This song was a pastiche of the classic 1940's swing and sentimental ballads written by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or Sammy Cahn. Paul McCartney explained in Barry Miles' biography of the Beatle, Many Years From Now: "Both John and I had a great love for music hall I very much liked that old crooner style - the strange fruity voice that they used, so 'Honey Pie' was me writing one of them to an imaginary woman, across the ocean, on the silver screen, who was called Honey Pie. It's another of my fantasy songs. We put a sound on my voice to make it sound like a scratchy old record. So it's not a parody, it's a nod to the vaudeville tradition that I was raised on."
John Lennon played lead guitar, George Harrison bass. During the White Album sessions, The Beatles often recorded in separate studios recording different parts. One would be doing vocals for a song while the other would do horns or guitar in a different studio. George Martin's assistant Chris Thomas ended up doing much of the work because Martin couldn't be in two places at once.
Scratches were added to an opening line from an old 78 RPM record to give a dated feel.
Beatles producer George Martin scored the brass and woodwind arrangement.
She came into the bathroom window
Paul McCartney wrote this about a fan who broke into his house. Diane Ashley claims it was her. "We found a ladder in his garden and stuck it up the bathroom window which he'd left slightly open," she said. "I was the one who climbed up and got in."
Now married with four children, Diane keeps a framed photo of herself with Paul on her kitchen shelf and looks back on her days as an Apple Scruff with affection: "I don't regret any of it. I had a great time, a really great time."
Landis Kearnon (known at the time as Susie Landis) gave us the following account:
Here, all this time I thought this song was written about me and my friend Judy. What a surprise to learn there was someone named Diane Ashley who put a ladder up to Paul's house and climbed in through the bathroom window. This and the bit about "quit the police department" being inspired by an ex-cop taxi driver in NYC tells me something I already know about songwriting, which is that many songs are composites. This one obviously was because Diane wasn't the only person having a profound effect on Paul McCartney by crawling in a bathroom window in 1967 (maybe '68 in her case). Judy and I were paid $1500 by Greene & Stone, a couple of sleazy artist managers driving around the Sunset Strip in a Chinchilla-lined caddy limo, to "borrow" the quarter-inch master of "A Day In The Life" off of David Crosby's reel-to-reel, drive it to Sunset Sound studios in Hollywood where Greene & Stone duped it, then put it back where we found it at Crosby's Beverly Glen Canyon pad. Crosby was playing with the Byrds that day in Venice so we knew his house was empty. This was the day after a major rainstorm so the back of his house was one big mudslide. We climbed up it, leaving 8-inch deep footprints and, you guessed it, gained access via the bathroom window, leaving behind footprints and a veritable goldmine of forensic matter. We were really nervous and did not make clear mental notes of how the master reel was on the player, but did have the sense to leave Crosby's front door unlocked while we drove across town and back. After the tape was back on the machine (badly) we changed out of our muddy shoes, drove to the Cheetah in Venice, and hung out with the Byrds into the evening, thinking we were awfully clever and cute. We did not know why Greene & Stone would pay so much money for a copy of a Beatles song, other than the fact that is was a groundbreaking and mind-blowing piece, but found out the next day when we heard "A Day In The Life" on KHJ, I think it was. Greene & Stone had used it as payola to get one of their groups, The Cake, singing "Yes We Have No Bananas," on the air. Which they did, and it sucked, but oh well. By the following day "A Day In The Life" was no longer on the air. And just a day or two after that there was a front page blurb in the LA Times about "A Day In The Life" getting aired one month prior to the release date of the single and the Sgt. Pepper LP, which apparently cost the Beatles plenty and they were suing Capitol or Columbia, whichever the label was, for $2 million... and McCartney was flying in from London to deal with the mess. Oops. Judy and I nearly sank through the floor. Though we were active "dancers" in the various nightclubs on the Sunset Strip, we lay low for a while, not knowing what to expect. In fact, other than a song being written and a GREAT cover by Joe Cocker, nothing happened. We got our money, spent it on groovy clothes, of course (what else was there?) and never heard a word about it.
"I knew what I could not say" and "protected by a silver spoon" seemed to explain why there were no repercussions. My dad was a TV director who had already threatened to bust and ruin David Crosby for smoking pot with and deflowering his daughter; he had clout and David was afraid of him. Judy was from money and influence too. I feel that David knew exactly who had broken in and borrowed the tape but couldn't press charges. He probably wasn't supposed to be playing the master for all his friends and hangers-on, so there must have been hell to pay for him. I always felt bad for the cred it must have cost him with his friend Paul McCartney.
Oh, the bit about "Sunday's on the phone to Monday, Tuesday's on the phone to me" - that was somebody named Sunday, maybe a detective, I can't remember now, calling the producer Billy Monday about the break-in and song leak. Billy Monday, knowing she was a friend of McCartney's, called Tuesday Weld, and it was she who called Paul in London and told him the news. Well, I guess I didn't make this very short after all. But you can't tell me that this incident didn't feed into the overall inspiration for the song. I'm just glad it turned out so cool and hope it made a heap for them in compensation for the publicity costs at the outset.
It was interesting and exciting then, that's for sure. Even though I came of age into that scene and had nothing to compare it to, I still had a sense at the time of being at the epicenter of something big. Some of that was attributable to the hubris of youth, but some of it turned out to be real, as it happened. Now, present time, it makes my day to come across someone who still finds it interesting or even knows what or whom I'm talking about. By the way, I never did get to meet the Beatles, though I was invited to party where they were staying once, when I was 17. My mother wouldn't let me go! I never forgave her.
I lived in LA until 1987 where I was a model, actress, (groupie, but that wasn't professional), marching band manager, religious (Buddhist) leader, newspaper columnist, secretary, copywriter, copy editor, account executive, screenwriter, songwriter, band leader, session singer, textile designer, artist. Since then, in the Santa Fe area and now, since 1992, in Tucson, I continued my artistic and musical endeavors, ran a fabric-painting factory, was a jazz singer for several years (which has mutated to something more individual and artistic of late), have worked numerous odd jobs from pizza delivery to bookstore management, and am now close to completing my first novel, which is set in a Buddhist cult in the early '70s.
In the '70s I traveled halfway around the world on a square-rigged cargo ship, lived and sang in Europe for three years, and, as of 1991, am a mother of one though I never married.
Subsequent to the bathroom window event, my friend and partner in crime, as it were, Judy, went off with a Dick Clark Productions road show (can't remember the name of it but it was something timely) as "Irma the Dancing Girl." Her job, nightly, in each new town, was to put on a bikini, dance, and paint wild, acid abstract canvases with her extremely long blond hair. I, on the other hand, joined a Buddhist cult, which was like living on another planet entirely, and completely disappeared from view, as far as the "scene" was concerned. Judy and I didn't hang out much after we realized the impact of our little romp. We didn't talk about it, but we may have decided at some level that we pushed our combined wildness a bit too far on that one and moved on to "safer" friends. I saw her once in the early '70s. She had been married and divorced, was the mother of one, and that was the last contact we had.
The Beatles recorded this as one song with "Polythene Pam."
The Beatles gave this to Joe Cocker, who released it in 1969. The Beatles released their version first. Cocker's version was used on the soundtrack to the movie All This and World War II, released in 1976. A strange mix of World War II documentary footage set to the music of the Beatles, the movie bombed and has barely been heard of since. Others who covered The Beatles on the soundtrack include Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Tina Turner, Leo Sayer, Frankie Laine and the Bee Gees.
This is part of a suite of songs at the end of Abbey Road. They used bits from many songs they never finished to put the suite together.
McCartney played lead guitar and Harrison played bass. It was usually the other way around.
McCartney said in a documentary shown February 6, 2002 in England that part of the lyric was inspired by sitting in the back of a New York cab. The drivers name was on display (Quitts) saying "Ex Police Department," which inspired the line: "And so I quit the Police Department and got myself a steady job..."
Magical Mystery Tour
A "Magical Mystery Tour" was a bus trip to an unknown destination. They were popular in England at the time.
Five months after recording this, The Beatles started making a TV special with this as the title track. The special aired in the UK in 1967, but didn't appear in the US until 1976 when it was released in theaters, becoming the fourth Beatles movie. The film, which was an early precursor of today's reality TV shows, didn't go over well with critics or fans.
When they started recording this, they only had the title, a little bit of music, and the first line. Paul McCartney wrote the verses, John Lennon the refrain.
In the 1978 movie The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash directed by former Monty Python member Eric Idle, this song is parodied by the title "Tragical History Tour."
Charles Manson used to refer to life as "A Magical Mystery Tour" after hearing this song. He later warped other Beatles songs ("Helter Skelter," "Piggies," "Blackbird") to explain a race war named Helter Skelter. He used to say that the Beatles were telling it like it is.
George Harrison wrote this song as a takedown of the upper crust, who he felt could be greedy and slovenly. The Beatles were already rich and famous, but came from very humble beginnings - Harrison grew up in a working-class family in Liverpool.
Harrison intended this as social commentary, but many people interpreted it as an anti-police anthem. Charles Manson, in his very disturbed mind, thought the term "damn good whacking" meant against the American police. During the murders of Sharon Tate, the LaBianca's and others, knives and forks were used to stab them because these utensils were mentioned in the song. The words "pig and piggy," were written with the victims' blood on the walls. Harrison was horrified when he learned his song took on another meaning.
John Lennon did not play on this, but he improved this slightly with the line, "Clutching forks and knives they eat their bacon" - adding a touch of cannibalism to the proceedings. This replaced the line, "Clutching forks and knives to cut their pork chops" which can be heard on Anthology 3. The pig noises were his idea.
This keeps the animal theme between "Blackbird" and "Rocky Raccoon" on The White Album.
There was an extra verse that wasn't included on the song. It goes:
"Everywhere there's lots of piggies playing piggie pranks
You can see them on their trotters
At the piggy banks
Paying piggy thanks
To thee pig brother."
Harrison's mother Louise contributed the line: "What they need is a damn good whacking."
Paul McCartney wrote this about the civil rights struggle for blacks after reading about race riots in the US. He penned it in his kitchen in Scotland not long after an incident in Little Rock, when the federal courts forced the racial desegregation of the Arkansas capital's school system.
McCartney told Mojo magazine October 2008: "We were totally immersed in the whole saga which was unfolding. So I got the idea of using a blackbird as a symbol for a black person. It wasn't necessarily a black 'bird', but it works that way, as much as then you called girls 'birds'; the Everlys had had 'Bird Dog,' so the word 'bird' was around. 'Take these broken wings' was very much in my mind, but it wasn't exactly an ornithological ditty; it was purposely symbolic."
Only three sounds were recorded: Paul's voice, his Martin D-28 acoustic guitar, and a tapping that keeps time on the left channel.
This tapping sound is a bit of a mystery, although in the Beatles Anthology video McCartney appears to be making the sound with his foot. Some sources have claimed it is a metronome.
The birds were dubbed in later using sound effects from the collection at Abbey Road, where the song was recorded.
The guitar accompaniment for this song was inspired by Bach's Bourrée in E minor for lute. This is often played on classical guitar, an instrument Paul McCartney and George Harrison had tried to learn when they were kids. McCartney told Mojo magazine October 2008: "We had the first four bars (of the Bourrée in E minor) and that was as far as my imagination went. I think George had it down for a few more bars and then he crapped out. So I made up the next few bars, and (sings his four-note variation Bach's theme) it became the basis of 'Blackbird.'"
This is one of the songs novice guitar players often try to learn, as it's one of the most famous fingerstyle tunes. The singer Donovan claims some credit for teaching The Beatles a technique similar to the one McCartney used here when they were on a retreat to India in early 1968.
Brad Mehldau recorded an instrumental jazz version of this song in 1997.
In 2002, The Doves covered this on the soundtrack to the TV series Roswell.
This was one of five Beatles songs McCartney performed on his Wings Over America tour in 1976.
Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl told Q magazine that he feels this is the greatest Paul McCartney song. He commented: "It's such a beautiful piece of music, perfect in composition and performance, and in its lyrics and in the range of his voice. Just learning that song made me a better guitar player and gave me a better appreciation of songwriting. To me it's just musical bliss."
At the Academy Awards ceremony in 2016, Dave Grohl performed this song to accompany the "in memoriam" segment, recognizing those in the movie industry who died the previous year.
Blackbird Singing is the title of a book of poems McCartney wrote.