Friday, May 27, 2011

You Can't Do That

Richard Furnstein: Hmmmm, maybe "You Can't Do That" isn't the best example of the influence of girl groups on songwriting of the early Beatles (especially Lennon). The song is decidedly "anti-girl," perhaps one of the most misogynistic lyrics in Lennon's resume. "I've got something to say that might cause you pain"/"I'm gonna let you down and leave you flat." These lyrics sing nicely (classic early Lennon monosyllabic meter) but suggest actual physical violence if the girl in the lyric continues to actually flirt with other men or any other actions that feed into Lennon's irrational jealous mind ("I can't help my feelings, I go out of my mind").

The title of the song says it all: "You Can't Do That." Not, "I Wish You Wouldn't Do That" or "That Really Hurts Me." Lennon lays down the law, and the judge, the jury, and the executioner seem to be incapable of making rational decisions. Run for your life, indeed.
Robert Bunter: John tries to talk tough over some boilerplate blues changes. The only thing that saves this blustery drag is the amazing vocals and a better-than-usual Harrison solo. Hey, listen to that cowbell! This is the quintessential early Lennon persona – immature, confused, angry, lashing out at the world and especially his meek and mild wife Cynthia. John just got back home from a carousing world tour with lipstick stains on his collarless jacket after countless backstage conquests. He notices out of the corner of his eye that Cynthia smiled at the gardener and proceeds to deliver himself of this screaming, hypocritical tirade. Hey, John, I know you’re angry but I’m going to go ahead and say that you’re completely wrong here.

Richard Furnstein: It's a blistering blend of influences. Like you said, George's honky tonk skronk stands out among the blues. Ringo's cowbell is there strictly to distract; while the cowbell usually helps push a meandering rhythm section into line, this serves more to cover up the venom in Lennon's words. Paul and George play the ladies in he shadows to great effect, echoing John's raw vocal.

The chorus is the true head-scratcher. "Everybody's green, because I'm the one who won your love." Gosh, that's almost sweet. John is admitting that the girl under his thumb is a hot commodity, something to drive other men to jealousy. Shucks turn to shivers when he follows it up with "But if they see you talking that way, they'd laugh in my face." John's admission of the female superiority quickly descends to relationship paranoia and social isolation. And the whole thing is delivered with a chipper, loose feel. Truly disturbing.

Robert Bunter: Yeah. It’s easy to read too much into it, I guess. John was just cranking out another rocker for side two of the soundtrack album. He wasn’t baring his soul, necessarily. I’m going to rate this as competent. It would be great for anyone else, but in the Beatles’ catalog, it’s a snoozer. I’d rather listen to “Dig A Pony,” “Flying,” “This Boy” or “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,” thank you very much. “You Can’t Do That” is fine if I’m listening to Hard Day’s Night the whole way through or writing a blog entry, but otherwise I’m skipping it.

Richard Furnstein: "I'm going to rate this as competent." If only the same could be said for your analysis of this crucial juncture in the Beatles catalog. You've got artists expanding their worldview and putting themes of insecurity, jealousy, and revenge in an exciting pop format and you are bored? I feel sorry for your brain and your brain's ears.

Robert Bunter: That’s fine, Richard. Leave me alone today.

Richard Furnstein: Cool, I'll just be by myself listening to this great song and Harry Nilsson's incredible arrangement/Beatles tribute.


  1. One of my fav early tunes! Love Lennon's delivery and melody! you guys must be three sheet musics to the wind!