Why Don't You Do Right?

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"Weed Smoker's Dream"
Single by Harlem Hamfats
B-side "Little Girl"
Released 1936 (1936)
Format 10" 78 rpm record
Recorded Chicago, October 2, 1936
Genre Blues
Length 3:19
Label Decca (Cat. no. 7234)
Writer(s) Kansas Joe McCoy, Herb Morand

"Why Don't You Do Right?" is an American blues- and jazz-influenced pop song written and composed in 1936 by Joseph "Kansas Joe" McCoy. A twelve-bar minor key blues form with a few chord substitutes, it is considered a classic "woman's blues" song and, more recently, it has also become a standard.

Composition[edit]

"Why Don't You Do Right?" first appeared in 1936 as "The Weed Smoker's Dream," written and composed by McCoy and recorded by his band, the Harlem Hamfats. The song was subtitled "Why Don't You Do Now" on the original release. McCoy later rewrote the song, refining the composition and changing the lyrics entirely. The new tune, now titled "Why Don't You Do Right?", was recorded by Lil Green in 1941, with guitar played by William "Big Bill" Broonzy. The recording was an early jazz and blues hit.

Lyrics and themes[edit]

The song tells the narrative of a woman who is complaining about her partner's apparent financial insolvency. She states that he was financially well off in 1922, but now has nothing. She claims it is because he wasted it on other women, and that these lovers will no longer show any interest in him now that he is poor. She claims that he tricked her into a relationship where all he has to offer her is "a drink of gin." She ends each verse asking why the man does not 'do right' by her, and then throws him out, insisting that he go earn a living in order to support her.

The song has its roots in blues music and deals with themes that were common following the Great Depression and prohibition: the narrator is suggesting that the man is destitute because he has been used by other women, then demands money from him for her benefit.

Peggy Lee recordings[edit]

"Why Don't You Do Right?"
Single by Benny Goodman with Peggy Lee
B-side "Six Flats Unfurnished"
Released 1942 (1942)
Format 10" 78 rpm record
Recorded New York, July 27, 1942
Genre Jazz
Length 3:12
Label Columbia (Cat. no. 36652)
Writer(s) Kansas Joe McCoy

One of the best-known versions of the song, Peggy Lee's, was recorded on July 27, 1942 in New York with Benny Goodman. It sold over 1 million copies and brought her to nationwide attention.[1]

Lee often stated that Green's recording was extremely influential to her music. In a 1984 interview she said: "I was and am a fan of Lil Green, a great old blues singer, and Lil recorded it. I used to play that record over and over in my dressing room, which was next door to Benny's (Goodman). Finally he said, 'You obviously like that song.' I said, 'Oh, I love it.' He said, 'Would you like me to have an arrangement made of it?' I said, 'I'd love that,' and he did."

"Why Don't You Do Right?" was not the biggest hit Goodman and Lee put out; it only reached #4 on the Billboard charts. But it defined Lee's sultry and rich vocal style early on in her career. Lee left Goodman in 1943, having married guitarist Dave Barbour. Her intention was to retire from the music industry and focus on homemaking, but she continued receiving offers to return to the music world, largely due in part to the success of "Why Don't You Do Right?" Ultimately she returned to singing, and collaborated off and on with Goodman throughout her career. They recorded an alternate version of "Why Don't You Do Right?" in 1947.

Other performances[edit]

In addition to the 1936 Harlem Hamfats release of "The Weed Smoker's Dream", the 1941 recording of "Why Don't You Do Right?" by Lillian "Lil" Green and the 1942 and 1947 versions recorded by Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee, other versions were recorded over the years by Kay Kyser (vocals by Julie Conway), Ella Fitzgerald (see her album: "Jazz at the Philharmonic, the Ella Fitzgerald Set") and Joe Pass, Julie London, Cal Tjader and Mary Stallings, Mark Murphy, Shirley Horn, Johnny Otis, Mel Torme, Rasputina, Imelda May, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ashlee Simpson, Sinéad O'Connor, Eden Brent on her album "Mississippi Number One" (2008), White Ghost Shivers on their album Everyone's Got 'Em (2006), and the Carolina Chocolate Drops on their album "Genuine Negro Jig" (2010).

In 1960, the American jazz singer Della Reese recorded an uptempo version of the song for her album Della Della Cha-Cha-Cha. The song was then recorded in Italy in the early 1960s by Helen Merrill, while she was living there, on her album Parole e Musica: Words and Music. The LP features the unusual additions preceding each song, of spoken translations of eloquent Italian word lyrics, complementing the ballads and torch songs.

The song was memorably performed in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit by the animated character Jessica Rabbit. Although Kathleen Turner provided the acting voice for the character, the vocal performance of the song is by actress Amy Irving, then the wife of executive producer Steven Spielberg.[2]

Hugh Laurie included the song, under the original title and with original lyrics, on his second album in 2013.

The song can also be heard in the soundtrack of Fallout: New Vegas.

Why Don't You (2010 song)[edit]

Serbian DJ Marko Milicevic (also known as the dance act Gramophonedzie) sampled and remixed the song in his 2010 single "Why Don't You?" The song reached number 1 in the UK Dance Chart. The song samples Peggy Lee's 1947 version, which appears on The Best of Peggy Lee: The Capitol Years.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bush, John. "Peggy Lee – Biography". allmusic. Retrieved August 26, 2011. 
  2. ^ Irving's performance of "Why Don't You Do Right?" was not her on-screen singing debut; she had marked that in the film Honeysuckle Rose alongside Willie Nelson and versus Dyan Cannon.