Why Don't You Do Right?
|"Weed Smoker's Dream"|
|Single by Harlem Hamfats|
|Format||10" 78 rpm record|
|Recorded||Chicago, October 2, 1936|
|Label||Decca (Cat. no. 7234)|
|Writer(s)||Kansas Joe McCoy, Herb Morand|
"Why Don't You Do Right?" (originally recorded as "Weed Smoker's Dream") is an American blues- and jazz-influenced pop song written by Joseph "Kansas Joe" McCoy in 1936. A twelve-bar minor key blues with a few chord substitutions, it is considered a classic "woman's blues" song and has become a standard.
Composition and lyrics
In 1936, the Harlem Hamfats recorded "The Weed Smoker's Dream". Band member McCoy later rewrote the song, refining the composition and lyrics. The new tune, titled "Why Don't You Do Right?", was recorded by Lil Green in 1941, with guitar by William "Big Bill" Broonzy. The recording was an early jazz and blues hit.
The song has its roots in blues music and originally dealt with a marijuana smoker reminiscing about lost financial opportunities. As it was rewritten, it takes on the perspective of the female partner, who chastises her man for his irresponsible ways and admonishes him to
- Why don't you do right, like some other men do?
- Get out of here and get me some money too
Peggy Lee recordings
|"Why Don't You Do Right?"|
|Single by Benny Goodman with Peggy Lee|
|B-side||"Six Flats Unfurnished"|
|Format||10" 78 rpm record|
|Recorded||New York, July 27, 1942|
|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. 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 Goodman and Lee's biggest hit. However, it reached number four on the Billboard charts and defined Lee's sultry and rich vocal style early on in her career. Lee married guitarist Dave Barbour and left Goodman in 1943. She intended 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.
A variety of musicians have recorded "Why Don't You Do Right" over the years. These include renditions by Kay Kyser (vocals by Julie Conway), Ella Fitzgerald ("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, for the album Parole e Musica: Words and Music.
The song was performed in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit by the animated character Jessica Rabbit. Although Kathleen Turner (who was uncredited for her role) 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. Hugh Laurie included the song, under the original title and with original lyrics, on his second album in 2013. Gramophonedzie sampled and remixed Peggy Lee's 1947 version from The Best of Peggy Lee: The Capitol Years for his 2010 single "Why Don't You?" It reached number one in the UK Dance Chart.