Sharing little more than a title with ‘Wild Honey Pie’, this pastiche of the British music hall style was written by Paul McCartney for the White Album.

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

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Honey Pie

The Beatles recorded a demo of ‘Honey Pie’ at George Harrison’s Esher home just before sessions began for the White Album. Released in 1996 on Anthology 3, this early version has slightly different lyrics, and lacks the introduction of the later recording.

I was definitely thinking of Fred [Astaire] and the whole world of the silver screen when I was writing ‘Honey Pie’… If I’d have to choose anyone, I’d be very happy to be thought of as a channeller of Nat King Cole or Fats [Waller] or Fred. I don’t think there’s any denying the idea of being a medium. I definitely dreamt ‘Yesterday’, so I’m sure I’ve channelled many other songs.

‘Honey Pie’, then, is a throwback to the 1930s or even the 1920s, the flapper era and Hollywood.

In the studio

The Beatles began recording ‘Honey Pie’ on 1 October 1968, at Trident Studios in London’s Wardour Street.

Just one take was recorded on the first day, although it is likely that a number of rehearsal attempts had previously been recorded and wiped. Paul McCartney played piano, George Harrison was on a six-string Fender bass, John Lennon played an electric guitar, and Ringo Starr was on drums.

The next day McCartney taped his lead vocals, and Lennon added a lead guitar part.

John played a brilliant solo on ‘Honey Pie’ – sounded like Django Reinhardt or something. It was one of them where you just close your eyes and happen to hit all the right notes… sounded like a little jazz solo.
George Harrison, 1987

Paul McCartney's handwritten lyrics for Honey Pie

George Martin’s woodwind arrangement – prepared from a rough mix made at the end of the first Trident session – was recorded on 4 October. Written in the 1920s jazz style, it featured five saxophones and two clarinets.

At the end of the 4 October session McCartney added a brief vocal overdub: the line “Now she’s hit the big time”. It 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.

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.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Previous song: ‘Revolution 1’
Next song: ‘Savoy Truffle’
Published: |