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notes on ...

Notes on "Wild Honey Pie"


Notes on ... Series #134 (WHP)
  by Alan W. Pollack
       Key: G Major
     Meter: 4/4
            ---- 3X --------
      Form: Break | Refrain | Outro (with complete ending)
        CD: "White Album", Disc 1, Track 5 (Parlophone CDS7 46443-8)
  Recorded: 20th August 1968, Abbey Road 2
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 This little bonsai tree of a song compels our interest from at least three perspectives, no matter how slight you may find it in terms of content.
  Next note The first thing to note is how the song seems to be purposely placed where it is to keep you diverted and/or distracted while the stage hands change sets, as it were, during the entr'acte separating "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" from "... Bungalow Bill". The gesture represents a theatrical exploitation of the LP album qua "medium" that is not to be under-estimated.
  Next note Secondly, this song is, in terms of form, much more of a complete miniature than an offhanded fragment; as long as you're willing to step back and accept a rather minimalistic/schematic definition of "form." Paul would play this trick at least twice more with "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" and "Her Majesty". The "Brother, can you take me back ..." coda to "Cry Baby Cry" provides a clearly fragmentary counter example. And the mini-medleys of, say, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and "You Never Give Me Your Money" alternatively suggest how similar fragments can be successfully integrated to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Melody and Harmony

  Next note There's not much of either here but what fits, we print :-)
  Next note The harmonic vocabulary essentially is no more than a semi-chromatic chord stream of dominant seventh chords, with just enough root movement included to establish a very bluesy kind of G Major as the home key. The blues are conjured here by the appearance of I with its dominant seventh, and the implied Major/minor cross-relation on I that is most pronounced at the very end of the song.
  Next note The way in which you hear B-natural topping the G-Major chord at the start of this track in comparison with having most recently heard it as the root note of the previous song is a delightful cracked-mirror effect; one that was not lost on the likes of Beethoven, Schubert, and Bizet! (Regarding the latter, check out the Overture to "Carmen"; the outer sections are in A Major, but the "Toreador Song" middle section is abruptly in F.)


  Next note This is the first (in terms of order of appearance) of what would turn out to be a small, widely scattered group of tracks in which Paul, in spite of the relatively primitive techniques of the time, would self-produce himself as a one man band.
  Next note The backing track is dominated by a harpsichord, a drumming part that might have been thumped on an old skiffle tea chest, and what sounds like a "dobro" (or other very steely-sounding) guitar played with a glassy, comically inaccurate slide.
  Next note The vocal track is filled with twisty overdubs, all different, many of which sound like Paul's personal incarnation of some Monty Python-like Ministry of Funny Voices; it's a perennial Brit-humor thing, like dissing roman Catholics.

Section-by-Section Walkthrough



  Next note The opening instrumental section which repeats three times more or less verbatim is an unusual seven measures long; even for such a throwaway, they'd take the time to do something a little off-beat:
      |G       |-       |F       |-       |E       |E-flat  |D       |
   G:  I                                                     V

   [Figure 134.1]
  Next note All the chords are dominant sevenths; listen to the harpsichord part in which you can here the descending parallel set of tritones in the right hand: F/B -» E-flat/A -» D/G# -» C/F#. The only chords that deserve roman numerals are the pillars of I and V.


  Next note The V chord that ends the break is resolved by this simple sung refrain whose lyrics are no more complicated than two-thirds of the song's title:
      |G7      |-       |-       |-       |
   G:  I

   [Figure 134.2]


  Next note The outro is just an extension of the refrain in which an unusually altered version of the V chord is used to make the final cadence:
        ---------- 2X -----------
      |G           |-           |d half dim  |-           |
   G:  I                         v7 (b5)

      |G           |-           |

   [Figure 134.3]
  Next note The bassline movement in the final measures goes from G to F and back again, tempting me to analyze the penultimate chord as f-minor, or flat minor [!] VII. However, the persistence of the pitch D as a melodic type of pedal tone suggests that the chord is rooted on D (with both flattened third and fifth), appearing in its first inversion; i.e. spelling it from the bottom up: F - A-flat - C - D.

Some Final Thoughts

  Next note So, we find Paul playing tigers, again; this time with a rather amusing put-on of what might be stylistically described as a blue-grass, back-woods ("Black Mountain Hills"?) melange. And that brings us to the third point of interest.
  Next note All the Beatles' albums are stylistically diverse. Don't kid yourself; this is true even of the early ones some of you are used to dismissing more homogenized and somehow less profound than they truly are. But, against this backdrop, the "White Album" still represents not just a high water mark for sheer number of diverse styles included in a single collection, but it also courts an aesthetic of stylistic surprise, non-sequitur, and sound-bite.
  Next note For an album whose vanishing point is in the environs of "Revolution #9" followed by "Good Night", you could say that the rapid string of costume changes here in the middle of "Side 1" (don't forget to include the little flamenco cadenza for acoustic guitar in e minor), are an early clue to the new direction.
  Alan (081797#134)
Copyright © 1997 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.