When was it recorded? Oct. 1-2 & 4, 1968
When was it first released, and on which album? Nov. 22, 1968 on “The Beatles”
Who wrote it? McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
According to Robert Fontenot, Paul’s writing of “Honey Pie” “paid homage to the sound of 1920’s ‘trad jazz’ dance bands, a style he learned from his father, Jim, who had played the music professionally in his younger years.”
“Both John and I had a great love for music hall, what the Americans call vaudeville… 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.” — Paul McCartney (Many Years From Now, Barry Miles)
Fontenot argues American photographer (and future first Mrs. McCartney) Linda Eastman inspired “Honey Pie.” Paul first met Linda in May 1967, and the pair crossed paths again “almost exactly a year later… by the time recording commenced on this number, they were already a month into their whirlwind romance” (Fontenot). Fontenot noted, “Linda was living in New York, which may have inspired the line about being too lazy to go see her.”
Earlier in the spring of 1968, however, the Beatles were in India. Paul conceived of “Honey Pie” in India, as evidence by its inclusion on the Esher tapes. The Esher demo later appeared on “Anthology 3.” The lyrics here are different or incomplete, and the introduction from the White Album version is lacking.
Quoth Alan Pollack, “While there are many tracks from the ‘White Album’ that sound refreshingly straightforward in their primitive demo versions, ‘Honey Pie’ is one of the rare exceptions where you recognize the contribution of the studio production to the official version all the more clearly because of its absence in the demo.”
Pollack is more interested in the musical arrangement and what it does to mimic dancehall classics than Fontenot is. Among other conventions, we have…
- The “plot” (poor girl becomes famous, poor guy wants her) is very reminiscent of stock 1920s radio plays
- “The use of an intro that is in a slower tempo and contains music and lyrics not heard anywhere else in the song proper is a conspicuous period detail.”
- “The backing track presents a parody of the corny stage band fox-trot style that is authentically stylized to point of being surreal.”
- “The vocal part is mastered tremblingly close-up to sound all the more ingenuously sincere. Paul supplements the lead role with obbligato-like commentary and scat singing in places, some of which is performed in a shameless imitation of one Tiny Tim, who by no coincidence was enjoying his own logical fifteen minutes of fame around the time this album was in production.”
For reference, here’s American musician Tiny Tim’s 1968 novelty hit, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” I guarantee you’ve heard this before (and probably been annoyed by it).
Recording for “Honey Pie” began Oct. 1. Only one take from the first day was saved (the rest deemed unsuitable and wiped from tapes) and used for the track’s base. According to George, John recorded the lead guitar part on this number.
On Oct. 4, George Martin’s woodwind arrangement (five saxophones and two clarinets) was added. Also added was Paul’s spoken “Now she’s hit the big time,” which “was fed through an audio compressor to reduce the treble and bass. The sound of an old phonograph record was also superimposed to give added period authenticity” (Beatles Bible).
Sometimes I can’t believe this is a song The Beatles recorded. I love “Honey Pie,” but I have trouble reconciling it with the pop Moptops or the “Helter Skelter”/”I Want You” rockers. The more I hear it, the more I think of Linda McCartney now, too (the narrator only ever asking ‘Honey Pie’ to sail to him :: Linda wasn’t a fan of flying after her mom died in a plane crash), but I could just be reaching for connections. Once again, the Beatles tried for something different and passed that test with flying colors.