For the next few columns, Deep Beatles shines a spotlight on their BBC performances. Before incessant screaming and the rigors of touring took their toll, the Beatles had become one of the most polished live bands on the road. From 1962-1965, the group performed on 52 BBC programs, beginning with a March 1, 1962 appearance on “Teenager’s Turn-Here We Go,” and ending with the special “The Beatles Invite You to Take a Ticket to Ride” (recorded on May 26, 1965).
On these shows the Beatles performed covers even more than their own compositions, and can be heard joking around with the DJs. For decades, this material was available only on bootlegs such as the Beatles at the Beeb and poor quality recordings like Youngblood. Fans finally got their wish in 1994 when Apple released the collection Live at the BBC, which featured remastered selections from their many BBC performances. One of the choice cuts from this compilation is “Honey Don’t,” a Carl Perkins cover that, unlike Beatles for Sale, has John Lennon on lead vocals.
“Honey Don’t” goes back to some of the Beatles’ 1962 shows; then, Lennon always sang lead on the cut. But when the group entered Abbey Road Studios on October 26, 1964, Ringo Starr had been chosen as the new vocalist. As Starr explained in the Anthology documentary, the song appealed to him because of his deep love for country music.
“It was one of those songs that every band in Liverpool played. I used to love country music and country rock. I’d had my own show with Rory Storm, when I would do five or six numbers,” he explained. “So singing and performing wasn’t new to me; it was a case of finding vehicles for me with The Beatles. That’s why we did it on Beatles For Sale. It was comfortable. And I was finally getting one track on a record: my little featured spot.”
Starr’s performance demonstrated his charm and ability to capture the wit of the words. A year before, however, Lennon continued singing lead. They recorded a live version of “Honey Don’t” for BBC radio’s “Pop Go the Beatles” special, and Lennon’s gritty voice gave the song a sexier edge. His shouts seem to energize the band, with George Harrison executing a solo very similar to that of Perkins. Paul McCartney plays rapid bass lines while Starr uses his uniquely heavy rock drum style. But on this version, Lennon’s rank as one of the best rock singers in music is solidified.
Two wonderful vocal moments occur during Lennon’s take on “Honey Don’t.” First, when he revisits the chorus beginning “Well I love you baby on a Saturday night,” listen to how he lets just a bit of hoarseness enter his voice as he slightly ups the volume. It lends the line a more seductive edge, and one can picture the young Lennon standing onstage, legs akimbo, clad in all leather, making girls faint at the Star Club or Cavern Club. Toward the song’s conclusion, he begins ad libbing, adding a “bop do bop” line after repeating the title.
Here, he demonstrates playfulness and energy, and clearly communicates how much he loves classic rock and roll. Lennon’s charisma shines through, and he illustrates how slight voice modulation can completely change the meaning of a track.
Starr’s later version of “Honey Don’t” has its merits, most notably how Starr manages to retain the song’s original country roots. But Lennon transforms it into the embodiment of rock: sexy and a bit dangerous.
Throughout his life, Lennon famously hated his own singing voice. “Honey Don’t” instead proves how he ranks among the top rock vocalists.