You Can't Do That
Composer(s) : Lennon and McCartney
Year : 1964
Chords/Tabs: You Can't Do That
Notes on "You Can't Do That" (YCDT)
KEY G Major
FORM Intro -> Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse -> Verse (guitar solo) ->
Bridge -> Verse -> Outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- Generally speaking, YCDT foreshadows a heavier, harder-rocking sound
for the group that would infiltrate an increasingly large portion of their
repertoire over the next couple or three albums. Call it the dawn of the
Later Early Period :-).
- It also bears a close comparison to its companion A-side, CBML. Both have
the same form although the bridge of this one is closer to a "true" bridge
than the refrain-like one we saw last time. Both songs also display a split
stylistic personality by utilizing relatively straight blues in the
verse but not at all in the bridge. The split in YCDT runs even deeper
to the extent that the verse itself is not the *pure* 12-bar blues variety
seen in CBML, but rather features other elements thrown into the mix.
Harmony and Melody
- The G Major home key would seem like a clue to the new direction in this
area, away from the erstwhile favorite choice of E Major on the first
two albums, as evidenced by the four songs in G on the "A Hard Day's
Night" album; in addition this one you have "I Should Have Known Better",
"I'll Cry Instead", and of course, the title cut.
- The melody of the song is quite jumpy throughout, both in terms of rhythmic
syncopations and intervallic leaps. The bluesy verse uses the flat seventh
scale degree (F-natural) with a traditional consistency that makes for some
bracingly dissonant collisions with the F-sharp contained in the D Major
chord (as in "I told you before"), but both flavors of the third (scale)
degree are used (B-flat and B-natural) and this lends a colorful bi-modal
- The single most dissonant moments in the song come from the clash of
F-naturals (the flat seventh degree) in the voice part against C Major
chords in the accompaniment; viz. two places in every verse -- on the
word "you" in the phrase "and leave you flat", and at the very climax,
on the word "Oh!" in the phrase "Oh!, you can't do that."
- The bridge makes an harmonic break with the I-IV-V blues diet of the
verses by introducing additional chords and flirting briefly with a
modulation toward the key of the relative minor, e. Unusually, both
Major and minor flavors of the B chord appear in this section.
- An ostinato figure characterized by vacillation between the Major/minor
melodic third appears as a unifying device throughout much of the intro,
outro, and verses; at least wherever the G Major chord is sustained for
- The intimate direct-address of the lyrics is galvinizingly enhanced by
the single-tracking of John's lead vocal, in which, if you listen for it
specifically you'll note, he uses an astonishing number of varied shadings
- By the same token, the backing vocal part for Paul and George, with its
subtext of "whatever John says goes double for us!", runs at cross-currents
to the direct-address of the lead, even while it reflects and amplifies
upon the choppy angularity of the melody and the rhythm track. This is
a stylistic trademark that would reappear later in songs like "Help!" and
"You're Going To Lose That Girl". At this early date, the contrast of its
effect in YCDT with the softening/smoothing-over effect in CBML of Paul's
being double-tracked with *no* backing vocal part is instructive.
- A ruthless syncopation on the the eighth note which precedes the downbeat
provides a rhythmic hook for the song. We characterized this particular
choice of syncopation as "swingingly passionate" way back in the note on
"I Should Have Known Better" (which by ironic coincidence turns out to have
been recorded the same day as YCDT), and this rhythmic figure turns out to
appear on other tracks of the AHDN album as well.
- In *this* song, the syncopations are all the more wrenching because of the
way that the drums painstakingly mark the spot where they take place. In
the last phrase of each verse, right after the phrase "because I told you
before", Ringo beats out in even eighth notes the beats of 'and-four-AND-
one.' John sings the syncopated cry of "Oh!" on what I marked as 'AND'
but Ringo's playing out the downbeat (i.e. 'one' ) of the next measure
helps clarify to your ear what has happened. Contrast this to the raving
opening of "When I Get Home", where the downbeat that follows this same
'four-AND' syncopation (on the word "Woah-AHH!") is left to the imagination.
- Lewisohn reports the debut appearance on this track of what would become
George's familiar 12-string guitar sound of the period, as well as the
inclusion of the unusual choice of cowbell and bongos in the rhythm
section. My ears also hear an electric piano (or perhaps organ) doubling
the ostinato figure in the opening.
- The intro is for instruments only, providing four measures of just the
'I' chord with the ostinato figure as a constant, and the entry of the
bass and percussion delayed until the third measure. Both the suspense-
building use of a single chord which happens to continue well into the
verse that follows, and the staggered entry of the instruments anticipate
the likes of "Ticket To Ride" and "Day Tripper."
- The 'four-AND' syncopation is pervasive right off the bat. Not only
is it inherent in the ostinato figure, but it is also picked up by the
way the rest of the ensemble enters in measure 3 with a vacuum cleaner-
like zooming into the G chord from the F# below.
- Harmonically, the verse is a classic twelve-bar blues frame, but the
content and phrasing belies this a tad. The melody is composed straight
through with little or no obvious parallelism among the phrases. The
one exception here is in the way the first four measures subdivide into
a little couplet ("I got something to say that might cause you
pain/If I catch you talking to that boy again").
- By virtue of the earlier mentioned jumpiness, there is also no overall
arch or other clearly directed shape to the tune. Consequently, the climax
of this section ("because I told you before ...") is ultimately motivated
by rhythm and chord progression, rather than melodic contour.
- The notion of a layered arrangement is carried forward in the very
typical way in which the backing vocals first start in the seconed verse.
In an outtake of one of their very early songs, "Do You Want To Know A
Secret", the Beatles would make the understandably inexperienced mistake
of starting such vocals right in the first verse, but even at that stage,
they were smart enough (or else had someone of greater wisdom who could
advise them) to alter their strategy for the official release.
- A small change in harmonic floor-plan differentiates the verses which
lead to other verses from those which lead to a bridge. The former move
to the V chord (D) in their last measure, while the latter sustain the
old I chord.
- Just as we saw in CBML, the bridge here again breaks the strict mold
of the blues. At the very least, the melody in this section eschews
all "blue" notes in favor of a strict diet of the Major third (B-natural)
and the Major seventh (F-sharp).
- More substantively, we have here an eight measure section that subdivides
into two roughly parallel phrases equal in length, the first of which
is harmonically closed off while the second one ends wide open in order
to set up the following verse. Additionally, we have an intruiging fake
modulation to the key of e minor:
|B |e |a b |G |
e: V i iv VI
G:ii iii I
|B |e |a |b D |
e: V vi iv
G:ii iii V
- Though tentative and short-lived, the move toward e is immediate and
impetuous. Not only does the section start right off with the B Major
chord, but that syncopated D# in the tune there is just about the
longest sustained note in the entire song. Despite this, the music
turns tail just as quickly back to the home key by the somewhat awkward,
or at best anti-textbook, root progression of ii-iii-I; the "book" would
prescribe the V (D) in place of the iii.
- This scrambling back to the home key so quickly after such a brief excursion
connotes for me the image of someone who in full rant, rambles off onto a
tangent ("And while I'm at it, another thing, ...!"), only to catch himself
and get back forthwith to the immediate obsession of the moment.
- In the spirit of bridge-ly contrast, the backing voices are also handled
different in this section, now used for italic-like emphasis instead of
the antiphonal counterpoint heard in the verses. In some spots, it's
difficult to tell whether we're hearing John double-tracked here or just
him and George or Paul singing together in unison.
- The mood of general agitation, as well as the interjections of the backing
vocalists, are continued straight into the solo, where choppy chords and
tremelo bent notes prevail over any attempt at an outspun melody. For just
an instant, around measure 9 of this section just as the chords change to
V (D), it almost sounds as though the fragmentary riffs might be ready to
coalesce into some kind of longer line, but alas, it's not meant to be,
and the solo closes in the same disjointed mode in which it began.
- A certain amount of screaming at the beginning of a solo section is a
Beatles tradition going all the way back to "I Saw Her Standing There",
but John's growling gesture at the beginning of this one goes beyond mere
convention, and can likely be felt in the pit of your stomach long after
you might expect to have become used to it from repeated listenings.
- The outro is both abrupt and brief. It is entered immediately following
the end of the last verse with none of the more standard setup via a triple
repeat of the last phrase. It consists of only two measures of the familiar
ostinato figure scored, in complete symmetry with the song's opening, without
drums, although here at the end the bass guitar is included. The lingering
on the penultimate F# right at the end is a teasing surprise.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- You'd half expect the less-than-upbeat theme and side-B status of this one
to leave it stranded in the backwaters of popularity, but it actually is
both a great and favorite song of its period.
- It's tough, tense, and jumping out of its skin with an offbeat attitude
and a matching list of colloquial phrases rarely heard if ever, in a pop
song of the time; e.g. "cause you pain" (?), "leave you flat" (??), "it's
a sin (???). Our hero, after all, seems rather immaturely preoccupied with
what some nameless others ("everybody") must think of his relative prowess
in the lovemaking department. Either they're "gree-en" with envy at his
success, or else they "laugh in (his) face" when he fails.
- There's no talk admission here of his feeling hurt by the actual loss of
the girl's love, no mention of any pre-existing feelings; for all we know,
the other guy may truly be just a platonic friend and the whole thing just
some over-reaction borne of terrific insecurity. Erich ("The Art of Loving")
Fromm would not have been impressed :-).
- But even while it may not be pretty or noble, I think that for anyone who
has ever experienced the feelings described here, even if only during a
small young lapse into pimply hyperbole, this song rings unnervingly true,
and there-in likely lies its popularity. What a shame they cut it from
Alan (email@example.com *OR* uunet!huxley!awp)
"Well, you've got to admit you've upset a lot of people." 011392#46
Copyright (c) 1992 by Alan W. Pollack
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