alan w. pollack's
notes on ...

Notes on "Honey Pie"


Notes on ... Series #152 (HP)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: G Major
     Meter: 4/4
      Form: Intro | Verse | Verse | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Verse (instrumental) |
                  | Verse (instrumental) | Bridge |
                  | Verse | Verse (instrumental) with complete ending
        CD: "White Album", Disc 2, Track 9 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 1st, 2nd, 4th October 1968, Trident Studios
UK-release: 22nd November 1968 (LP "White Album")
US-release: 25th November 1968 (LP "White Album")

General Points of Interest


Style and Form

  Next note You know I'm not a big fan of Paul's Old 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 Twenties or from the very primitive "talkie" films of the early thirties, 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.
  Next note 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.
  Next note 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

  Next note The tune covers a broad range using a triadically jumpy style that nicely showcases Paul's voice.
  Next note A lavish number of chords not indigenous to the home key is used here including flat-VI, 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).


  Next note The backing track presents a parody of the corny stage band fox-trot style that is authentically stylized to point of being surreal. Kudos to George Martin.
  Next note 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.
  Next note 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 obbligato 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 thirds.
  Next note 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.
  Next note 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.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The intro is twelve 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           |
   G:  ii    V-of-V  V            iv           I

      |A            |-           |D           |-           |
       V9                         V

   [Figure 152.1]
  Next note The c-minor chord creates the faint suggestion of a double cross relation (between E-flat and E, and between C and C#) with the A-Major chord of the first measure, even though one complete measure separates the two.
  Next note A particularly sentimental effect is created by the way in which the vocal part adds a ninth to the A chord of the final phrase, especially given the halting, rubato performance.


  Next note The verse is eight measures long, structured in four short phrases, the last three of which use the same motif as a springboard:
      |G           |-           |E-flat      |E-natural    |
   G:  I                         flat-VI      V-of-V-of-V

      |A           |D           |G           |E-flat  D    |
       V-of-V       V            I            flat-VI V

   [Figure 152.2]
  Next note Within a relatively short stretch, we find the E-flat chord cleverly used to go "both ways"; as an upward-bound appoggiatura to E-Major, and as a downward-bound lead in to V.
  Next note Measures 4 - 7 contain a four-step tiptoe through the circle of fifths, yet another harmonic cliché worth its weight in antique pop music connotations.
  Next note The tune forces a seventh on the A chord, and a thirteenth (relax, it's the same thing as an added sixth) on the following D chord.
  Next note 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-Major (in measure 7) and e-minor (in measure 1 of the bridge).


  Next note The bridge is eight 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  |
      G:  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

   [Figure 152.3]
  Next note 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.
  Next note 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.


  Next note 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

  Next note As with the rest of the Esher demos [**], the one for this song is interesting in terms of what it or omits with respect to the official version. Note carefully that the version of the demo released on "Anthology", Volume 3, while in admirable sound quality, is woefully, and undocumentedly incomplete! Use your "resources" to locate a complete pressing of this demo.
  Next note 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.
  Next note 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.
  Next note And some of the scat singing is motivated there by lyrics not yet finished, rather than for purposes of special effect.
  [** The so-called Esher demos consist of 26 demos recorded at George Harrison's Esher bungalow, between the return of Lennon and Harrison from Rishikesh, India, in April 1968 and the start of the recordings for the "White Album" on the 30th of May 1968. Some of these were released on "Anthology", Volume 3.]
  Alan (062198#152)
Copyright © 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.