“A Taste of Honey” was originally written by jazz pianist Bobby Scott and Rick Marlow for the 1960 Broadway version of the 1958 British play of the same name. (Scott recorded two versions of the song for his album, A Taste of Honey, later that year.) The original play was written by Shelagh Delaney and is part of the “kitchen sink” realism movement that sought to revitalize British theater, usually by telling stories about characters disillusioned with modern society. The play was made into a film in 1961, starring Billy Dee Williams, who scored a minor hit with his vocal version of Scott and Marlow’s composition.
“A Taste of Honey” has been recorded by over 200 artists. Most of the well-known covers of the song were recorded during the 60’s, including one by The Beatles. The Fab Four based their version on Lenny Welch’s 1962 vocal rendition of the song and featured it on their debut album Please Please Me (1963), with Paul McCartney on lead vocals.
Other noteworthy versions from the time include: pianist Martin Denny’s breezy re-imagining of the song from 1962; saxophonist Paul Desmond’s instrumental take, included on his 1964 album, Glad to Be Unhappy; and a cover by vocalist Sarah Vaughan, who recorded it as the lead track on her 1963 album Sarah Sings Soulfully. Spencer Leigh also mentioned in Frank Sinatra: An Extraordinary Life that “A Taste of Honey” was meant to be featured on a 1967 duet album by Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, which sadly never went ahead.
The most famous instrumental version of “A Taste of Honey” was recorded by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass for their 1965 album Whipped Cream & Other Delights. The song was released as a single and spent five weeks at number one on the easy listening chart as well as reaching number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. It quickly became popular worldwide, reaching cult status in Italy, where it was used as the theme song of a popular radio show broadcasting live commentaries to football matches, Tutto il Calcio Minuto Per Minuto (English translation: All Football Minute By Minute).
Maury Dean writes: “As Mitch Miller is to family sing-alongs, Alpert is to light jazz.” Alpert doubled as a composer, orchestra leader, trumpeter, and record company owner in Los Angeles, California, having founded A & E Records with Jerry Moss. “A Taste of Honey” perfectly represents his unique Americachi style, influenced by bullfighting atmospheres and Mexican sounds, with Alpert’s trumpet defining the melody over a Latin rhythm section.