Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why Don't We Do It In the Road?

One of the proudest moments in my college career is the time I wrote a 5-page paper on "Why Don't We Do It In the Road." The class was some kind of introduction to literary criticism, the first required English-major class, and we were to write a series of short papers about any piece at all-- pop songs were actively encouraged, as their texts are frequently simple enough to be covered in a short paper, and the point was that we were supposed to be learning about how everything is a text, that even a pop song's lyrics have slippery, elusive meanings for a critic to explore.

I'm sure I chose this song just to be an ass, as was frequently my wont, but I also relished the challenge. The paper is lost to history, which is for the best for everyone, especially me, because I'm sure it's embarrassingly stupid. But I don't really remember anything about it other than that I got an A, and my instructor commented that indeed, this song is a perfect little "rock haiku." And that phrase seemed more true and more complete than anything I'd bullshitted in those 5 pages.

Anyway, "Why Don't We Do It In the Road" has always been a favorite of mine. The White Album was in some respects a conscious swing away from the artistic excesses of Sgt. Pepper (not to mention the less well-received excesses of Magical Mystery Tour), and you can't get much more straight-up sick rock-and-roll than this kickass 12-bar blues.

So Paul and Ringo recorded this alone, while John and George were working on some other White Album stuff, and John never quite got over it-- he references feeling left out of this song in his famous Playboy interview in 1980. Of course John was a dick in his own way to Paul a thousand times, so I'm not saying John's right to complain about this-- but it's interesting that this is what he remembers. I think he just likes the song so darned much that he wishes he could have played on it. And, I mean, of course.

Paul claimed to have written this in India, watching two monkeys go at it in the middle of a road, which made him think about how the animals are luckier and perhaps smarter for having fewer hangups about sex and stuff than humans do. This is probably true-- but don't you wish you didn't know that story? I prefer to think that Paul came up with this song on the spot as he wolf-whistled out the window at some London hotties. Or that the song just emerged fully-formed from his guitar, like Athena popping out of Zeus's head.

Because, though I might not have thought so back in college, I don't want this song to be some counter-cultural sex-revolution message song. I want it to be dirty as hell. I want the song to convince me that not only should I be doing it in the road with Paul right this second (Paul: call me!), I should also not give a crap who happens to be watching us.

Luckily all that stuff I want is actually there. Paul flirts with us in so many songs, but here it's as if he can't bear to flirt anymore-- instead, he's begging for it, laying it all on the line, and he does not have time to take us home first and freaking seduce us with some lingerie, it's gotta be the road. Right now. He's asking with a smile, and a coy "no one will be watching us" (which we know darned well isn't true), but this man has some needs. Just listen to it: that piano line throbs as relentlessly as a vein in a forehead, and Ringo's drum fills are dripping with machismo. But it's Paul's vocals that really sell it-- any time Paul does his Little Richard voice I just totally melt, and here he does it maybe best of all, just torn up and crazy and rocking the hell out of this vocal. By the time he's come around for the third time, I'm all crazed too, rocking out right along with him. This is a powerful rock haiku-- it just goes to show the power of some blues chords and some groovy piano and some Paul McCartney. Needless to say, he's got me totally convinced. (Paul: call me!)

Yow! Perhaps it's time for a cold shower. No, no, I'm just gonna listen to it one more time...

"Why Don't We Do It In the Road?", released in the U.K. side B track 7 of The Beatles, a.k.a. The White Album, November 22, 1968; in the U.S. November 25, 1968.

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