Backed by what sounds like a villainous circus organ from a creepy 1930s cartoon, McCartney lurches in with a voice that has gone beyond Little Richard into demented Screamin’ Jay Hawkins territory. In Hawkins’s seminal hit “I Put a Spell on You” (1956), he shrieked, gargled, cackled, and guffawed like an unhinged black Vincent Price. Onstage he would rise from a coffin bearing voodoo props. Later, Tom Waits would take up his growling, guttural mantle.
In his incendiary 1970 Rolling Stone interview, Lennon expressed surprise at McCartney’s self-titled first solo album, saying he expected more from him. At the dawn of 1971, McCartney found himself in the position of being dismissed by the critics while Lennon and Harrison were heaped with praise for their LPs Plastic Ono Band and All Things Must Pass. Pelted with tomatoes in his mind, he realized he must catch up with his second album Ram or be left behind.
He goes to the piano in the attic while the wild wind howls. He’s getting older, his hair’s a mess, he’s in his pajamas, his stomach is in knots from the bad reviews, and the rats are in the walls (both real farm rats and the ex-bandmates in his mind).
But then he sees Linda giving the kids their milk and it inspires him to get back in touch with his own absurd inner child. “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.”
Linda echoes his words like a gum-smacking, seen-it-all, hand-on-her-hip New York moll. Her singing gilds the razor’s edge of flatness with surprising defiance, as coached meticulously by her perfectionist husband. Finally, he degenerates into eerie howling and spastic mumbling.
Hawkins would go on to release “Monkberry Moon Delight” as a single in 1973.