Savoy Truffle (as made famous by The Beatles)

“Savoy Truffle” is a song by the English rock group the Beatles from their 1968 album The Beatles (also known as “the White Album”). The song was written by George Harrison and inspired by his friend Eric Clapton’s fondness for chocolate. The lyrics list the various flavours offered in Mackintosh’s Good News chocolates and serve as a warning to Clapton about the detrimental effect that his gorging would have on his teeth. Along with Clapton’s guest appearance on the White Album track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Harrison reciprocating on Cream’s “Badge”, it is one of several songs that mark the start of a long-lasting friendship between the two musicians.

The Beatles recorded “Savoy Truffle” in October 1968, towards the end of the five-month sessions for the album. An upbeat rock track in the soul genre, the song reflects Harrison’s return to the guitar as his main musical instrument after two years of studying the Indian sitar. The recording includes a Chris Thomas-arranged horn section, and introduced the horn-heavy sound that became a feature of Harrison’s music as a solo artist. Through the lyrics’ reference to “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, the song is also an example of the Beatles’ use of self-quotation in their later work.

On release, “Savoy Truffle” was viewed by many commentators as a sign of Harrison’s growing maturity as a songwriter. Among more recent assessments, Ian MacDonald cited it as an example of the lesser material found on The Beatles, while Daryl Easlea of BBC Music describes it as one of the “doodles that delight” and “a fine counterweight” to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.[3] Ella Fitzgerald, Terry Manning and They Might Be Giants have also recorded the song.

George Harrison wrote “Savoy Truffle” in September 1968,[5] by which point the Beatles had been working on their self-titled double album (often known as “the White Album”) for over three months.[6] While this period was one of disharmony within the group,[7] he was increasingly spending time with Eric Clapton,[8] leading to occasional musical collaborations between the two guitarists[9] and a lifelong friendship.[10][11] Having contributed to Harrison’s solo album Wonderwall Music, Clapton was invited to play on his White Album track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”,[12][13] marking a rare appearance by another rock musician on a Beatles recording as Harrison sought to diffuse tensions within the band.[14][15][nb 1]

Harrison wrote “Savoy Truffle” as a tribute to Clapton’s chocolate addiction.[19] He derived the title and much of the lyrics from a box of Mackintosh’s Good News chocolates,[20] which Clapton began eating during one of his visits to Harrison’s home.[4] Many of the confectionery names used in the song are authentic;[21] others, such as cherry cream, coconut fudge and pineapple heart, were Harrison’s invention,[22] based on the flavours listed inside the lid of the box.[23] For the lyrics to the second of the song’s middle eight sections, Harrison received assistance from Derek Taylor,[4] the press officer for the Beatles’ new record label, Apple Records.[24] In keeping with the theme of Harrison’s composition, Taylor drew inspiration from the title of the American counterculture film You Are What You Eat,[20][22] which was itself titled after a fashionable macrobiotic slogan.[25]

Musicologist Walter Everett suggests that “Savoy Truffle” might have been an attempt to rewrite the Byrds’ “less innocent” 1968 track “Artificial Energy”,[26] which warns of the dangers of amphetamines.[27] The song also reflects Harrison’s rediscovery of his passion for rhythm and blues.[28] Coinciding with this, he had returned to the guitar as his main instrument in 1968, after two years of studying the sitar under the guidance of Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar.[29][30][nb 2]

“Savoy Truffle” is primarily in the key of E minor,[36] although the melody continually shifts to the parallel, major equivalent, in addition to anchoring briefly in G major.[37] Musicologist Alan Pollack identifies the composition’s harmonic style as one that “makes you feel constantly on the move, on the threshold of some new breakthrough”, and he adds: “There are other Beatles’ songs that exploit this triumvirate of keys (i.e. a parallel Major/minor pair and the relative Major), but never quite with such audacity.”[37][nb 3] Throughout, the metre is 4/4,[37] delivered in an assertive, driving tempo.[38] The song’s main musical style is soul music,[39][40][nb 4] while its melody and mood partly recall “Sour Milk Sea”, which Harrison wrote earlier in 1968.[42][43]

In the opening verse, Harrison lists a variety of chocolate flavours and employs wordplay to incorporate the Mackintosh brand name in his closing phrase,[28] “yes, you know it’s ‘good news'”.[44] The refrain throughout the song, “But you’ll have to have them all pulled out after the savoy truffle”, refers to the deterioration of one’s teeth after eating too many sweets, echoing the warning that Clapton had recently received from his dentist.[19]

Over the second middle eight,[44] Harrison adapted Taylor’s suggestion to read “You know that what you eat you are”.[25] In the same section, a subsequent line names the track “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, a Paul McCartney composition that would also appear on The Beatles.[45] In this way, “Savoy Truffle” continued a tradition initiated by John Lennon in 1967, particularly in his lyrics to “I Am the Walrus”,[21] whereby the Beatles deliberately quoted from their previous songs.[46][47]

Since “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” was not a song that McCartney’s bandmates enjoyed recording,[48][49] the motive behind Harrison’s appropriation of the title has invited speculation.[28] Author Jeffrey Roessner considers it significant that Harrison mispronounces the title; in addition, he contends that the full statement – “We all know Ob-la-di-bla-da / But can you show me where you are?” – serves as an example of Harrison, like Lennon, mocking those listeners who obsessively scanned the Beatles’ lyrics for “clues”.[50] Music journalist Robert Fontenot interprets the lines as an expression of distaste for “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, since Harrison and Lennon were openly critical of McCartney’s composition.[51][nb 5]

The Beatles taped the basic track for “Savoy Truffle” at Trident Studios in London on 3 October 1968,[52] the day after Harrison had recorded his and Clapton’s song “Badge” for Cream’s forthcoming album.[53] With Lennon absent, the line-up on this rhythm track was Harrison on electric guitar, McCartney on bass, and Ringo Starr on drums.[52] Overdubs took place on 5 October, again at Trident, and then on 11 and 14 October, at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios.[54] Chris Thomas, as assistant to the Beatles’ producer, George Martin, played electric piano on the song.[55]

During the 11 October session, six saxophonists (three baritone and three tenor)[20] performed overdubs, arranged by Thomas.[56] These horn players were all veterans of the British jazz scene and included Art Ellefson and Ronnie Ross.[20] Ken Scott, the Beatles’ recording engineer, recalls that Harrison thought the saxophones sounded “too clean … too nice” and so asked that they be treated with heavy distortion.[57][nb 6] Scott also cites Harrison’s curt dismissal of Martin’s objections, that the song sounded too “toppy”, as evidence of the Beatles’ growing independence during the making of the White Album[58] – a project in which Martin played a mainly peripheral role.[59][60] In author Nicholas Schaffner’s description, the song’s “beefy horns” became “a trademark” of Harrison’s work following the Beatles’ break-up in 1970.[61][nb 7]

The 14 October date marked the final recording session for The Beatles. With Starr away in Sardinia, the overdubs consisted of another lead guitar part by Harrison, and organ, tambourine and bongos.[64] While author Ian MacDonald lists Thomas as the organ player on the track,[20] other writers credit Harrison.[28] In his description of the finished recording, Jonathan Gould notes the aptness of Harrison’s vocal delivery, where the list of chocolate flavours “roll off George’s tongue like a catalog of life’s little pleasures”, and the effectiveness of his guitar solo, which, further to the lyric’s warnings regarding tooth decay, is “pitched to the register of a dentist’s drill”.[41]

Mixing on “Savoy Truffle” was also completed on 14 October, after which Harrison left for Los Angeles to produce Jackie Lomax’s album Is This What You Want?[65] The stereo and mono mixes of the song differ in their editing of the lead guitar parts;[66] in addition, the mono version omits the organ over the third verse.[22]

Apple Records released The Beatles on 22 November 1968.[67] “Savoy Truffle” was sequenced as the third track on side four of the double LP, between “Honey Pie” and “Cry Baby Cry”.[68][69] As with Harrison’s other three contributions to the album, including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”,[70] the song was viewed by many commentators as a sign of his growing maturity as a songwriter beside Lennon and McCartney.[61][71]

Due to the Beatles’ use of pastiche, parody, irony and, in the case of “Savoy Truffle” and Lennon’s “Glass Onion”, self-quotation,[72] the album’s lyrics were intensely analysed by contemporary reviewers.[73][74] Alan Walsh of Melody Maker described “Savoy Truffle” as “a rocker that’s the most obscure track lyrically”.[75][76] Record Mirror’s reviewer speculated that the song “could either be a delicate and expensive sweet or a new dance. It could be a delivery on the pomposities of intricate desserts or a depiction of the ‘upper’ class.” The writer then concluded: “Whatever it is, it swings.”[77]

In his review for International Times, Barry Miles wrote: “George’s ‘Savoy Truffle’ is the best track on this [LP] side. Beautiful, impressionistic music. Don’t miss this one.”[78] Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone praised Harrison’s lead guitar playing throughout the album and highlighted the song as an example of the Beatles’ success in progressing on their past work, in this case by creating “a more sophisticated look at ‘Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds'”.[79]

Given the lack of stylistic unity across its 30 tracks,[80][81] many authors have since scrutinised the content of The Beatles with regard to Martin’s assertion that the album would have benefited from being scaled down to a single disc.[82][83] In his book Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald dismisses “Savoy Truffle” as “space-filling” and “as pointless as [‘Honey Pie’]”.[84] In a 2003 review for Mojo magazine, however, he described it more favourably as “an efficient jeu d’esprit”.[85] Author Alan Clayson has questioned its inclusion in light of Harrison having more substantial compositions that went unrecorded by the band, and, in the case of “Not Guilty”, a song that the Beatles recorded but then rejected for the White Album.[86] In his attempt to reduce the 1968 release to a single LP, Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune listed all of Harrison’s contributions except for “Savoy Truffle”, which he included in his “toughest deletions” category, along with three Lennon-written songs.[87] Writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Rob Sheffield acknowledged that such scrutiny had long been part of the double album’s legacy, and he described the track as being “among the Beatles’ finest songs”.[88]

Beatles biographer Philip Norman considers “Savoy Truffle” to be “the album’s best piece of rock and roll” after McCartney’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.”[89] While admiring the interplay between the saxophones and lead guitar as “rousing rock-‘n’-roll confectionery”, Tim Riley views the song as one of the “essentials” on The Beatles and, with regard to the “sheer feel” of the performance, Harrison’s most successful contribution to the band’s discography since “I Want to Tell You” in 1966.[90] Former Creem critic Richard Riegel included “Savoy Truffle” on his 1996 list of the ten most underrated Beatles tracks, saying: “this is a great song by any standard, certainly the most fun George would have in the sensual world for many years to come. ‘Savoy Truffle’ is wonderfully British psychedelic throwaway pop, much like Cream on their pop-tarty Disraeli Gears, recorded back when Eric Clapton was a mortal, too.”[91]

Among more recent reviews, Daryl Easlea of BBC Music cites “Savoy Truffle” as an example of “the doodles that delight” on the White Album, and he describes it as “a fine counterweight” to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.[3] Mark Kemp, writing for Paste, highlights the same pair of tracks as “two of Harrison’s finest moments (‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ with Eric Clapton wailing on lead guitar, and the surrealistic soul of ‘Savoy Truffle’)”.[92]

In 2015, “Savoy Truffle” was ranked 66th in the NME’s list “100 Greatest Beatles Songs As Chosen By Music’s A-Listers”. Staff writer Leonie Cooper admired its subject matter and described the track as a “typically off-kilter” Harrison composition.[93] In Consequence of Sound’s feature article celebrating the 45th anniversary of The Beatles, Deap Vally provided commentary on the track, describing it as “on fire” and adding: “The guitar solo is instantly classic … This song is so ahead of its time, music STILL hasn’t caught up to it.”[94]

Jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald covered “Savoy Truffle” on her 1969 album Ella, produced by Richard Perry.[95] The following year, Terry Manning included the song on his album Home Sweet Home.[96] The recording features Robert Moog on synthesizer and has been described by PopMatters as “long, freaked out” and “sublimely excessive”.[97]

Phish included “Savoy Truffle” in their performance of The Beatles on Halloween 1994, which was released in 2002 as Live Phish Volume 13.[98] The song was They Might Be Giants’ contribution to the 2003 compilation Songs from the Material World: A Tribute to George Harrison.[99]

Along with a sample of the Beatles’ “Glass Onion”, the song was mashed with Jay-Z’s “Encore” for a track on Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album in 2004.[100] For the Beatles’ 2006 remix album Love, the track’s horn parts were mixed into “Drive My Car”.[101][102] Dhani Harrison performed “Savoy Truffle” at the George Fest tribute concert, held at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on 28 September 2014.[103][104]

George Harrison – double-tracked vocal, rhythm guitar,[22] lead guitars
Paul McCartney – harmony vocal,[22] bass guitar
Ringo Starr – drums, tambourine
Chris Thomas – electric piano, organ, horn arrangement[22]
Art Ellefson – tenor saxophone
Danny Moss – tenor saxophone
Derek Collins – tenor saxophone
Ronnie Ross – baritone saxophone
Harry Klein – baritone saxophone
Bernard George – baritone saxophone