By October 1968, The Beatles probably considered it a miracle that they were almost finished The White Album. Since they began work on the double record at the end of May, they’d experienced just about every problem a band could have.
When they weren’t fighting over tedious retakes or working on their own, they were figuring out how to get down drum tracks down after Ringo left the band. But Ringo wasn’t the only one with that idea.
Geoff Emerick, the Beatles’ Grammy-winning engineer, also gave up on the band during these contentious sessions. And George Harrison thought about doing the same. (An assist by Eric Clapton might have kept him in the band.)
When Paul McCartney led the band through one of his self-described “fruity” songs late in the White Album sessions, the mood seemed to be, “Let’s get this done.” And the lineup on “Honey Pie” reflected that.
‘Honey Pie’ had John playing lead guitar and George working on bass
It might have been the change of scenery that had the Fab Four in the mood early that October. For the week in question, the band worked at Trident Studios rather than at Abbey Road. “I like this hot kind of music!” Paul said, getting ready at the start of the session.
“Honey Pie,” the song the band would tackle for the next few days, was one Paul said was him “pretending I’m living in 1925.” (John Lennon would have called this Paul’s “granny music.”) But before they recorded the clarinet part, they needed to get down the basic track.
Paul worked on piano and Ringo was at his usual spot behind the drum kit, so that left the other instruments open. John took lead guitar duties, leaving the bass part for George. And that’s how the band recorded it.
As for the guitar solo on one of Paul’s songs, it was unusual for John to handle that. But that’s how George remembered it. In fact, George spoke admiringly of the solo John recorded during those days at Trident.
George called John’s solo ‘brilliant’ and compared him to a jazz master
While John wasn’t known for his scorched-earth guitar licks, he had his moments on lead. His guitar solo on “Get Back,” for example, hasn’t lost any of its swagger over the years. (John worked out that part while George was away from the band following his own walkout.)
Looking back in 1987, George said he loved John’s playing at these sessions. “John played a brilliant solo on ‘Honey Pie,'” he said. “Sounded like Django Reinhardt or something. It was one of them where you just close your eyes and happen to hit all the right notes … sounded like a little jazz solo.”
For Paul to leave it in (instead of recording his own solo), he must have agreed John’s mini-solo worked well enough. And he was definitely feeling the song.
“My dad’s always played fruity old songs like that, you know. And I liked ’em,” Paul said around the time of the White Album release. “I would quite like to have been a 1920’s writer … I like that thing, you know. Up in top hat and tails and sort of coming on to ’em.”