Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"A Taste of Honey"

"A Taste of Honey" is probably the least essential track on Please Please Me. It's a rather flimsy pop standard from the early 1960s that hasn't aged well and likely found its way onto The Beatles' debut because, at the time, an instrumental version was relatively popular, the boys needed songs, and this was one they knew. It's possible I'm wrong, but I strain to find what might have attracted The Beatles to this song, separate from the facts above. For the most part, it's dull and plodding, a sluggish trot that doesn't offer much in the way of melodic or rhythmic appeal. From a technical standpoint, Paul handles the lead vocal without any difficulty. But he just seems to be going through the motions. And overall, there's little happening sonically.

More importantly, there's something about The Beatles' execution that gives "Honey" a tone which my modern ears find uneven and a bit awkward. The lyric centers on a guy yearning for the sweet sensation ("a taste of honey") that he experiences when kissing a certain girl. Not surprising for early '60s pop. It's far from a serious song but The Beatles don't accentuate much of its potential silliness. Or maybe they do with one part, only unknowingly. The silliness I mention comes mainly from the repeated and sometimes melodramatic use of the word "honey." I understand that, as employed, it's a convenient proxy for feelings of physical pleasure (however innocent or otherwise). That's obvious enough. But in this case, it also lends a frivolous quality to the proceedings. How can you take a song seriously when the lead singer is earnestly vowing to return for a taste of that irresistible "honey," while at the same time, little else about the song seems consciously humorous? The rest is pretty straightforward, in fact. If The Beatles had done more to emphasize "Honey's" ironic side (i.e. by adding a colorful guitar section or a more playful vocal- anything to liven and loosen things up), then maybe it wouldn't have struck me as such a misfire. Without any of that, without more evidence of a comic intent, it's hard to interpret the one silly part- the hammed-up use of "honey"- as a willful attempt at humor. As is (and aided by my 21st century sensibilities), the various parts of "A Taste of Honey" don't add up.

Thankfully, the two tracks that follow "A Taste of Honey" and conclude Please Please Me are both unmissable classics: "There's a Place" and "Twist and Shout."

(If the video is removed, go here.)

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