered Jimmy Durante-like voice.  Also noteworthy here are the third and fourth measures which both contain two accented beats performed by the instrumentalists, Ringo doing a cymbal grab on every beat followed by two light taps on the closed hi-hats after each pair.  These accented beats also occur in the eighth measure but without the cymbal grabs.

The second instrumental verse is similar but shows the clarinets and saxophones taking more of a lead role since the guitar solo is limited only to the third and fourth measure this time.  Paul also delivers the added element of ad-lib vocals with the lines:  “I like this kind of hot kind of music, hot kind of music, play it to me, play it to me, hollywood blues.”  The accents of the third and fourth measure are still present here as in the preceding verse, but the ending accents in the eighth measure are omitted, replaced instead by an impressive harmonized ascending and then descending clarinet score.

The second bridge is then heard which is similar to the first in most respects.  John puts in double-guitar chops at the beginning of the first three measures here, however, for some reason, and then the fourth measure featurs yet another impressive harmonized clarinet riff.  The three-note accent in the eighth measure is this time accompanied by Paul as he vocally adds “tee, tee, tee” into the fray.

We then are treated to a repeat of the first verse lyrically but with all of the elements of the other verses.  The seventh and eighth measures begin some more ad-lib vocalizing from Paul which continue through the final instrumental verse which comes next.  This instrumental verse is essentially identical to the other instrumental verses heard earlier except for the clarinets and saxophones playing the verse melody line virtually throughout.  The two sets of accented beats in the third and fourth measures do not feature the cymbal grabs as they had before, however, while the third set in the eighth measure push us into one final beat that suddenly ends the song.

Although tensions were high within the group at this point, and John and George in particular weren't keen on doing songs like these, they all cooperated nicely and put in a suitable performance.  Paul, of course, was game to make the song as authentic as possible and, with George Martin's help with the score, the definitive 1920's pastiche was achieved.

American Releases

“Honey Pie” became a somewhat hidden gem, ending up as the second track of side four, on their double album “The Beatles,” popularly known as the “White Album,” which was released in the U.S. on November 25th, 1968.  It was released on compact disc for the first time on August 24th, 1987, then was re-released as a 30th Anniversary limited edition on November 23rd, 1998, then as a remastered CD on September 9th, 2009.  Its original vinyl release in 1968 was only in stereo since mono albums were practically phased out in the U.S. by that time. However, the vinyl album did finally get an individual mono vinyl release in America on September 9th, 2014, this set achieving a five star review in Rolling Stone magazine just after its release.

On October 28th, 1996, “Honey Pie” was the last of the 'Kinfauns' demo recordings to be included on the compilation album “Anthology 3.”  As explained above, this demo was edited down, the third verse and second bridge taken out entirely.

The entire mono Beatles catalog was first released on September 9th, 2009 in the box set entitled “The Beatles In Mono,” which included the first official U.S. release of the mono “White Album,” “Honey Pie” being included therein.

Live Performances

“Honey Pie” has never graced a concert stage, either by The Beatles or Paul.

Conclusion

While most listeners and writers dismiss “Honey Pie” as inconsequential padding on an otherwise masterful album, Paul's objective at creating a time-period pastiche was never more spot-on.  In the book “Revolution In The Head,” for instance, Ian MacDonald describes the song as having “a catchy tune, the correct period harmonic design, and all the proper passing chords,” then crediting George Martin for his obvious hand in helping Paul with his vision.

When speculating what would have been included on the “White Album” had it been reduced to a single disc, as had been considered by George Martin at the time, this track is overwhelmingly reduced to the dust bin by fans and critics alike.  This fact alone puts “Honey Pie” in the category of “most underrated Beatles songs,” despite all the craftsmanship put into it.  Sad really, but nobody seems to be mourning this situation.  Maybe one day all the effort will be appreciated.

Song Summary

"Honey Pie"
Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney

  • Song Written: March - October, 1968
  • Song Recorded: October 1, 2 and 4, 1968
  • First US Release Date: November 25, 1968
  • First US Album Release: Apple #SWBO-101 “The Beatles
  • US Single Release: n/a
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7067-7068 “The Beatles
  • Length: 2:42
  • Key: G major
  • Producer: George Martin
  • Engineer: Barry Sheffield

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Piano (Bechstein Grand #44064), Lead Guitar (1962 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino)
  • John Lennon - Lead Guitar (1965 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino)
  • George Harrison - Bass (1961 Fender Bass VI)
  • Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl)
  • Dennis Walton - saxophone
  • Ronald Chamberlain - saxophone
  • Jim Chester - saxophone
  • Rex Morris - saxophone
  • Harry Klein - saxophone
  • Raymond Newman - clarinet
  • David Smith - clarinet
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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