Monday, August 3, 2009

Honey Don't

I'd like to ease back into my work week, you know, kind of slide casually back into my office and back to my 500 unread emails with the grace of a smooth rockabilly guitar line. Besides which, Ringo makes a great role model for anyone who's feeling a bit tense-- who can listen to Ringo and not relax a little bit? So it's "Honey Don't" for me today, a sweet little Carl Perkins cover that Ringo just savors.

Each Beatle loved Carl Perkins, but Ringo and George seem to have been particularly infatuated-- George went so far as to name himself Carl Harrison during the brief period that the band tried stage names, and Ringo even tried to get a visa to the States in order to become a cowboy before the whole rock-band thing took off and he found another way of making a living. The boys got a chance to meet Perkins at some point in 1964 at the height of their fame, and Ringo actually got up the courage to ask the master if they could record "Honey Don't" for a record. To which he said, sure. Which was convenient, since "Honey Don't," originally released by Perkins as the B-side to "Blue Suede Shoes" back in 1956, had been in the Beatles' repertoire for a while now, and throwing it onto Beatles for Sale was an easy thing to do.

But here's what's really interesting-- "Honey Don't" HAD been in the Beatles' repertoire for years, but with John on the lead vocal. Live at the BBC offers us a live version dating to September of 1963 with John on lead vocals, and the differences are interesting. (Ringo's version for this album was recorded over a year later.) Of course, I can't FIND a damned video of this version of "Honey Don't" on YouTube, so you're going to have to dig out your own copy of Live at the BBC to hear it for yourself. In a nutshell, John rocks it out. And perhaps frequent readers won't be surprised to learn that I prefer John on this rockabilly classic-- he takes the rockabilly thing and jacks to up to something more intense, something more akin to straight-up rock and roll, which is where my own preferences lie. He even speeds up the tempo-- or, I don't know, maybe with his more energized vocals pumping energy into the track, the tempo has sped ITSELF up. Point is, the Live at the BBC version is, to my mind, superior.

Which is not to diminish Ringo's contribution here. It's just that Ringo is such a more relaxed singer-- a more naturally country-fried singer, perhaps. And to my ear, on the Beatles for Sale version George is plucking out a guitar line that is itself a lot more country-fried, as if he's been inspired by Ringo's tender, swinging vocal to kind of keep it laid back and chilled out. I mean, the guitar totally sounds as though George has a piece of straw hanging out of his mouth or something, I swear to God. But I do like the sound here, I should say. Even if there's something almost lackadaisical about the pace and the feel, and even if I know (because I've read books about such things) that that lackadaisicalness might be because the Beatles were just so damned tired during the Beatles for Sale sessions after a breakneck schedule of touring and so on, I think the track succeeds because of it, rather than in spite of it. George's guitar solo is like the musical equivalent of a lazy grin on the face of a cute boy on a hot summer's day, and Ringo's aw-shucks vocal just wins me over. Even if I'm not wired to LOVE this kind of music, "Honey Don't" ends up winning me over despite itself. If this is your kind of thing, by all means speak out and tell me what I'm missing-- that's fair. There's no denying that the playing is clean and competent and that the track shuffles along as well as it might, after all.

The Carl Perkins original, though? Schools 'em all. I don't always say that about these originals, but I gotta here. This is one of my favorite Carl Perkins tracks. He just sounds as flirty and jolly as all get out. You gotta listen to this one if you're not already familiar.

It's no wonder, really, that the Beatles liked to cover this song so much. It's a gem-- maybe even better than its A-side. I'm going to be bopping in my desk chair this whole work day. Oh yes. Oh, rock on, Carl, one time for Meg.

"Honey Don't," released in the U.K. side B track 3 of Beatles for Sale, December 4, 1964; in the U.S. side B track 1 of Beatles '65, December 15, 1964.


  1. There's no comparison; the Perkins version is superior in every way - singing and musically. As a singer, Ringo's a great drummer. The slower tempo on the Beatles cover makes the song drag. Yes, it is clean and perfect, but that's a problem for this number. It NEEDS energy, something lacking in the cover version. It feels like a "journeyman" effort. I need to pull out my Live at BBC and listen to it with John on vocal. I'm sure it will be better than the Ringo one. Better than Perkins? Have to get back to you on that one.

  2. I saw two of Ringo's all star concerts, he sang it in both, he is terrific live, a lot more of a rocker live. I loved Carl Perkins though. It IS a great song isn't it? Bill

  3. A few things- first of all - Carl Perkins was in the studio which may explain why John didn't sing it . . The E to C chord is great - Carl kept it, even though he KNEW it was "technically" wrong . . . plus there's a great "Lost Lennon Tape" from the "JL/POB" sessions where JL, Ringo and Klaus jam on some oldies, including "Honey Don't"

  4. Hey Anonymous, I just saw this comment so I'm way late, but I didn't know that there was some John/Ringo/Klaus jamming. I'll have to look for it. That said, I'm not sure the Beatles were the kind of band where John would have given the lead up to Ringo just because he was nervous with Carl there or whatever, though I could be wrong. My gut tells me that Ringo would have rehearsed it, at least... but I've never read exactly how this switch happened, I guess.