'THE LYRICS: 1956 TO THE PRESENT' out November 2nd
In this extraordinary book, with unparalleled candour, Paul recounts his life and art through the prism of 154 songs from all stages of his career.
Edited and Introduced by Paul Muldoon
Published 2nd November, 2021
You Gave Me The Answer - Butter Pies and Monkberry Moon Delights
Here’s a trivia challenge for you – how many ‘pies’ has Paul sung about over the years? From The White Album’s ‘Honey Pie’ and ‘Wild Honey Pie’, to Paul’s 1997 solo album and title track Flaming Pie (which received a special reissue in 2020), there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this dessert may be one of Paul’s favourites.
As today is National Pie Day (seriously!), we thought we’d ask Paul one of the more specific questions that come through on social media. Listen up, Ram fans: it’s time for an official investigation into two food-y phrases from two tasty tracks, all sparked by this question from Instagram…
PaulMcCartney.com: In the song ‘Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey’ you sing ‘I had a cup of tea and a butter pie’. Firstly, what is a butter pie? And is there a meaning behind ‘the butter wouldn't melt so I put it in the pie’?
Paul: No, there’s no meaning behind it. Because I like surrealist art, I also like surrealist words. A great example of this is Lewis Carroll writing Alice in Wonderland – it’s a crazy thing, you've got a cat sitting in a tree that grins and talks, and you've got Alice falling down a hole and meeting the red queen, and so on. That whole tradition was something that I loved, and when I met John I learned that he loved it to. So, it was something that became a bond between us.
I’d always liked writing love songs, ballads, and rock ‘n’ roll songs, but then one of my other little side interests was to invent surrealist stuff. Admiral Halsey was someone I’d read about – he’s a character from American history – and I just liked the name. I was playing around with that and making up a fictional story, and I just ran into the words ‘and butter pie’. Well, there’s no such thing as a butter pie, that I’ve ever heard of anyway. So, it was a surrealist image, like in surreal art where you have a thing called a ‘hair cup’, which is just a cup that’s made out of fur. You wouldn’t think to drink from it, it’d be disgusting, but as an image it’s interesting and shocking. ‘Butter pie’ is that kind of equivalent, but in a song.
I kept with that image and thought, by way of a surreal explanation, ‘the butter wouldn’t melt so I put in a pie’. I was very into surrealism at that particular time, so I wrote songs like ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ which is again totally surreal. The word ‘monkberry’ actually came from our kids! That was how they said milk when they were little - ‘can I have some monk?’ - you know, in the way that kids get funny names for things. So, ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ to me was like a milkshake!
I haven’t done that recently – maybe it’s time to go back to it? It was just a thing that I liked doing, because it was fun and not too serious. If you’re not in the mood for writing a love song then it’s not wise to try and write one, but you might be in the mood to write something a little crazy.
PMC.com: It’s an interesting way of looking at it, like you’re making up your own little world in a song.
Paul: It also depends on how seriously you want to sing a song. If the lyrics are a bit zany then you end up having fun with the vocal, like you’re a character. I’m inspired by people like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who did a song called ‘I Put A Spell On You’. When I first heard it I couldn’t believe the way he was using his voice, I thought, ‘wow, this guy is singing far out’! ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ was definitely influenced by ‘Put A Spell On You’, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a light relief from the serious world.
To steal a phrase from Lewis Carroll’s Alice: songwriting really is ‘curiouser and curiouser’! Now, how about that trivia challenge? Could you think of any other ‘pie’ references in Paul’s songs? Leave your answers in the comments!