You Gave Me the Answer: Can you explain this Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey lyric?

Paul and Linda McCartney singing into a studio microphone

Paul and Linda McCartney’s 1971 album RAM may be over 50 years old now, but new listeners are discovering its brilliance every day! In fact, we noticed that one song in particular is proving a hit with younger audiences: the surreal medley of ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey’. And who can blame them! It’s a song that Rolling Stone called a ‘weird masterpiece’, a continuation of the ‘story songs’ that Paul wrote with The Beatles. 

Online, we’ve noticed fans questioning some of the lyrics: what is a butter pie? Luckily, we have the answer, from a special pie-themed Q&A we did with Paul back in 2021! Here’s what he had to say... 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. It’s an interesting way of looking at it, like you’re making up your own little world in a song. 

PaulIt 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. 

We quite agree – as music fans we can always rely on our favourite songs and albums when the world feels a bit too serious! Listen to RAM here, and read of all Paul’s previous website Q&As by browsing the ‘You Gave Me the Answer’ archive here.