Released: 21 May 1971 (UK), 17 May 1971 (US)
Inspired by Paul McCartney’s children’s use of wordplay, ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ featured lyrics chosen more for their phonetic sound than their meaning.
The title was derived from an alternative word for milk that the McCartney children used. Further inspiration came from the 1959 Leiber and Stoller song ‘Love Potion No. 9’.
When my kids were young they used to call milk ‘monk’ for whatever reason that kids do – I think it’s magical the way that kids can develop better names for things than the real ones. In fact, as a joke, Linda and I still occasionally refer to an object by that child-language name. So, monk was always milk, and monkberry moon delight was a fantasy drink, rather like ‘Love Potion No. 9’, hence the line in the song, ‘sipping monkberry moon delight’. It was a fantasy milk shake.
‘Love Potion No. 9’ featured a similarly surreal tale as McCartney’s later song, in which a man looking for love speaks to a gypsy who sells him the titular potion. It causes him to fall in love with all he sees, including a policeman on the street.
‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ takes the surrealism a step further, defying interpretation and logic to present an Edward Lear-esque stroll through the lighter recesses of McCartney’s imagination. As with The Beatles’ ‘Glass Onion’, it was almost a direct challenge for those fans who looked avidly for hidden meanings in his songs to spend hours poring over his wild free-association in search of autobiographical clues.
Well I know my banana is older than the rest
And my hair is a tangled Beretta
But I leave my pyjamas to Billy Budapest
And I don’t get the gist of your letter
While the music is a light canter, McCartney’s vocals were strident and strained, recalling his classic rock ‘n’ roll performances in such songs as ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Oh! Darling’. Linda McCartney provided the perfect counterpoint with her backing vocals, delivered without affectation.
‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ I liked, so much so that it’s in my poetry book.
Mojo, July 2001
McCartney’s gruff delivery clearly found favour with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, who recorded ‘Monkberry Moon Delight’ for his 1979 album Screamin’ The Blues. McCartney used Hawkins’ version in his pre-concert tape on his 1993 tour.