A George Harrison song for The Beatles packed full of insults

There are a fair few moments on The Beatles‘ later albums when you catch a lyric, sit back, and think simply, “What on earth?” As they dove deeper and deeper into sonic experimentation, their words waded into the world of total nonsense, abandoning vast, relatable sentiment for strange stories and odd characters. Instead of dealing with love, heartbreak, or desire, they sang about monkeys, murderers, and, in one case, toothache.

What ‘Savoy Truffle’ is actually about has always been a bit of a mystery. Of all the band’s nonsensical tracks, it stands out as a key one. “Creme tangerine and Montelimar / A ginger sling with a pineapple heart,” they sing, listing off incredible niche favours of confectionary delights. Really, the song, for the most part, is a menu as George Harrison rattles off the flavours offered by Mackintosh’s, the company behind Quality Street.

But amidst the sickly sweet descriptions, the quiet Beatle is getting some sly digs in, hiding insults in the indulgent track. “You might not feel it now / But when the pain cuts through / You’re going to know,” he sings, pulling the veil back slightly to hint at the song’s more threatening nature, existing as a kind of threat. Just as how too much of a good thing can lead to toothache and a cavity, Harrison is telling two old friends to watch out before they cross a line.

The first is Eric Clapton, a man who couldn’t resist sweets. “‘Savoy Truffle’ on the White Album was written for Eric,” Harrison said of the song. “He’s got this real sweet tooth, and he’d just had his mouth worked on. His dentist said he was through with candy. So, as a tribute, I wrote, ‘You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle’. The truffle was some kind of sweet, just like all the rest – cream tangerine, ginger sling – just candy, to tease Eric.”

But there seems to be more in there than just a tease. During the late 1960s, and especially during The White Album era, Harrison and Clapton were close friends. The Cream guitarist plays on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ while the Beatle returned the favour on ‘Badge’ as they struck up a collaborative relationship. However, at the same time, Clapton was falling for Pattie Boyd, Harrison’s wife.

Whether Harrison had an inkling or not, whether he could see the connection forging between his wife and best friend, is an unknown. But ‘Savoy Truffle’ could definitely be read as a ‘watch out’ message. Just as how too many chocolates got Clapton in trouble with his dentist, too much love could – and did – get him in jeopardy with his friend.

The second insult was flung even closer to home as Harrison took a shot at his bandmate. Another largely nonsensical song often brought up when discussing the band’s penchant for gibberish is ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, McCartney’s composition for the same record.

It was a track that Harrison always hated. He wasn’t alone in that, as John Lennon called the song “granny music shit“. McCartney, however, loved the track, stating, “It’s a very me song.” He tried to push it as a single, causing a big argument in the group that the album’s engineer pinpoints as a clear moment that began real trouble in paradise as the band began their decline to their eventual split.

Harrison seemed to think that way, too, as he references the track on his own on the same album, already seeing it as reflective of the poison that was spreading through the group. “But what is sweet now, turns so sour / We all know Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da / But can you show me, where you are?” he sings, with the suggestion that the sweetness and goodness of the group was growing old.

Like the audio equivalent of a tummy ache or a rotten tooth, ‘Savoy Truffle’ is at once both a warning of over-indulgence and the first sign that the sweet heyday of the band had gotten sickly.

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