Honey Pie: Paul McCartney, music hall crooner

“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

The Fabs in full on English music hall regalia (image courtesy Pinterest)

I recently wrote an essay about musicologist Wilfrid Mellers’ 1973 study of Beatles music, Twilight of the Gods.  One of the things Mellers notes about Paul McCartney is his love of songs that revel in nostalgia and which create lovely, faultless worlds of the past where the grass is greener, the sky is bluer, and love is happily ever after. Mellors quotes Mal Evans, long time Beatles road manager and close friend of all the Fabs, who describes Paul as “a champion of the softedge, a knight errant rescuing discarded sentiments, rehabilitating sensibilities that time has hardened into cliches….” Mellers goes on to describe McCartney songs as “Brief festivals of love set in the drab day-to-day world.”

“Honey Pie,” from The Beatles (the one everybody calls “The White Album”) is a typical example of the sort of nostalgic “period piece” song Paul has always loved to write (the beginning of this sort of tune from McCartney might be the quasi-French bistro charmer “Michelle”). “Honey Pie” hearkens back to the English music hall, an institution akin to American vaudeville (and one that existed even into the early Beatlemania period). Other examples are “When I’m Sixty-Four” from Sgt. Pepper and “Your Mother Should Know” from Magical Mystery Tour.

The song has the singer pining for his lost love who has left him behind in England and has now “hit the Big Time in the USA.” The lyrics are polished enough for Cole Porter and one can easily imagine Fred Astaire singing them:

“Honey Pie”

She was a working girl
North of England way
Now she’s hit the big time
In the USA
And if she could only hear me
This is what I’d sayHoney pie you are making me crazy
I’m in love but I’m lazy
So won’t you please come home

Oh honey pie my position is tragic
Come and show me the magic
Of your Hollywood song

You became a legend of the silver screen
And now the thought of meeting you
Makes me weak in the knee

Oh honey pie you are driving me frantic
Sail across the Atlantic
To be where you belong

Honey pie come back to me, oh

I like it like that, oh ah
I like this kind of hot kind of music
Hot kind of music
Play it to me, play it to me, honey, the blues

Will the wind that blew her boat
Across the sea
Kindly send her sailing back to me

Honey pie you are making me crazy
I’m in love but I’m lazy
So won’t you please come home
Come, come back to me, honey pie

Oooooooooooh oh
Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
Honey pie, honey pie

McCartney’s delivery is tongue in cheek, both celebrating the lost era of such “moon/June” melodies even as he pokes gentle fun at them. George Martin adds a superb “twenties style” woodwinds section of saxophones and clarinets while John plays both lead and rhythm guitar parts that suggest Django Reinhardt. George plays a six string bass that allows him to imitate the stand up instrument and Ringo does a lot of brush work on the drums to round out the sincerity of the effort at re-creating music that was four decades old when the Beatles recorded the tune in the autumn of 1968.

An obvious question that arises is this: while Paul is and remains a nostalgia buff, why did the other Beatles indulge him on songs like “Honey Pie”? The answer is simpler than you think. England’s love affair with music hall style sing-along tunes extended to all four Beatles; they enjoyed nice, silly sing-along as much as any other English lads  – here’s the proof:

So “Honey Pie” may be a piece of Paul’s nostalgic fluff. But it’s the sort of nostalgic fluff that he and his friends enjoyed immensely. As he observed in a later song he wrote for Mary Hopkin, “Those were the days, my friends….”

You can hear “Honey Pie” in a remastered version here: