Notes on "Honey Pie" (HP)
KEY G Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge ->
Verse -> Verse (Instrumental) -> Verse (Instrumental) ->
Bridge -> Verse -> Verse (Instrumental) w/complete ending
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- You know I'm not a big fan of Paul's Olde Fashioned parodies, but I admire this song for its craftsmanship and authenticity of detail in virtually every department, right down to narrative fairy tale of working girl to legend of the silver screen. The more familiar you are with dance or show tunes of the Roaring 20s or from the very primitive "talkie" films of the early 30s, the better you can appreciate it. Yes, some of you may also associate it with Guy Lombardo, though to be sure, his Royal Canadians of many a New Years Eve television broadcast were themselves already exploiting it for nostalgia-inducing capabilities.
- The form is an extended variation on the standard two-bridge model, with a lengthy intro, a triplet of verses between the bridges, and a pair of verses at the end. Three of the many verse sections are predominantly instrumental, suggestive of the little dance interludes you'd expect to find in this stage-oriented genre.
- 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. "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" is about the closest the Beatles ever come to this on their own. In the close-but-no-cigar category you have "Misery" (slow, but exposes the song's title tag line), and "If I Fell" (with unique content but securely within the same tempo as the rest of the track).
Melody and Harmony
- The tune covers a broad range using a triadically jumpy style that nicely showcases Paul's voice.
- A lavish number of chords not indigenous to the home key is used here including bVI, minor iv in a Major key, and both secondary and "tertiary" dominants (i.e. not just V-of-V, but also V-of-V-of-V).
- The backing track presents a parody of the corny stage band foxtrot style that is authentically stylized to point of being surreal. Kudos to George Martin.
- The vocal part is mastered tremblingly close-up to sound all the more ingenuously sincere. Paul supplements the lead role with obligatto-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 15 minutes of fame around the time this album was in production.
- Saxophones, playing in tight harmony near the top of their range, appear for the first time as a lead in to the second verse. Through most of the song, they provide either a background wash or an obligatto reply to the lead vocal, but in the final verse they actually get to play the tune. Clarinets, similarly, get their big moment in the spotlight during the second bridge where they produce water sprays in parallel 3rds.
- Other period details include the banjo-like rhythm guitar part, the understated lead guitar licks, and the drumming that alternates between soft brushes and hard syncopated cymbals slashes that are quickly dampened.
- The special recording effect used in the second phrase of the intro, a cross between live performance sung through a megaphone and a well worn 78 rpm record played on an acoustic gramophone, is almost as clever as it is perhaps annoyingly obvious. Just keep in mind that for 1968, this was something still technically adventurous.
- The intro is 12 measures long in an AAB pattern that is disguised by the semi-spoken delivery of the second A phrase:
------------------------------ 2X -------------------------------
|e A |D |c |G |
ii V-of-V V iv I
|A |- |D |- |
- The c minor chord creates the faint suggestion of a double cross relation (E/Eb, C#/C) with the A Major chord of the first measure, even though one complete measure separates the two.
- A particularly sentimental effect is created by the way in which the vocal part adds a 9th to the A chord of the final phrase, especially given the halting, rubato performance.
- The verse is 8 measures long, structured in 4 short phrases, the last three of which use the same motif as a springboard:
|G |- |Eb |E nat. |
I: I bVI V-of-V-of-V
|A |D |G |Eb D |
V-of-V V I bVI V
- Within a relatively short stretch, we find the Eb chord cleverly used to go "both ways;" as an upward-bound appoggiatura to E Major, and as a downward-bound lead in to V.
- Measures 4 - 7 contain a four-step tiptoe through the circle of 5ths, yet another harmonic cliche worth its weight in antique pop music connotations.
- The tune forces a 7th on the A chord, and a 13th (relax, it's the same thing as an added 6th) on the following D chord.
- The final measure of the verses which are followed by a bridge section is modified so that a chromatic stream of F# -> F natural bridges the gap between G (in measure 7) and e (in measure 1 of the bridge).
- The bridge is 8 measures long just like the verse, but in contrast, its two phrases are longer:
Chords: |e |A |G |- |
Bass: |B |C# |D |- G A B |
vi6/4 V-of-V6/3 I6/4
Chords: |C |E |a |D |
Bass: |C |B |A |D |
IV V-of-ii6/4 ii V
- Paul's melodic bassline places many of the chords in this section in inversions that have a precipitously high center of gravity. Contrast it with the way the passage sounds if all the chords are played in root position.
- Also note how the E Major chord of measure 6 is created by virtue of an upward chromatic scale fragment running through the chords on each side of it.
- The song has no outro per se. Rather, it comes to a halt where the downbeat of the next verse would be, IF there were to be another verse.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- As with the rest of the Esher demos, the one for this song is interesting interms of what it or omits with respect to the official version. Note carefully that the version of the demo released on A3, while in admirable sound quality, is woefully, and undocumentedly incomplete! Use your "resources" to locate a complete pressing of this demo.
- 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.
- In terms of the musical text itself, the demo lacks the intro, and interestingly doubles up the instrumental section at the end rather than in the middle.
- And some of the scat singing is motivated there by lyrics not yet finished, rather than for purposes of special effect.
"Oh for Pete's sake, it's only a joke." 062198#152
Copyright (c) 1998 by Alan W. Pollack
All Rights Reserved
This article may be reproduced, retransmitted, redistributed and otherwise propagated at will, provided that this notice remains intact and in place.