- Ringo Starr – lead vocals, drums, tambourine
- John Lennon – acoustic rhythm guitar
- Paul McCartney – bass guitar
- George Harrison – lead guitar
This Carl Perkins cover was released on the Beatles' fourth U.K. album, Beatles for Sale, because of the band's admiration for this storied figure of Rock-'n'-Roll. Honey Don't was the b-side of Perkins' 1956 hit, Blue Suede Shoes and was a part of the Beatles' repertoire from 1962 on.
Though John typically performed the lead vocal, Ringo was tapped to do the lead for the studio recording per The Beatles' effort to have every member do a lead vocal on each record (though some, like A Hard Day's Night released earlier the same year, have no tracks on which Ringo performs lead vocals).
We all knew Honey Don't. It was one of those songs that every band in Liverpool played… 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.
- Ringo Starr in Anthology
Ringo personally requested permission from Perkins to record the song, and Perkins readily agreed. The Beatles acquired the right to record any song in the entire Perkins catalog. The group also covered another Perkins classic Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby on the same album.
This cover is virtually identical to the original, with the exception of a couple Ringo ad libs such as
Rock on George, one time for me! and then
Rock on, George, for Ringo one time!
The song is a slight variation on the classic 12-bar blues formula that not only highlights Ringo's baratone vocal but George's guitar work. Having been a huge Carl Perkins fan, George's guitar work on this track was particularly inspired.
One observation that's also obvious about songs like Honey Don't when placed in the larger context of Beatles history is that they reflected a brief lull in the Beatles' previously voluminous original songwriting output. This is due largely to the band's impossibly demanding schedule at the height of Beatlemania. Beatles for Sale, a 14 track album, contains 6 covers.
The song was recorded on October 26, 1964.
While The Beatles were hanging around the studio that morning, they took a break and returned around 4:30 pm to record Honey Don't and completed the song in five takes, the fifth take and final take being used for the album. The song, as usual with the Beatles' early work, was performed live in the studio by the entire band. The only addition was a tambourine which Ringo overdubbed shortly after the last take was complete. At 6:30 pm, only two short hours after they had began, the track was complete. Since Beatles for Sale was under an urgent deadline, George Marin and engineers Ken Scott and Norman Smith mixed mono and stereo version of the song the next day in the control room of Studio Two.
A version with Lennon on lead vocals is available on Live at the BBC.
There is a slight difference between the mono and stereo versions with the stereo mix being a bit more trebly on George Harrison's guitar and adding notably more volume on Ringo's tambourine.
John Lennon later recorded a version as part of a medly during the sessions of first post-Beatles album Plastic Ono Band (1970). It was never officially released.
Paul McCartney and Carl Perkins himself jammed the tune during the 1981 "Get It" sessions, a collaboration they did on the album Tug Of War. The jam was never released.