Monday, March 16, 2009

You Can't Do That

Sometimes, when I have no other real inspiration, I turn to DM Beatles to figure out what happened on this day in Beatles history, and then figure out how I can reference a song based on whatever interesting thing is there. Today in 1964, apparently, was the U.S. release date of "Can't Buy Me Love" c/w "You Can't Do That," and since I already listened to "Can't Buy Me Love," it's going to have to be "You Can't Do That." That was sure easy-- thanks, Dmitry!

Another Angry John song that I confess to having a deep, dark affection for, "You Can't Do That" was written for A Hard Day's Night and "performed" (via miming and lip-syncing) as part of the concert scene that comes at the very end of the film. In the end, however, the song was dropped from the film, I guess just for timing or something, though I'm sure there wasn't a Beatlemanaic in theatrical audiences who would have minded sitting tight for another few minutes to hear one more song-- even if it WAS a song about John being kind of an asshole to his lady.

Luckily, the film footage remained intact, and in fact was broadcast on an episode of The Ed Sullivan Show in May of that year to promote the movie. So there it is above, along with all the screaming girls from the film-- including a brief glimpse of my favorite, a puffy-eyed George fan in a sailor dress.

Like its A-side, "You Can't Do That" is a 12-bar blues that doesn't really sound like a 12-bar blues, though I think it does sound pretty bluesy sort of intuitively anyway. In fact, it's harder and grittier and dirtier than any original song they'd yet done up to this point, to my ear. A lot of the dirtiness is coming straight from the mouth of John Lennon, who is completely kicking ass on the vocals. There are many, many songs on which I could single out John's vocals as fantastic, but "You Can't Do That" really gets to me in particular-- it sounds like his voice is just shredded with agony. Not agony about losing the love of the girl in question, though-- it's the agony of having people potentially laugh at him that's putting that's making him distraught, according to the lyrics. Yes, "You Can't Do That" definitely provides more fodder for armchair Lennon psychoanalysts, a role that many Beatles fans seem to end up playing. (See also, among early songs: "If I Fell," "I'm a Loser," and many many more.) I might like to call songs like this Angry John songs, but really it's all about his crippling insecurity.

Nevertheless, though, if you can get past the fact that John is clearly a wounded man, the song freaking rocks. Paul and George sing backup like their lives depend on it, spurring John on to new heights of bitterness. I particularly like their move into a nice three-part harmony bit in the bridge, when the song goes into minor. There's something about the tight way they're singing that just ratchets up the tension another notch.

And I need to single out Ringo, who drums this really cool super-syncopated line the whole way that emphasizes the song's edginess. To say nothing of George's guitar solo, which is practically a prolonged growl with pitch. This is the first song that George used a 12-string Rickenbacker on, by the way-- he received the guitar from someone or other after their first appearance on Ed Sullivan, and had it restrung so that the lower tone of each octave was sounded before the higher tone, which I guess sounded really awesome to guitar geeks (I'm not one)-- but apparently that's what makes the guitar sound so ringing and pure on this song.

I'm so glad Dmitry steered me to "You Can't Do That"-- it perfectly captures my mood on this dreary Monday. Grrrr. I hope people leave me alone today, is all I'm saying.

"You Can't Do That," released in the U.K. as B-side of "Can't Buy Me Love," March 20, 1964; in the U.S., March 16, 1964.
I am indebted for all discography information to the tremendous

1 comment:

  1. I've been meaning to leave a comment here for a while, because I got on a huge Beatles kick a few weeks ago—when I finally bought all the albums, after having just heard them in the usual impossible-to-culturally-avoid way—and your blog has been a fun reference as I listen to all the album tracks I'd never really heard. So thanks!

    Anyway, here's why I chose this neglected song for my abandoned-blog comment, for future readers who are maybe not so into perennially disappointing modern rock bands as I am: When Weezer made its comeback in 2001 the first words fans heard on the radio came directly from this song—"I can't help my feelings / I go out of my mind," which open Hash Pipe.

    Fittingly, since it's a song about John being an ass, the song was maybe the most passive aggressive kiss-off to the band's fanbase—who'd been clamoring for another Pinkerton and got a shiny pop album [that I enjoy a lot anyway] and a metal song about a transvestite prostitute instead—that anyone has ever managed.