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“A TASTE OF HONEY”
(Ric Marlow – Bobby Scott)
There were a lot of “beat” bands competing for prominence in the Liverpool area in the late 50’s and 60’s. Every one of them was striving to edge out the others with a distinctiveness that would set them apart and get them noticed. Any gimmick that would get the band more attention or get them more bookings would be considered.
The one undeniable fact about The Beatles is they had a love of music; not just rock and roll, but all varieties of music. McCartney in particular had a fondness for ballads, even standards from his father’s era. As Paul relates, The Beatles “weren’t ashamed of those leanings” and would incorporate these ballads into their set list so they “could be a bit more varied.”
This resulted in The Beatles getting more bookings, since many gigs required them to perform “ballady” material in order to entertain more adult audiences that were quite anti-rock-and-roll, such as in their early Hamburg days. Performing crooners like “Till There Was You,” “Ain’t She Sweet” and “My Funny Valentine” was not beneath them, in fact they quite enjoyed playing them. These became the late-night cabaret numbers that showed that they weren’t just another rock-and-roll band.
With this in mind, McCartney would sing these ballads to add a touch of ‘sophistication’ to their stage act. Among the songs they found to fit this need was the ballad “A Taste Of Honey,” which was recently recorded and released by Lenny Welch in 1962. In order to add this touch of ‘sophistication’ to their first album, George Martin was keen to take some time to make this very ‘adult’ sounding song fit into this ‘teenage' Beatles album to show their musical abilities, in hopes that it might impress more than just the teenagers who made up their audience at the time.
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
The song “A Taste Of Honey” has actually been described as “one of the most commercially successful songs in the history of the music and recording industry.” This conclusion has been drawn from the song being recorded by upwards of 250 artists internationally, which includes its songwriter Ric Marlow, Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand, Johnny Mathis and of course The Beatles. Its most prominent success has been as an instrumental with versions by Martin Denny, the Victor Feldman Quartet and, most notably, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Herb Alpert’s 1965 version rose to number seven on the Billboard pop charts and won the Grammy Award for “Record Of The Year.” It had also previously won a Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Theme” in 1962.
The song was apparently inspired by the 1958 English play of the same name, which enjoyed immense success as it hit Broadway in 1960 (starring Angela Lansbury and Billy Dee Williams) and as an award winning movie in 1961. The controversial subject matter, which included single motherhood, sexuality, race and even homosexuality, reflected the social changes in attitude that were taking place in Britain during the late 50’s and early 60’s.
Songwriter Ric Marlow was actually known as more than a songwriter. He had a long-standing television acting career, appearing in as many as 75 shows throughout his lifetime. His first appearance was in the TV show “The Lawless Years” in 1959 and continued throughout the 60’s in shows such as “Bonanza,” “Sea Hunt,” “Dante,” “Lawman” and “Ripcord.” In the 70’s he appeared numerous times on “Hawaii Five-0” and, in the 80’s on “Magnum P.I.” as late as 1984.
Ric also pursued a singing career, appearing throughout the years in Las Vegas, New York, Florida, Hollywood and Palm Springs, California where he died in 2017 at the age of 91. The success of “A Taste Of Honey,” with its 150 million copies sold worldwide, was his major claim to fame.
Bobby Scott was an accomplished jazz musician who studied at the LaFollette School Of Music in New York City in 1945. He became an accomplished pianist and vocalist, as well as mastering the vibes, accordion, clarinet, cello, drums and bass. Bobby turned professional as early as age 11, and was working with Louie Prima by the age of 15. By the mid 50’s he was working with Gene Krupa and Tony Scott and performing at various prestigious jazz festivals.
Bobby decided to stop performing in the late 50’s to concentrate on composing and teaching musical theory and harmony, as well as continue his studies in music. It was during this period that Scott co-authored the song “A Taste Of Honey” with Ric Marlow as well as releasing two albums in 1960. He also co-wrote the ever popular song “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” with Bob Russell (who was dying of cancer), which was taken to the number 7 spot on the Billboard pop chart in 1970 by another British Invasion group, The Hollies. The original version of the song was also taken into the top 20 in 1970 by Neil Diamond. The song has also been recorded by Cher, Olivia Newton John, The Osmonds, Bill Medley as well as many other artists throughout the years.
Scott also dabbled in writing musical scores for movies, such as “Slaves” (1969), “Joe” (1970) and “Who Says I Can’t Ride A Rainbow” (1971). He gradually returned to performing and recording and, in the 80’s, issued a Nat “King” Cole tribute album. He unfortunately succumbed to cancer himself and, on November 5th, 1990, died of lung cancer. His musically legacy is felt to this day, especially in connection with his two most famous songs, “A Taste Of Honey” and “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” appearing in many movies and television commercials throughout the 80’s, 90’s and until today.
Of the many versions of “A Taste Of Honey” that have been recorded, the version released by Lenny Welch in 1962 was most influential to The Beatles. They patterned their arrangement of the song after this recording which, although missing the American top 40 charts, made a slightly bigger impact in Britain, although it failed to make the British charts either.
Lenny started his recording career in 1958 on Decca Records (the same label that was the first to release a Beatles single in the US: “My Bonnie” by “Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers” in 1962). After two dismal selling singles on Decca, he was introduced to Archie Bleyer, the owner of Cadence Records. Archie signed him to his label and after releasing several modest selling singles, including “A Taste Of Honey,” he hit number four on the Billboard pop charts with “Since I Fell For You” in January of 1964, just before Beatlemania took over the states. Cadence records then re-released his version of “Ebb Tide,” which scored a modest follow-up hit in April of 1964 (#25) and it seemed that Lenny was on his way to becoming another Johnny Mathis-style crooner.
Two major setbacks then occurred; Archie Blyer unexpectedly folded Cadence Records in September of 1964 and then Lenny was drafted. Although he obtained a new recording deal with Kapp Records in 1965, very little success occurred while he was serving his country.
After his service time was complete, he struggled to continue his career, but mostly in vain. His only return to the American top 40 was his slow-ballad version of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” which peaked at number 34 in 1970 on the Commonwealth United label. Sedaka liked the version enough to record his own ballad version of the song 5 1/2 years later, taking it into the top 10.
Lenny struggled for a time with his own record label, but after it failed, resorted to leaving the music business and driving a cab in New York City to pay back those who invested in his failed record company. Now living in Los Angeles, he has found himself in demand doing oldies shows and performances on cruise ships. Along with his royalty payments for “Since I Fell For You,” Lenny Welch is continuing to live his initial dream of being a performer in the music business.
The Beatles in EMI studio two, 1963
The Beatles' recording of “A Taste Of Honey” was also part of the 12 1/2 hour recording session that occurred on February 11th, 1963 to complete their first British album. As can be noted by the order of the songs recorded on this day, the emphasis was primarily on recording original material at the insistence of Brian Epstein and the band. The only exception to this rule was the recording of this song, which was the only cover song recorded before the evening session began.
When the afternoon session began in Studio Two of EMI Studios at 2:30 pm, “A Taste Of Honey” was the first song recorded. Five takes of the song were recorded with The Beatles all playing their usual instruments live simultaneously with lead and backing vocals. The fifth take was temporarily considered as best.
After the next song, “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” was deemed as complete, attentions focused again on “A Taste Of Honey.” At approximately 3:45 pm, two overdubs were performed by McCartney in order to “double-track” his lead vocals. This effect entailed superimposing an identical performance on top of another, creating a fuller sound because of not being able to perform the second performance in perfect synchronization with the first performance. McCartney was instructed by George Martin to “double-track” his vocals in two places; each time the bridge of the song occurred. The first bridge overdub became take 6 and the second bridge made it take 7, which then was considered the final take, completing the song. This recording technique, which was new to The Beatles at this point, was used at the band’s insistence on the majority of the songs they recorded within the next two years (and sparingly thereafter as well). As for this first album, this was the only song which contained “double-tracking.”
No mixes of the song were done on this day. Both the mono and stereo mixes of the song were done during the mastering session for the album, which occurred on February 25th. Both mixes were done using take 7, which included both of the McCartney “double-tracking” overdubs.
Then, while jamming out renditions of old songs on January 22nd, 1969 in Apple Studios during the rehearsals for what became the "Let It Be" album and film, The Beatles attempted "A Taste Of Honey" for a quick run-through. This attempt, however, fell apart very quickly and, understandably, has never been officially released.
The Beatles at Roxburgh Hall, Stowe, April 4th, 1963
Song Structure and Style
The structure of this song is a variation of what was used for most of the songs on the album. It is similar in the sense that it consists of only verses and bridges with no chorus, but is different in that it only has two verses that are alternated with two identical bridges. Therefore, the structure is 'verse/ bridge/ verse/ bridge' (or abab) with the bridge ending the song. Another distinctive feature which makes it dissimilar to the rest of the album is the change in time signature, with both verses being in 3/4 time (or “waltz” time) while most of the bars of each bridge is in standard 4/4 time.
Like “Do You Want To Know A Secret” which preceded it, the song begins with a dramatic introduction before the first verse commences. It similarly begins with strummed guitar chords only whenever the chord changes, but is dissimilar in that it includes a three part harmony between Paul, John and George as well as bass notes from Paul. The introduction actually lasts a complete 8 bars, all in 3/4 time. The second half of the introduction contains the full band instrumentation with three part “doo-doot-n-doo” harmonies from the boys.
Each verse consists of 16 bars with a melody line and chord pattern that is distinctively melodic. The melody line ascends dramatically to the signature title of the song which alerts John and George to answer the phrase creating another three part harmony. The 10 bar bridge then transitions into 4/4 time for the first six bars while McCartney sings his “double-tracked” solo vocal line with added reverb. When his vocal line is finished, the rest of the bridge returns to the familiar 3/4 time with three part harmonies, which is actually identical to the second half of the introduction.
After a second verse follows the same pattern as the first, a second identical bridge begins, but then changes into two dramatic breaks which highlight a question-and-answer exchange between McCartney’s lead vocal and John and George’s harmony answers. This distinctive hook is the one characteristic that sparks the similarity between The Beatles version and the immensely popular Herb Alpert instrumental version from 1965. The song then officially climaxes with the extended high note from Paul as the song suddenly shifts back to the 3/4 time signature for the final four bars of the song. An interesting touch that McCartney capitalized on with his composition “And I Love Her” a year later is setting apart the minor chords of the song with a final major chord which create a satisfying note of finality to the song.
The lyrics have a simple sentiment of a long distance reminiscence of the first kiss by a true love along with the desire to return soon. The poetic way of expressing these desires brought out in Ric Marlow’s lyrics, though, are consistent with the stature that the song has transcended to as time has gone by. It seems quite ironic that the most known version of the song is instrumental, meaning that most people are totally oblivious to these amazing lyrics. Amazing, that is, in the context of the time and style of music it was intended for. Also ironic is the fact that probably the second most popular rendition is The Beatles vocal version, which sounds “schmaltzy” in comparison to the rock-and-roll style that they are known for. That being said, Ric Marlow’s lyrics are probably best heard in the hands of Tony Bennett.
As for The Beatles' performance, McCartney is truly in the spotlight with his spot-on vocal work (despite his struggle to properly hit the low notes) which convey the sentiment of the lyrics in the most convincing way he could muster. His tasteful bass playing, especially during the bridges, show him as not being a ‘showboat’ but being able to add the degree of tastefulness necessary to pull off an impressive ingredient to a nice arrangement.
Harrison shows himself adept at being able to pull off a tender ballad arrangement ‘in style,’ even though his true overall inspiration really comes from the likes of Carl Perkins. His guitar versatility, as well as his vocal harmony work being performed simultaneously, shows his true focus on making the band, not just himself, sound good.
Ringo shows his versatility as well by playing brushes throughout and not straying off of the snare drum. One would think this was a professional drummer for a light jazz combo instead of the same rock-and-roll drummer we just heard wailing away on “I Saw Her Standing There.” Once again, we see the focus on doing whatever it takes to make the song work.
Lennon, on the other hand, is hardly noticeable on rhythm guitar. Also, the bad cold that John was suffering from on this day is probably most evident on this track as his harmony work, as proficient as it is, suffers from his pronunciation. “A taste of huddy” is truly the result of a stuffed-up nose.
Vee Jay's "Introducing The Beatles" album
The first American appearance of the song was with its album release on January 10th, 1964 on the Vee Jay album “Introducing…The Beatles,” which stayed in print until October 15th of that year. This mostly overlooked song received its biggest exposure from this release, being that it peaked at number two on the Billboard charts and became a million-seller.
In order to cash in on The Beatles first US visit with their three Ed Sullivan Show appearances, Vee Jay issued a 4 song extended play single (or EP) on March 23rd, 1964, entitled “The Beatles – Souvenir of Their Visit To America.” “A Taste Of Honey” although not heard on the Ed Sullivan show or at any of the performances during their “visit to America,” was included on the EP as the second song on side one.
The third US appearance of the song came with the Vee Jay double-album compilation “The Beatles vs. The Four Seasons,” released on October 1st, 1964, which coupled the “Introducing…The Beatles” album with “The Golden Hits of the Four Seasons.” The fourth appearance came less than two weeks later with another repackage of the Vee Jay album under the name “Songs, Pictures And Stories Of The Fabulous Beatles,” released on October 12th, 1964.
Capitol then took the ball and released “The Early Beatles” on March 22nd, 1965 to make the song part of the official Capitol catalog. This marks the fifth release of “A Taste Of Honey.” This album then appeared on an individual CD on January 21st, 2014, containing both the mono and stereo mixes on one disc.
The sixth release of the song didn’t happen until 12 years later. Linasong Records released the double album “Live! At the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962” on May 2nd, 1977. This highly controversial release included an apparently edited version of their December 28th and December 31st, 1962 performances of the song on their final visit to Hamburg. This was the only record ever released on this short-lived record label, which was a division of CBS Records. The controversy resulted from the record being reproduced from a recording made on a crude Grundig home tape recorder by Kingsize Taylor of rival band The Dominoes. Although $125,000 was invested by Lingasong to remix the recordings, the quality was bad enough to warrant Apple records to attempt to prevent its release, which it failed to do.
Each album of this two-album set resurfaced in 1979 on Pickwick Records, the first one titled “First Live Recordings Vol. 1,” which would be the seventh release of “A Taste Of Honey” as the second song of side one. A slight alteration was made to the recordings released on the Lingasong album which resulted in the vocals having slightly more prominence. Pickwick then paired both volumes of their "First Live Recordings" together into a double album entitled "The Historic First Live Recordings." This was the eighth release of the song.
The small label Hall Of Music also released the Hamburg tapes (including "A Taste Of Honey") on their double-album release "Live 1962, Hamburg Germany" in 1981. This was the ninth release of the song.
Collectables Records released the Hamburg recording of the song one further time, as a single with The Beatles Hamburg version of "Besame Mucho" on the B-side. This short-lived 1982 single is the tenth release of the song.
The eleventh release was on February 26th, 1987 on the first official Beatles compact disc, which was the original British "Please Please Me" album. While this came out in mono only, the remastered stereo version came out on September 9th, 2009.
On June 30th, 1992, Capitol released the box set “Compact Disc EP Collection,” which includes the entire British “Twist And Shout” EP from 1963. The original mono mix of “A Taste Of Honey” is included therein.
The thirteenth released version of the song appeared on the album “Live At The BBC,” released on December 6th, 1994. This alternate version of the song was recorded on July10th, 1963 for their “Pop Go The Beatles” BBC radio show which aired on July 23rd of that year. A remastered and re-packaged version of this album was released on November 11th, 2013.
The fourteenth release was on the box set “The Captol Albums, Vol. 2,” which contained the original "Early Beatles" album in stereo and mono.
September 9th, 2009 was the date of the fifteenth US release of the song on the box set “The Beatles In Mono.” A vibrant remastered version of the mono mix of “A Taste Of Honey” is included.
The Beatles in Hamburg, December 1962
The first evidence of The Beatles performing this song was in October of 1962, a month after the version by Lenny Welch was released. As Mark Lewisohn outlines in his book "Tune In," there was a degree of uncertainty as to whether The Beatles should perform "A Taste Of Honey" at all. Paul got aquainted with the song in October of 1962 and immediately wanted to include it in the group's set list, taking lead vocals himself. John didn't think it was the type of song they should be doing.
Lewisohn relates, "It would become a sustained point of contention between them, but they decided to put it to the test, to play it to audiences and watch the reaction...One of the first times The Beatles played it was at the Rialto Ballroom on October 11 (1962)." The group The Mersey Beats were also on the bill and, a few nights later, Paul cornered their bass player Billy Kinsley for his opinion. Billy Kinsley remembers: "Paul came up to me and said, 'What did you think of that song we did the other night, 'A Taste Of Honey?' and I said, 'I was knocked out by it. Superb.' Paul grabbed hold of me and said, 'Go and tell the others that.' He took me into their dressing-room and John said, 'Go on then, what do you think?' I was fifteen and very nervous because there was Big John Lennon asking me what I thought of a song he didn't like. Paul said, 'Come on, just tell the truth.' I told him I thought 'A Taste Of Honey' was great. Paul said, 'Ha-ha, there you go!'"
The Beatles then had a British television appearance on October 29th, 1962, on the show “People And Places” performing the song. Although they did a very proficient send-up of the song whenever they played it on stage, Lennon was known to put in his own little jabs of protest during their performances, singing "A Waste Of Money" when his background vocals were required. Paul would also incorporate an unusual inflection in his voice during the line "sweeter than wine," pronouncing it as "schweeter than wine."
They continued to perform the song at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and in Hamburg right on into 1963. Two partial crude recordings of the song were made during their last trip to Hamburg in December 1962, which appear on the album “Live! At the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, 1962,” which weren’t released until 1977. The day after the song was recorded for their first album they performed it at a concert in Sheffield. They continued to perform the song throughout 1963, as evidenced by its inclusion in their week-long July performances at the Winter Gardens at Margate, Kent, as well as their October 29th concert in Eskilstuna, Sweden. They were to replace this concert staple with another ‘adult’ sounding crooner, “Till There Was You” by the time it was released on their “With The Beatles” album in November 1963.
Their BBC performances of "A Taste Of Honey" started almost five months before their recorded version was released on their first British album “Please Please Me.” On October 25th, 1962, they recorded a version of the song for the BBC radio show “Here We Go,” which aired on October 26th. Then on April 1st, 1963, after the album was released, they recorded the song for the show “Side By Side” which aired on May 13th. June 1st saw the next recording of the song for the show “Pop Go The Beatles” which aired on June 18th. Then on June 19th, they recorded the song for the show “Easy Beat,” which was aired on June 23rd. Their final BBC performance of the song was on July 10th for the show “Pop Go The Beatles,” which was broadcast on July 23rd, 1963. This performance of the song is the one that appears on the “Live At The BBC” album.
Many years on, it may appear quite laughable and/or embarrassing to hear “A Taste Of Honey” among the rock and roll classics that appear on the first Beatles album. “Why,” some may ask, “would the greatest rock band in the world cop-out and perform a ‘wimpy’ ballad like this?”
The answer, simply to show their versatility. Both George Martin and Brian Epstein were encouraging the boys to record material like this. McCartney also had a love for this kind of song. It was therefore an early choice to include this song on their first album.
One thing that truly can be stated is that The Beatles versatility was shown on every album they released. You can’t help but note the variety of styles on albums such as “Revolver,” “Sgt. Pepper” and the “White Album.” The same release that gave us the ultra-heavy “Helter Skelter” also offered “Blackbird” and “Honey Pie.” The same release that gave us the symphonic masterpiece “A Day In The Life” also gave us “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Within You Without You.” So why wouldn’t their first album, which made us dance to “Twist And Shout” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” give us “A Taste Of Honey”?
Truth be told, The Beatles took a classic piece of brilliantly written balladry and transformed it into a Beatles song with great aplomb. In the process, it exposed another genre of music to the youth of the sixties and, in turn, to generations of Beatlemaniacs to come. If you learn to love it, or are determined to loathe it, either way it must be admitted that only The Beatles could have pulled off something like this.
“A Taste Of Honey”
Written by: Ric Marlow / Bobby Scott
- Song Written: 1960
- Song Recorded: February 11, 1963
- First US Release Date: January 6, 1964
- First US Album Release: Vee Jay #VJLP 1062 “Introducing…The Beatles”
- US Single Release: Vee Jay #VJEP 1-903 (“Souvenir of Their Visit To America”)
- Highest Chart Position: n/a
- British Album Release: Parlophone #PCS3042 “Please Please Me”
- Length: 2:01
- Key: F# minor
- Producer: George Martin
- Engineers: Norman Smith, Richard Langham
Instrumentation (most likely):
- Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Bass Guitar (1961 Hofner 500/1)
- George Harrison – Lead Guitar (1957 Gretsch Duo Jet), Background Vocals
- John Lennon - Rhythm Guitar (1958 Rickenbacker 325), Background Vocals
- Ringo Starr – Drums (1960 Premier 58/54 Mahogany)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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