Inspired by Paul McCartney’s children’s use of wordplay, ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ featured lyrics chosen more for their phonetic sound than their meaning.
The title was derived from an alternative word for milk that the McCartney children used. Further inspiration came from the 1959 Leiber and Stoller song ‘Love Potion No. 9’, recorded by The Searchers.
When my kids were young they used to call milk ‘monk’ for whatever reason that kids do – I think it’s magical the way that kids can develop better names for things than the real ones. In fact, as a joke, Linda and I still occasionally refer to an object by that child-language name. So, monk was always milk, and monkberry moon delight was a fantasy drink, rather like ‘Love Potion No. 9’, hence the line in the song, ‘sipping monkberry moon delight’. It was a fantasy milk shake.
Club Sandwich, Winter 1994
‘Love Potion No. 9’ featured a similarly surreal tale as McCartney’s later song, in which a man looking for love speaks to a gypsy who sells him the titular potion. It causes him to fall in love with all he sees, including a policeman on the street.
‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ takes the surrealism a step further, defying interpretation and logic to present an Edward Lear-esque stroll through the lighter recesses of McCartney’s imagination. As with The Beatles’ ‘Glass Onion’, it was almost a direct challenge for those fans who looked avidly for hidden meanings in his songs to spend hours poring over his wild free-association in search of autobiographical clues.
Well I know my banana is older than the rest
And my hair is a tangled Beretta
But I leave my pyjamas to Billy Budapest
And I don’t get the gist of your letter
While the music is a light canter, McCartney’s vocals were strident and strained, recalling his classic rock ‘n’ roll performances in such songs as ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Oh! Darling’. Linda McCartney provided the perfect counterpoint with her backing vocals, delivered without affectation.
‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ was one of two Ram songs included in Blackbird Singing, McCartney’s 2001 collection of lyrics and poetry. It featured in the section headed The Business. The other Ram song in the book was ‘Heart Of The Country’.
‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ I liked, so much so that it’s in my poetry book.
Mojo, July 2001
McCartney’s gruff delivery was influenced by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who recorded his own version of the song for his 1979 album Screamin’ The Blues. McCartney used Hawkins’ version in his pre-concert tape on his 1993 tour.
There are so many artists that influence anything I do. ‘Three Legs’ would have been influenced by blues artists, and ‘Smile Away’ would have been influenced by people like Jerry Lee Lewis. The vocals are always influenced by someone, that’s just the way it is, but Screamin’ Jay Hawkins definitely on ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’. I mean, when we first heard that record ‘I Put A Spell On You’, we couldn’t believe it, because he starts off relatively sane and then he totally just loses it! You can imagine us young kids hearing that and thinking it was fantastic.
McCartney began recording ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ on 3 November 1970 at Columbia Studios in New York City. The initial takes had McCartney on piano and guide vocals, and Hugh McCracken on electric guitar.
They returned to it two days later, when McCartney opted to play a piano treated with thumb tacks on the hammers. He and McCracken then overdubbed more guitars, and Denny Seiwell played drums and overdubbed a tambourine part.
McCartney’s vocals were added on 6 December at CBS Studios. He sang the song a number of times before his vocals were suitably hoarse and raspy.
‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ was completed on 29 March 1971 at Sound Recorders Studio in Hollywood. McCartney added two more vocal tracks, one on his own, and the other with Linda.