Recording "Honey Pie"

Wednesday, October 2, 1968 • For The Beatles

Part of


"The Beatles" (aka the White Album) sessions

May 30 - Oct 18, 1968 • Songs recorded during this session appear on The Beatles (Mono)

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the The Beatles (Mono) LP.
Studio:
Trident Studios, London, UK

Master release


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About

The Beatles spent this entire week of recording at Trident Studios. On the previous day, they had recorded the basic track for Paul McCartney’s “Honey Pie“, named Take 1. On this day, from 4 pm to 3:30 am, they added overdubs.

Paul McCartney recorded his lead vocal. John Lennon played a guitar solo in the instrumental section of the song, and another guitar part during the introductory verse. Ringo Starr also added a few cymbal grabs.

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

The next session was spent on George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle“, and work on “Honey Pie” resumed on October 4, still at Trident.


American songwriter, composer, and singer Jimmy Webb attended one of the “Honey Pie” sessions at Trident Studios. This might as well be on this day. Here is his recollection:

I was invited to a Beatles session through the auspices of Harv and Ron Cass. I hopped on the next Pan Am flight back to London.

Unbeknownst to me, The Beatles were very antsy about visitors in the studio though I would have found that attitude perfectly understandable. In his book “Here, There and Everywhere”, Geoff Emerick described their prickly demeanor when confronted with looky loos and front office types while at work. As Harv and I navigated the narrow alley called Queen Anne’s Court, searching for the nondescript entrance to Trident Studios in Wardour Street, I could scarcely believe our good luck.

We hit the buzzer and a figure appeared in a window overhead. “Ooh is it then?” he yelled. Harv made the introductions. A strapping young man in jeans and a rumpled T-shirt admitted us with no further security measures. Besides some upbeat music faintly audible through a door in front of us there was no sign of life in the foyer. No groupies, no guards or receptionist, just an expressionless young fellow escorting us along a corridor decorated with award discs. It seemed a long walk toward the tinny timbre of the music, echoing, it seemed, from another era.

Honey Pie, my condition is tragic
Come and show me the magic
Of your Hollywood song

We opened a door into the control room and I dropped onto a black leatherette couch, as far away from the action as possible. After shuffling uncertainly for a moment Harv did the same. The name of the game when visiting a film set or recording session or backstage is to make yourself as small as possible. Nothing grates on my nerves like an unsolicited opinion or even unintentional noise from a visitor. Therefore, I kept quiet and tried to observe and remember as much as possible for the day when I might want to write it down.

Directly in front of me the wide window, found in most studios, revealed that the studio itself was one floor below the contro! desk. I had no view of the goings-on down on the studio floor, though I could hear the familiar Liverpudlian chatter of some of the most famous voices in the world. The take had broken down and The Beatles were talking.

They were consulting with a silver-haired gentleman seated behind the board, the word gentleman not being chosen lightly because starting with his appearance he could have been nothing else. He stood, speaking softly yet firmly, radiating confidence and trustworthiness. He was tall, almost gangly, and yet his stance was erect and noble. He was an astounding-looking man. So this was George Martin. I had half-expected a tubby, balding, uncouth, sweating record producer. This individual looked as though he had descended from the cast of Korda’s The Shape of Things to Come.

As the session progressed, with no one having taken the slightest notice of my presence, I emboldened myself to stand up. Now I could see clearly into the mysterious lower chamber of the studio. On the left side, McCartney sat at a grand piano wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a sweater tied loosely around his neck. He seemed to be making the lyrics up as he went along and was stopping the takes frequently. Linda Eastman sat behind him on the piano bench, motorcycle style, her arms tightly around his neck, chin resting on his shoulder. I was amazed that he could play or sing at all with this considerable handicap but he seemed to be inordinately cheerful, chortling and wisecracking constantly. The deliberately banal lyrics continued:

Honey pie, you are driving me crazy
I’m in love but I’m lazy
So won’t you please come home

On the right side of the studio was another tableau. John Lennon, long-bearded and adorned by a thick fall of dark brown hair, sat on an intricate rug of Indian design, legs folded in the manner of a yogi. He sat calmly and for the most part silently, cradling an acoustic guitar on his lap, which appeared to be a Martin D-18. He strummed along with Paul sometimes and sometimes not. Close by sat Yoko Ono in support, occasionally kissing or trifling with his hair, sometimes resting her right arm around his shoulder. Candies and incense burned around them in a semicircle creating the impression of an improvised altar.

Standing between the two collaborators and their respective girlfriends, George Harrison diffidently plucked at an electric bass on a strap, spaghetti thin and seemingly at a remove from the other two.

And what of the fourth? There was no sign of any drums and yet I could hear them snapping along on the two-beat rhythm, high hat and bass drum. Ringo’s voice was clearly audible on the studio monitors.

How long am I going to have to stay in here?” he asked at least once.

Hello?” he would inquire plaintively.

Is anybody listening?

The truth is no one appeared to paying much attention to him. He was in a drum booth directly beneath the control room, a sort of windowless cell, where he whiled away the hours sequestered from human contact.

The arrangement of the personnel was somewhat strange to my eye. No American band would play without eye contact from the drummer, who was — in spite of much demeaning banter to the contrary—often considered to be the most valuable of members.

There was much symbolism to be read into the physical arrangement of the onetime “mop tops.”

After a few runs at the track, which seemed focused primarily on Paul’s piano, Martin and McCartney decided it was time for a listen and the band broke. John was invited in for the playback but declined.

I’ll just stay here with me drums,” Ringo also responded, morosely.

After a short delay, Linda and Paul burst through the door laughing, and Harrison followed. The second engineer fiddled with some tapes and suddenly it seemed a whole other track, featuring a lot of electric guitar, was on the overheads.

Hey everybody, I want you to meet Tom Dowd from Atlantic Records!” Paul announced to the room and I looked at the control room door, expecting to see the engineering/producing legend from Atlantic Records. There were no new arrivals. George Martin extended his hand in welcome to me. Confusedly I got up off the couch.

I’m Jimmy,” I said to George Martin who smiled at me with sympathy and a bit of pity.

So Tom,” McCartney said, too loud and right in my face, “fantastic, you’re such a legend and all! Want to hear a track?

I’m Jimmy,” I said extending my hand. Paul ignored it.

Take a listen to this, Tom,” he barreled ahead nodding at the second engineer. A button was pushed and a guitar solo blared at his extraordinary level, which I would learn was standard for the group. George Martin eventually lost his hearing in both ears. I stood nervously beside him and yet being trained to listen analytically, I automatically evaluated the playing. For originality and powerful rendition, it was superb.

So Tom, what do you think of that take?

Very good,” I said, “but I’m not…

Good, then I have another take…” He nodded at the second engineer and a different guitar solo thundered in the tiny room. Once again I automatically concentrated on the performance. He would get no hackneyed answer from me.

That one was very good as well,” I said honestly. “Amazing.

Which one would you choose, Tom?” Everyone else in the room, Harrison, Harv, Martin, and balance engineer Barry Sheffield stood simply watching. I was bewildered. Did Paul McCartney actually think he was speaking to Tom Dowd? If so he was pretty high on some very good shit. If he knew he was talking to me, he was having me off royally.

I wouldn’t make a decision like that for you, Paul,” I said. I was getting pissed.

Well” — he laughed, a demented court jester — “I guess we’d better get back to work.”

They stood and listened to “Honey Pie” a couple of times. Any additional opinion of mine was not solicited. They all trooped back downstairs and only George Harrison paused as he passed me to say, “Fantastic arrangement on ‘MacArthur Park,’ Jim.” He smiled and shook my hand warmly.

As they left the control room so did I. Harv trailed me into the alley.

What the hell was that all about?” Harv seemed genuinely confused.

Paul called me last year and asked me to write a song for Mary Hopkin’s album,” I clarified.

So?” he asked me.

I guess I should have tried a little harder,” I said with resignation. It was the only reason I could think of for such bizarre theatre. Henceforth, Paul and I were never what you could call friends.

Jimmy Webb – From “Jimmy Webb: The Cake and the Rain”, 2017

There seem to be a few inaccuracies in this recollection. John Lennon was not bearded during the recording of the White Album. Mary Hopkin was signed by Apple in May 1968, so it couldn’t be a year since Paul called Jimmy Webb about her.

Jim Webb the noted American songwriter paid a very brief visit to a Beatles recording session at the beginning of October. Paul would like Jim to write one or two numbers specially for Mary Hopkin for her first Apple LP album which Paul is busy producing at the moment.

From the Beatles Monthly Book, N°64, November 1968

Last updated on October 2, 2021

Songs recorded


1.

Honey Pie

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Recording • SI onto take 1

Staff

Musicians on "Honey Pie"

Paul McCartney:
Lead vocal
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Electric guitar, Rhythm guitar

Production staff

George Martin:
Producer
Barry Sheffield:
Engineer

Going further


The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions • Mark Lewisohn

The definitive guide for every Beatles recording sessions from 1962 to 1970.

We owe a lot to Mark Lewisohn for the creation of those session pages, but you really have to buy this book to get all the details - the number of takes for each song, who contributed what, a description of the context and how each session went, various photographies... And an introductory interview with Paul McCartney!

Shop on Amazon


If we like to think, in all modesty, that the Paul McCartney Project is the best online ressource for everything Paul McCartney, The Beatles Bible is for sure the definitive online site focused on the Beatles. There are obviously some overlap in terms of content between the two sites, but also some major differences in terms of approach.

Read more on The Beatles Bible

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