Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass: “A Taste of Honey” (Whipped Cream and Other Delights, 1965)
Have I ever told you about my quest for “A Taste of Honey”?
I don’t know where I first heard it. Intuition tells me it was used as a music bumper on All Things Considered, probably as a cheeky reference to something in the previous story, and I probably heard it on the old radio my parents kept in the kitchen, a little wooden thing with tube speakers that sounded amazing.
It could have been the Oldies station. But it was probably NPR. Anyway, I was captivated by it the way kids get captivated by random things. I remembered the bit I’d heard in remarkable detail, and it would leap into my head at completely unpredictable times.
I had no idea what it was, of course. Herb Alpert was not a name I knew, and “A Taste of Honey” is sort of a mismatch of a title for this energetic instrumental. The song always sounded sort of dark in spite of its pep to me. It would taunt me now and then throughout my childhood. I would hear it in the grocery store. It would come on the Oldies station as my mother pulled the car into the garage and snapped the radio off. It was this mysterious song, and either it was following me, or I was following it, and it was always just out of reach.
I was just a budding vinyl digger when I came across my first Herb Alpert LPs in a Goodwill. SRO, The Lonely Bull, and a couple of others. I knew about Whipped Cream and Other Delights for its notorious cover art, but I had no idea that this song I’d been haunted by all my life was on it. It wasn’t until a few years later that I finally found out the artist and title of the song. I don’t even remember how I found it out.
By then, I don’t know how many tattered copies of Whipped Cream I’d passed over or seen pinned to walls in record stores. So new knowledge in hand, I’d look for it in stores. Never too intently—it was bound to turn up soon.
But then a funny thing happened: I couldn’t find a copy of it. For years. Herb Alpert is like a patron saint of the dollar bin, and this LP for ages was known as the bad penny of used record stores. It turned up everywhere, its cheesecake cover buffed with ringwear, splitting along the top, dust jacket long ago lost. I ran across myriad copies of seemingly ever other Tijuana Brass recording. I found eight copies of SRO in a single Goodwill once, but no trace of Whipped Cream.
This was deeply perplexing. The best-selling Herb Alpert album, the only one with a song I wanted on it, had seemingly vanished overnight from all my haunts, while copies of South of the Border, Herb Alpert’s Ninth, What Now My Love, Going Places, and Sounds Like proliferated like especially randy rabbits. It reached a comical point, where any time I walked into a second hand vinyl shop, I’d go straight to wherever Alpert was most likely to be filed—under his own name, under easy listening, under Now Sound, under lounge, even under jazz a couple times—flip through the stock, see every album I wasn’t looking for, and just laugh.
I made it all the way through four years of college in Boston without managing to score a copy of Whipped Cream and Other Delights, and I was in every record store in Boston, Cambridge, Brighton and Somerville, and I was in them a lot. It’s as though space warped around me and kept me from coming into contact with it. This same streak followed me to Chicago and then Arkansas. I kept looking for it, though. When I was about 27 and living in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I downloaded Soulseek, and the first thing I ever did a search for was “Alpert Taste.” 30 seconds later, I was halfway to having an mp3 of “A Taste of Honey.” I hadn’t heard it in probably eight years by that time, and oddly enough, it didn’t disappoint. It still grabbed me the same way it always had.
The next day I went to Spun Discs, a vinyl-only place that was open for about two years on Township Street in Fayetteville, and there, right at the front of the new arrivals, was a copy of Whipped Cream and Other Delights.
I didn’t buy it. It would have felt like giving in to some cosmic joke. Instead, I sold a stack of LPs I could do without and picked up a copy of Pink Floyd’s A Nice Pair with the store credit. I do have a full digital copy of Whipped Cream now, but “A Taste of Honey” is the only thing on it I ever listen to.
I’m not sure what it is about this piece of music that I love so much. There’s no one element that jumps out and puts it over the top—it’s more in the way every little thing about it comes together and mixes with decades of hazy memory to build something vastly greater than the sum of its parts. I see the LP around a lot now, and I’m occasionally tempted to add it to my shelves, but I always go for something else. I’m sure it’ll be there if I ever decide otherwise…