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"WHY DON'T WE DO IT IN THE ROAD?"

(John Lennon – Paul McCartney)


Love it or hate it, celebrate it or be embarrassed by it, "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" has become one of the most talked about tracks on The Beatles "White Album."  As ballsy as it was to release this song in the climate of late 1968, this hidden gem still surprises the casual Bealtes fan today when discovered.  Later generations of fans then realize that the "fab four" were much more than 'peace, love and flowers.'

It really wasn't all that surprising for The Beatles to release a song like this at the time anyway. In fact, something like this was probably expected, especially on an album with a plain white cover, as if something subversive was inside. After all the furor caused by John's “We're bigger than Jesus” statement, and the banned songs by the BBC because of drug references (intentional and/or imagined), and John and Yoko's full frontal nudity on the cover of their newly released “Two Virgins” album, why not just compose a song about the most taboo subject imaginable and see how many feathers could be ruffled?


Songwriting History

"The idea behind 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road' came from something I'd seen in Rishikesh," Paul explains in his book "Many Years From Now" referring to The Beatles visit to India in the spring of 1968 to study and practice Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi.  Paul continues:  "I was up on the flat roof meditating and I'd seen a troupe of monkeys walking along in the jungle and a male just hopped on to the back of this female and gave her one, as they say in the vernacular.  Within two or three seconds he hopped off again, and looked around as if to say, 'It wasn't me,' and she looked around as if there had been some mild disturbance but thought, 'Huh, I must have imagined it,' and she wandered off."

"And I thought, 'Bloody hell, that puts it all into a cocked hat.' That's how simple the act of procreation is, this bloody monkey just hopping on and hopping off. There is an urge, they do it, and it's done with. And it's that simple. We have horrendous problems with it, and yet animals don't. So that was basically it. 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road' could have applied to either f*cking or sh*tting, to put it roughly. Why don't we do either of them in the road? Well, the answer is we're civilized and we don't. But the song was just to pose that question. 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road' was a primitive statement to do with sex or to do with freedom really. I like it, it's just so outrageous that I like it.”


Concerning comments from some that he was jumping on the 'sex and drugs' bandwagon of the late 60's, Paul continues: “The spirit of the times meant that a lot of us were thinking similar things, just doing it in different ways.” Back in 1968, Paul also counters, “I never usually write a song and think: 'Right, now this is going to be about something specific.' It's just that the words happen. I never try to make any serious social point. Just words to go with the music. And you can read anything you like into it.”

The song appears to have been an idea of Paul's that was put to a 12-bar blues melody and stashed away in the back of his mind, this not being a serious attempt at writing a song. This is evidenced by Paul not even recording a demo of the song at George's 'Kinfauns' home in Surrey when The Beatles were putting to tape songs they had written in India in preparation for them going into the studio to record what became the “White Album.”

The structure, feel and delivery of the song could easily have been attributed, as indeed it was by many, to the rough rocker John Lennon, although John set the record straight in his Playboy interview of 1980, saying: “That's Paul.” The continual songwriting rivalry between the two composers did come into play for the writing of this song however, Paul describing the composition to author Hunter Davies as “a ricochet off John” and “a very John song.”

Some sources have claimed that there were more verses to the song than the one that appears on the released recording, this consisting only of the song's title repeated five times per verse along with the line “no one will be watching us” thrown in toward the end of each of the three verses. Legitimate alternate verses seem unlikely since, if they were written, why wouldn't Paul have sung them? This argument appears to have been settled anyway with the release of Paul's book “Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics 1965 – 1999,” which was first released in 2001. Paul thought, undoubtedly as a lark, to include “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?” as an example of his best work in this highly acclaimed book. No extra verses are included here; only three repetitious verses as heard on the record.

When asked about the song just after the release of the “White Album,” Paul gave a general answer about why his compositions are in such a variety of genres: “We've always been a rock'n'roll group. It's just that we're not just completely rock'n'roll. That's why we do 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da' one minute and this the next. When we played in Hamburg, we didn't just play rock'n'roll all evening, because we had these fat old men, businessmen, coming in, and thin old businessmen as well, coming in and saying, 'Play us a mambo or a rumba,' or something. So we had to get into this kind of stuff. We just haven't got one bag, you know, in The Beatles. On one hand you'll get 'I Will,' which is pretty smoochy stuff, and then you'll get 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?' It's me feeling both of them, the same fellow, and I write both of them.”

Recording History

By October 9th, 1968, after well over four months in the studio recording the "White Album," they surely had enough material to fill all four sides of what became their first and only double-album of brand new compositions.  As things were winding down in the creation of the album on this day, however, Paul thought to extricate himself from some mixing and minor overdubbing in EMI Studio Two so as to create yet another track to be considered for inclusion on the album.  You know, just to make sure they had enough songs.  In fact, if you include the two previously recorded tracks they decided to omit at the last minute (George's "Not Guilty" and John's "What's The New Mary Jane"), they definitely did have enough material.  But, just in case, Paul had another ace up his sleeve.

The Beatles arrived at EMI Studio Two sometime after the usual 7 pm on this day and Paul recorded some minor backing vocals as an overdub for George's song “Long Long Long.”  The other duties of the day included producer Chris Thomas performing a piano overdub for the same song as well as working on creating both the stereo and mono mixes of John's “The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill.”  While John and George were occupied with contributing ideas for these mixes, and since Paul didn't feel he was needed, he grabbed technical engineer Ken Townsend and brought him in to the vacant EMI Studio One to run the four-track tape machine while he tried his hand at recording “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?”


Paul didn't quite know how to present the song, but he nonetheless ran through five takes of a rhythm track, which consisted of him on acoustic guitar and vocals, each take beginning with Paul thumping out a beat on the sounding board of his guitar.  “I want to do one quiet verse, one loud verse, that's it really,” he explained to Ken Townsend who acted as balance engineer and tape operator.  Since no true producer was present, and Paul was in full control of the proceedings, one can easily signify McCartney as the producer on the track.

The first four takes consisted of Paul starting out singing softly and then changing to a loud and rough voice later in the song.  'Take four,' which was eventually included on the compilation album “Anthology 3,” shows Paul singing four verses: the first soft, the second loud, the third mostly soft but ending loud, the fourth soft, and then starting a fifth verse sung loud before he abandons it.  The lyrics during the fourth verse, incidentally, change the fifth line from "No one will be watching us" to “People won't be watching us.”  After he abruptly ends the song, he asks Ken Townsend, “Well, well, well, what do you think of all that; do you think I can do it better?

Apparently Ken thought he could, so Paul did one final take with entirely loud and rough vocals throughout, ending the song after three verses.  Paul was then satisfied and, to top things off, recorded a piano overdub onto 'take five' before they both went home for the day at 5:30 am the following morning.

The following day (that is, later that day), October 10th, 1968, The Beatles once again entered EMI Studio Two around 7 pm for the arduous task of recording the orchestral score for George's song “Piggies” and John's song “Glass Onion.” Duties also included creating both the mono and stereo mixes of “Glass Onion” as well as stereo mixes for both “Rocky Raccoon” and “Long Long Long.”

Once again, Paul didn't think his input was needed so he at some point grabbed Ken Townsend as well as Ringo to finish off “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?” This time, however, they went into the vacant EMI Studio Three (maybe because of where Ringo's drums happened to be located) to layer various overdubs onto the song. With Paul once again calling the shots, Ringo added drums while Paul overdubbed additional vocals, handclaps and a bass guitar. Since all four tracks of the tape were now filled and Paul had one more idea for an overdub, a reduction mix was made which combined tracks one and four, this becoming track one of what was now considered 'take 6.' The open track was now filled with Paul on electric guitar, this now completing the song. As the sun was rising at 7:15 am the following morning, both sessions of the day were complete.

But how did John and George feel about this song being recorded in their absence?  John related in his 1980 Playboy interview the following: “He even recorded it by himself in another room.  That's how it was getting in those days.  We came in and he'd made the whole record; him drumming, him playing the piano, him singing.  But he couldn't - he couldn't - maybe he couldn't make the break from The Beatles.  I don't know what it was, you know.  I enjoyed the track.  Still, I can't speak for George, but I was always hurt when Paul would knock something off without involving us.  But that's just the way it was then.”

In response to Yoko's claim that nobody had hurt John more than Paul did, McCartney strove to set the record straight when interviewed by Hunter Davies in 1981.  “There's only one incident I can think of that John has mentioned publicly.  It was when I went off with Ringo and did 'Why Don't We Do It In The Road.'  It wasn't a deliberate thing.  John and George were tied up finishing something and me and Ringo were free, just hanging around, so I said to Ringo, 'Let's go and do this'...Anyway, he did the same with 'Revolution 9.'  He went off and made that without me.  No one ever says that.  'John is the nice guy and I'm the bastard.'  It gets repeated all the time.”

According to Ringo, jealousy among the other Beatles didn't usually get blown out of proportion concerning these things. “'The Ballad Of John And Yoko' only had Paul (of the other Beatles) on it but that was OK,” stated Ringo in the “Anthology” book. “'Why Don't We Do It In The Road?' was just Paul and me, and it went out as a Beatle track too. We had no problems with that.”

After all was said and done, however, John still made it public that he thought “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?” was “one of his best.”  Paul thought so too:  “It's a great track, isn't it?  Good vocal, though I say it myself."

It should be noted here that many sources claim that Paul initially played drums on the song and Ringo came in the following day and contributed on drums as well.  This apparently is a misunderstanding.  As stipulated above, John assumed that Paul recorded the song entirely himself and is quoted as saying that it was "him drumming" but, as he himself admits, he wasn't present when the song was recorded.  Both Paul and Ringo are on record saying that the drums were performed by Ringo, and they obviously would know since they were there.  Paul's guitar thumping at the beginning of the song may also have led authors to assume that Paul was playing drums.  Mark Lewisohn's authoritative book "The Beatles Recording Sessions" also sites Ringo as the sole drummer on the song, Mark being treated to listening to all of the takes of the song in preparation for writing this book.


Both the mono and stereo mixes of the song were made during a marathon 24-hour control room session on October 16th and 17th, 1968, from 5 pm to 5 pm.  Only one attempt was needed for both the mono and stereo mix to get them to the desired state, these mixes created by George Martin and engineers Ken Scott and John Smith with oversight from Paul and John.  The one noticeable difference between the mixes is that the handclaps are missing in the introduction on the mono mix.

Sometime in 1996, George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick returned to the master tape of the song to create the mix of 'take four' that is heard on “Anthology 3” as described above.  George Martin, along with his son Giles Martin, brought out the master tape of the song once again sometime between 2004 and 2006 to include the introductory drums and handclaps as added elements in their newly created mix of the song “Lady Madonna” as included on the compilation album “Love.”

Song Structure and Style

The song's structure consists of a typical 12-bar blues pattern and is only three verses long (or aaa) with a simple introduction thrown in.

This introduction is four measures long and consists only of percussive elements, the only purposes of this intro being to set the tempo for the song and to allow Paul's vocal to have a springboard in the fourth measure.  The first measure consists mostly of Paul thumping a 4/4 beat on the sounding board of his acoustic guitar, accentuated by a little snare work from Ringo at the end.  The second measure is taken up only by Paul's guitar thumping and his overdubbed handclaps (stereo mix only).  Ringo comes back in with a snare and tom tom fill in the third measure, all of this coming to a halt on the downbeat of the fourth measure which creates a 'Beatles break' for Paul to begin his vocalization.


The first twelve-measure verse then begins which consists of Paul on vocals, acoustic guitar, piano and bass as well as a subdued drum beat from Ringo.  In fact, Ringo's performance on this song sounds as if it was played with brushes, his riding cymbal beat only slightly detected throughout.  Paul adds little extraneous vocal sounds in between his lyric lines in measures three and five, other very slight vocalizations also being detected in other measures as well.

Paul's overdubbed electric rhythm guitar finally arrives in the seventh measure, which fits in nicely as Paul plays it high up on the neck.  However, with the chord changes that start in the ninth measure, his positioning on the neck lowers which end up sounding slightly out-of-tune by the time the eleventh measure kicks in.  The eleventh measure includes a snare drum break while the twelfth measure includes a repeat of the 'Beatles break,' allowing Paul to begin singing the second verse, this being the first occasion in the song that Paul's vocal overdubbing is detected.  Ringo performs another snare drum fill here as well as a segue into the verse that follows.

The second verse continues the same instrumentation throughout, the electric guitar unfortunately starting out in the lower positioning and still sounding somewhat out-of-tune.  One can detect another instance of Paul's overdubbed vocals in measure four, possibly covering over what he felt was an unsatisfactory vocal performance from the rhythm track.  Ringo adds snare drum fills in measures nine, ten and twelve this time around.  The twelfth measure is again a 'Beatles break' with Paul rising to a heavy, soulful falsetto reading of the song's title as a transition to the third verse that follows.

This third verse, which is only eleven measures this time around, becomes the emotional climax of the song due to Paul's heavy-handed vocal work.  He inadvertently adds extra syllables to the main phrase of the song repeatedly, such as “road-ah” in measure three, “da-do it, do it” in measure four, and “i-ee-it in the ro-ooh-oad” in measures five and six.  Paul's electric guitar suitably begins the verse in the higher in-key positioning but then unfortunately transcends down again by the seventh measure.  Paul's bass begins to show off a little in the second and third measures just to add a little ingenuity and variance.  This time the 'Beatles break' happens in the tenth measure so that Paul can end the song with his final spirited plea to “do it in the road” before the final staccato chord pounds on the downbeat of the eleventh measure with a sturdy open hi-hat crash ringing the song out.

American Releases

November 25th, 1968, was the U.S. release date for their double-album "The Beatles," aka the "White Album."  "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" was included on side two, nestled between Ringo's country-tinged "Don't Pass Me By" and Paul's crooner "I Will," once again demonstrating the variety of musical geners The Beatles were capable of.  The album first appeared on compact disc on August 24th, 1987, then as a 30th Anniversary edition on November 23rd, 1998, then as a re-mastered CD on September 9th, 2009.  It got its first mono vinyl release in America on November 9th, 2014.

Sometime in 1982, a flexi-disc that featured “Rocky Raccoon” and “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?” was released as a promotional tool by Capitol/Evatone, these discs being given away at either “Musicland,” “Discount” or “Sam Goody” record stores whenever a Beatles album was purchased.  This flexi-disc was printed on clear vinyl and adhered to the picture of The Beatles as found on the back cover of the “Hey Jude” album.


The above mentioned compilation album “Anthology 3” was released on October 28th, 1996, 'take four' of Paul's rhythm track being included therein.

Elements heard in the introduction of “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?” were included on the track “Lady Madonna” as heard on the album “Love,” which was released on November 20th, 2006.

On September 9th, 2009, American audiences first heard the mono mix of the song as contained in the box set “The Beatles In Mono,” the entire mono “White Album” being contained therein.

Live Performances

The Beatles never performed the song live, and neither has Paul in any of his extensive solo tours.  However, since the lyrics to the song were contained in his 2001 book “Blackbird Singing,” Paul has done readings from the book in front of audiences as a promotion for its release.  Humorously, Paul would choose to do a reading of “Why Don't We Do It In The Road?” to enthusiastic audience response.

Conclusion

Will Paul McCartney ever live down his reputation as a composer of love ballads?  While it's true that he is known for writing his fair share in this genre, noteworthy examples being "And I Love Her," "Michelle," "Here, There And Everywhere," "My Love" and the ever immortal "Yesterday," he seems to have gone out of his way to prove himself prolific across the board.

Never can this be displayed more than on the “White Album,” where he even out-rocks his self proclaimed rocker partner John Lennon.  It's 'crooner Paul,' not John, that we hear belting out “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” “Birthday” and the blistering “Helter Skelter.”  And as if to push the envelope even further, it was the “cute Beatle” that was screaming on this album about his not being able to have sex outdoors.


Still, with Sir Paul McCartney probably branded as the most popular balladeer of the rock 'n' roll era, I don't think it's a moniker he should be too upset about.  I know I wouldn't be.

Song Summary

"Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"

Written by: John Lennon / Paul McCartney

  • Song Written: February - March, 1968
  • Song Recorded: October 9, 1968
  • First US Release Date: November 25, 1968
  • First US Album Release: Apple #SWBO-101 “The Beatles
  • US Single Release: Capitol/Evatone #420828cs
  • Highest Chart Position: n/a
  • British Album Release: Apple #PCS 7067-7068 “The Beatles
  • Length: 1:42
  • Key: D major
  • Producer: Paul McCartney
  • Engineer: Ken Townsend

Instrumentation (most likely):

  • Paul McCartney - Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar (1967 Martin D-28), Piano (1905 Steinway Vertegrand), Bass (1964 Rickenbacker 4001 S), Electric Guitar (1962 Epiphone ES-230TD Casino), handclaps
  • Ringo Starr - Drums (1964 Ludwig Super Classic Black Oyster Pearl)
Written and compiled by Dave Rybaczewski
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