Why Don't You Do Right?

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"Weed Smoker's Dream"
Weed Smoker's Dream single cover.jpg
Single by Harlem Hamfats
B-side"Little Girl"
Released1936 (1936)
Format78 rpm record
RecordedChicago, October 2, 1936
Genreblues, jazz
Songwriter(s)Kansas Joe McCoy[1]

"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 minor key twelve-bar blues with a few chord substitutions, it is considered a classic "woman's blues" song and has become a standard.

Composition and lyrics[edit]

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.[2]

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: "Why don't you do right, like some other men do? Get out of here and get me some money too."

Peggy Lee recordings[edit]

"Why Don't You Do Right?"
Single by Benny Goodman with Peggy Lee
B-side"Six Flats Unfurnished"
Released1942 (1942)
Format78 rpm record
RecordedNew York, July 27, 1942
Songwriter(s)Kansas Joe McCoy
Peggy Lee performing the song in Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Benny Goodman and His Orchestra with Peggy Lee, performing "Why Don't You Do Right?" in Stage Door Canteen

One of the best-known versions of the song was recorded by Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman on July 27, 1942, in New York. Featured in the 1943 film, Stage Door Canteen, it sold over 1 million copies and brought her to nationwide attention.[3]

Lee often stated that Green's recording was 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. 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."[This quote needs a citation]

"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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Why Don't You Do Right". ASCAP | ACE Repertory. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
  2. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books Limited. p. 13. ISBN 1-85868-255-X.
  3. ^ Bush, John. "Peggy Lee – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved August 26, 2011.