Monday, March 2, 2009

A Taste of Honey

Paul's reputation as a balladeering cheeseball begins with our song today, "A Taste of Honey." During the Beatles' live set, Paul liked to interrupt the rock and roll every so often to take center stage and sing something dreamy and old-fashioned for the swooning girls, and "A Taste of Honey" was a frequent number. It became a slow-dance song on Please Please Me, their first album, and started something of a tradition: the second album, With the Beatles, featured Paul wooing the girls with "Till There Was You," and by the third, A Hard Day's Night, Paul had written his own romantic standard, "And I Love Her."

The original version of this song was written and recorded by a Bobby Scott in 1960, and frequently covered by others, including, of all people, Barbara Streisand on her debut album. Which might tell you all you need to know about it, if you haven't heard it before.

I've never heard the original version of this and can't find it anywhere on the internet in the several seconds I've devoted to trying to find it. But the Beatles' version, to me, doesn't sound too much like a Beatles song-- not with those guitar arpeggio thingies and that exaggeratedly dramatic ending. (Apparently, the Picardy third on the last chord is pretty much the only change they made to the original.) And, sure, Paul is singing his heart out to us and no doubt making his patented gooey eyes, which is as cute as it always is. But the song just has "pop standard" written all over it, doesn't it? And not in a good way.

There's a part of me that appreciates that Paul just likes this kind of music and refuses to apologize for it. Of all the Beatles, Paul was the one who grew up in the most musical family-- his father had been in a band, and liked to play old-fashioned music hall songs and sweet ballads and things, which partly explains Paul's affection for that kind of thing (with "Your Mother Should Know" and such like). So that's great-- I think this kind of music makes Paul genuinely happy. And after all, considering he can do this kind of song AND rock out to "Long Tall Sally" in the same live show, he is clearly a god.

It's just hard to get that into a song like "A Taste of Honey" knowing that Paul would very soon be writing his own far superior romantic standards. I've already pointed out that "And I Love Her" was just over the horizon, and then comes the bliss of "Yesterday" and "Here, There, and Everywhere" and "Maybe I'm Amazed" and on and on. Taken in the context of the Beatles' entire career, the song sounds dated and kind of slight. I'm sure contemporary girls loved it-- and it WAS in their live set, which means that crowds responded to it positively. In fact, the version on Live at the BBC might be superior-- I think they're having a little more fun with it, and Paul's vocal somehow sounds almost rakish in that recording. 

Still, though, I can get into "A Taste of Honey" in my most syrupy moods, or when I get to feeling like the tragic preteen that I seem to remember being once upon a time. Some songs might not be all there, but Paul-- with the help of the band-- can just SELL them.

"A Taste of Honey," released in the U.K. side B track 5 of Please Please Me, March 22, 1963; in the U.S. side B track 4 of Vee Jay's Introducing the Beatles, January 10, 1964.
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