Monday, 2 September 2013

10:21 Honey Pie (pt.2)

Last time we saw how well McCartney wears the 1920's clothing of Honey Pie but for me the most impressive songwriting element is the way he rams together odd ill fitting chords but then smooths them over with an elegant melody.

How Strange The Change...

The odd chords may be old Beatles standbys - the Cm (m4 - ticket 8), the Eb7 (bVI - ticket 1) and the chords derived from going backwards through the circle of fifths (ticket 43) but Paul gets them in early (ticket 61) with the Cm (iv) in the 3rd bar of verse and the Eb7 (bVI) in the 3rd bar of the chorus and stays off the C maj (IV – ticket 7) till half way through the song (1:13 “thought of meeting you”). Though this sounds like a recipe for atonal disaster the reverse circle of fifth (or circle of fourths) movement actually keeps us grounded.

A7 D7 (G) - 0:24 end of verse “and if she...”
E7 A7 D7 G – 0:44 end of chorus A section “I'm in love...”
E7 Am D7 (G) – 1:14 end of chorus B section “makes me weak..”

The magic happens combining Eb7 and E7 – both the bVI and the VI are common substitutions but putting them next to each other (0:42) is a really arresting chord change.

You Can't Do That

Paul bluesifies his melody (ticket 22) as you might expect in a jazz style number but most of the out of key b3s are supported by chords

eg “Crazy” (Bb G Bb) over Eb7 (Eb G Bb Db)

and the melody is chord based with a few cool exceptions.

“North of England” (0:05) - b c a b over a Cm chord is a very spicy morsel. Though the the G major scale melody is fighting the out of key chord, Paul boldly goes for it.

The end of the B section is even more daring. Here the D# E F melody is not demanded by the key or the chords underneath (C E7 Am) yet Paul goes atonal for a few bars (1:13-1:18) “thought of meeting you makes me weak in the knee” and pulls it off with ease. I think we're afraid of dissonance in the west and could use it a lot more than we do, but you have to be a confident singer to pull it off. Remember – semitones are you friend!

He Got Rhythm

Another element that holds the tune together is the rhythmic cell of accented notes on the first beat and the “and” after the second beat. This is normally expressed as a three note phrase with notes either on

1 and (2) and
1 (and) 2 and

- the loose phrasing means it's not always easy to say which is which!

You can hear this in action when Paul sings “working girl/ honey pie /crazy /lazy /you became /silver screen /thought of meet /makes me weak” and the same 'pushed third beat' rhythm is picked by the whole band through the song (1:36, 1:44, 1:49, 2:29, 2:37).

Something In The Way He Moves

But the most effective tool in wrangling unruly chords is the way Paul uses melodic fragments (ticket 9). Faced with tying together G - Eb7 with E7 - A7 and having almost no commonality with notes, Paul uses the same melodic shape* on the second and third lines. Here's the notes -

A Honey Pie - B D G
B You are making me crazy – D E G E D Bb G Bb
B I'm in love but I'm lazy - Bb B E B A G E G
C So won't you please come home - D B C D Bb A G

Notice we're not talking about repeating the notes or supporting chords, which are all totally different, but the shape -

A Honey Pie - 1st note up down
B You are making me crazy - 1st note up up down down down down up
B I'm in love but I'm lazy - 1st note up up down down down down up
C So won't you please come home - 1st note up up up down down down

The middle two lines also rhyme in the same place for emphasis and the last three intervals are an exact copy - note, drop a minor 3rd, return to first note. Has to be deliberate!

I guess the big takeaways from this song are

  • Listen to other genres of music and try to play them. For every fruity song that Paul wrote there are 10 'regular' Beatles tracks that were spiced up with a weird chord or progression that they discovered banging out show tunes in Hamburg. John and Paul didn't learn C#m7b5 or Daug5 from Chuck Berry songs.
  • Practice singing odd intervals over chords till they feel comfortable. Don't always go for the root third and fifth of everything.
  • Pay attention to and repeat shapes in your melody, not just notes. Especially when you're trying to sing over weird chords.

Next up. Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Oh boy. They just keep getting more challenging...

*I hadn't pulled apart Honey Pie at the time, but I used this approach to navigate the crazy chords in the verse of The Ballad Of NDC - though obviously Paul get's better results! In fact, nobody does it better...


  1. Matt, I'm sure you've addressed this elsewhere, but Paul has always maintained that it has been to his advantage to NOT be formally trained in music, as he feels that knowing the "rules" might hamstring him when writing songs. You've noted in this post that in "Honey Pie," he keeps doing things that shouldn't work, but they do, and if they don't, he FORCES them to work. He would probably have been much less likely to attempt some of these sequences and changes if he were playing by the rules, knowing what he should and shouldn't do. I think his ignorance makes him a better, more adventurous songwriter.

  2. That's a very interesting point Rich. I think McCartney is right but for the wrong reasons and it's a bit more nuanced than that. I think too much classical/theoretical training early on really hamstrings creativity. Paul learned a massive amount practically without picking up the theory (Eddie Van Halen is another example). There's no benefit in continued ignorance which is what he (wrongly) espouses. The important thing is to deal with the what (learning playing writing music) FIRST and keep the why (scales theory) etc SECOND. If I had to pick one approach I would always chose Pauls - but if I whole hearted believed it I wouldn't be writing this blog!

  3. Love this blog and can't believe I only just found it today. Please keep it up. Your stuff is right up there with Pollack, Everett, MacDonald, Mellers, Moore. You need a book deal. Thanks!

  4. Thanks Sean - that's high praise indeed! Glad you like it. Working on Happiness Is A Warm Gun right now...