Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Honey Pie

Richard Furnstein: Oof. Get a load of this shiny turd bouncing around with a top hat and cane. How did Paul McCartney find the nerve to unleash this stench in the hallowed halls of Abbey Road? At best, he should have dropped this stinker in the comfort of his own home, never to be revealed to the world. Close the lid, flush, and walk away. "Honey Pie" should be nothing more than a scratchy demo created on his Brunnell tape deck: a holy grail for the many McCartney Cold Cuts devotees. As it stands, The Beatles should have provided a barf bag with The White Album instead of that collage poster. At least then unsuspecting rock and roll fans would have someplace to deposit their chunky mouth waste after hearing this awful song. I mean, COME ON.

Robert Bunter: Listen more deeply, friend. “Honey Pie” is indeed the third installment of what was to become a long line of McCartney’s affectionate tributes to the prewar music hall supper-club standards that he so admired (“When I’m 64,” “Your Mother Should Know,” and certainly many more in the solo years – a process that culminated in 2013’s geriatric Kisses On The Bottom standards album, a brilliant late-career masterpiece which will one day receive the same critical re-evaluation that belatedly dawned on McCartney II and Wild Life). You would be correct to turn up your nose at Paulie’s smirking, saccharine platter (or at least as correct as you are about anything else to do with McCartney, which is hardly at all). “Honey Pie” is elevated by its context. Alongside the sour, dark and frightening moods of much of the accompanying material, Paul’s soft-shoe shuffle seems less like a carefree romp through a rose-colored yesteryear and more like a grown man wearing a tiny little boy’s sailor suit and holding a balloon and lollipop on the outskirts of some nightmarish construction site where three other men are grimly setting about the business of tearing down your fondest illusions with poisonous tools and jagged vehicles. The man-child hugs his balloon tightly to his chest and closes his eyes. His face is covered with stubble and the sailor suit needs washing. He hums a happy little song to himself and tries to ignore the stench of death but it creeps in. Listen to that chord on the word “crazy.” This song is every bit as heavy as “Glass Onion” or “Revolution 9” for them that have ears to hear. Listen … listen.

Richard Furnstein: Sure, this malformed batch of rock candy makes some sense sitting next to the sleaze boogies of "Revolution 1" and "Savoy Truffle." We have George Martin to thank for his wise sequencing choices for The Beatles.* Indeed, The White Album may be his greatest track listing accomplishment.

Okay, let's find something to like about this track. George Martin's arrangement connects the rooty-tooty tin pan alley sound with black and white movie schmaltz. The clarinets make the song. Paul does a great Ringo impersonation with his delivery of the line "in the U.S.A." In fact, I always hope that it is Ringo, straw boater clutched to his chest as he passionately delivers that lyric. I was shocked to read that John even bothered to play anything on this cloud of granny flatulence, but there he is poking out that jolly guitar solo. It truly was a team effort to make something this rotten. The Beatles didn't polish the turd, they just wiped a tea towel over it and got human waste all over their hands. Wash up, boys.

Robert Bunter: If you’re willing to acknowledge that the song makes some sense in context, I’ll meet you halfway and admit that there are some cringe-worthy moments. Paul’s falsetto warbling of “oooh … hah … I like this kinda hot kinda music, hot kinda music, play it to me, play it to me honey with blues” is really goony, and you can just tell that he thinks he’s kidding around, but you know deep down that he meant it. Let’s face it, this kind of music is at the primal core of McCartney’s soul. When you hear Paul slip into that debonair crooner mode (from “Besame Mucho” on the Beatles’ earliest crude EMI demo acetates to the aforementioned recent Kisses On The Bottom digital download disc file), you’re really listening to the deepest soul of the man. He can’t help it, and it’s beautiful.

Richard Furnstein: It's true. The gentle shuffle and swing of the music hall was in young James Paul McCartney's bloodstream. His father Jim was a trumpet player and pianist in Jim Mac's Jazz Band in the careless twenties. I've always heard Paul's granny music tendencies as his attempt to connect with the frivolous age of his parents, before the gloom and urban decay of war took over sooty England. In a way, it's easy to hear these songs as Paul's primal scream: the harrowing echoes of childhood. The lost promise of the youthful smile in photos of a mother that died when was 14 years old. While John drained his gleets all over the studio floor during his punishing exorcisms on Plastic Ono Band and the "Cold Turkey" single, Paul chose to channel his loss and anger into levity, thrown voices, and bubbling trumpet lines. "My Mummy's Dead" b/w "Daddy Won't Buy Me A Bow Wow." I guess we all have to face our demons on our own terms, Robert.

You’re really listening to the deepest soul of the man. He can’t help it, and it’s beautiful.
Robert Bunter: I really agree with everything you’ve written there, Richard. The reason Paul’s granny material is so vexing is that he was quite evidently capable of crafting extraordinary work in any style of music he put his hand to. C’mon, man! How about another “Penny Lane,” another “Helter Skelter,” another “Blackbird,” another “Maybe I’m Amazed”? Quit ladling out tepid bowls of Uncle Swabson’s Olde-Time Buttercreamed Oaty Meal when we know you’ve got a perfectly divine spiced crown roast of premium-grade top loin there in the kitchen, just waiting to be served! Well, I’m afraid that’s not always how it works. Stop being a pig. He’s provided you with plenty of nourishment over the years, thank you very much. I’d like you to take a little mind-journey with me here, OK? You’re a kid and you’re Paul McCartney’s nephew. He gives you wonderful presents and you love him very much but you don’t get to see him often because he’s still quite busy. A visit with “Uncle Jimmy” (as you call him) is a rare treat. But then there was this one time when you got to spend a whole weekend there. Mum and Pap dropped you off at his Scottish farmhouse for some quality time and it just so happened that his then-wife Heather Mills was away that weekend and none of the other family were visiting. Just you and him. He is charming, doting and attentive. Fixing breakfast, taking a walk by the lamb pasture, watching a little TV. Then, in the cool September evening as the sun is starting to set, he sits down at the piano in the parlour. He’s going to sing you a few songs! Even as a young child, you’re aware that a private musical performance by Paul McCartney is a rare treasure. So what’s he going to play? “C Moon”? The middle part of “A Day In The Life?” “Kreen-Akore?” Get the hell out of here! He’s going to play the simple, beautiful music that lies closest to his heart. “Stardust.” “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie.” “September In The Rain.” “My Funny Valentine.” He’s going to look you right in the eyes and smile. The two of you have never been closer. With songs like “Honey Pie,” we all have a chance to be that nephew. His name is Bobby. Little Bobby Bunter McCartney. If you want to turn your nose up at that and quarrel about tracklists and guitar solos, that’s fine. Me and Uncle Jimmy …. uh, I mean … hypothetical nephew Bobby McCartney and James Paul McCartney … will be right here in the front parlour. We’re doing just fine.

*Two crucial clunkers in Martin's album sequencing for the band are the brutal side closing covers on Beatles For Sale ("Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey" and "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby"). However, this was probably due to lack of quality material for the album.