Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Song Progression: Why Don’t You Do Right

One of the things I like to do to pass the time is something I call “Song Progression”. What I do is find as many versions of one song that catches my eye and then play them in chronological order while looking up the history of each. Besides being entertaining, it is educational for myself as DJ to see which artists influenced others and possibly find new finds for my collection.

I was listening to the latest Yehoodi Talk Show the other night and caught a unique version of Why Don’t You Do Right which I will go into further into toward the end of this entry.

The Weed Smoker’s Dream – Harlem Hamfats (1936)

The song was written in 1936 by a gentleman named Kansas Joe McCoy with the title of “The Weed Smoker’s Dream”. Fun fact for those of you who are classic rock fans, McCoy was also one of the co-writers for the song When The Levee Breaks which was famously covered by Led Zeppelin.

Kansas Joe McCoy performed the song with his brother Charlie and other band members of the group famously known as the Harlem Hamfats. Something to note is lyrics to this song are also different (much less family-friendly) then in Why Don’t You Do Right and is listed below,

Sittin’ on a million
Sittin’ on it every day
Can’t make no money givin’ your stuff away
Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

Fay’s a betting woman
She bets on every hand
She’s a trickin’ mother for you every-where she land
Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

May’s a good-lookin’ frail
She lives down by the jail
On her back though she got hot stuff for sale
Why don’t you do now
like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market
And make a million too

Why Don’t You Do Right – Lil Green (1941)

Kansas Joe McCoy after putting out the 1936 version of the song rewrote modifying the composition and changing the lyrics entirely as listed below.

You had plenty of money in 1922
You let other women make a fool of you

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

You’re sittin’ down wonderin’ what it’s all about
You ain’t got no money that will put you out

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

If you have prepared twenty years ago
You wouldn’t be wanderin’ now from door to door

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

I fell for you jiving and I too you in
Now all you’ve got to offer me is a drink of gin

Why don’t you do right?
Like some other men do
Get out of here and get me some money, too

The result was “Why Don’t You Do Right” and it was recorded by Lil Green with guitar provided by Big Bill Broonzy.

Lillian Green was born in Mississippi 1919, however her parents died when she was young and in result she moved to Chicago where she started performing in local nightclubs as a teenager. A website Acrobat Music wrote in respect to Green,

“[…] She became noted as a highly individual singer with a fine sense of timing and a distinctively sinuous delivery.”

Why Don’t You Do Right – Benny Goodman Featuring Peggy Lee (1942)

 On July 27, 1942 in New York with Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee covered Lil’ Green’s version of “Why Don’t You Do Right” which later sold over a million copies and launched her into the national spotlight.

According to wikipedia the story of how this came about is below,

Peggy 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.”

The first video of Peggy’s performance is her trading off with Benny Goodman’s clarinet.

This second video has a different feel by making Peggy the spotlight and putting the band in the background.

Lee had a stage presence that could just captivate you, in the second video notice how she seems to use every facial expression to accent what she is singing in the music. A quote that I think describes her well from her website is,

“Lee’s most lasting influence was the fact that she could be both a pop and a jazz singer. Her main quality was a marvelous sense of subtlety. She never overpowered you. You could hear her voice after it stopped.” – Jazz Critic, Nat Hentoff

Peggy Lee

Why Don’t You Do Right – Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

A box office hit and and wildly popular (a dance move at the time was named after it), the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was released in 1988.  The plot of the film according wikipedia writes,

“The story is a murder mystery set in 1947, in a surreal world where cartoon characters, commonly called “toons”, are living beings who act out cartoons in the same way that human actors make live-action productions.”

In the film Amy Irving sings a cover of the song “Why Don’t You Do Right” providing the voice for the character in the film Jessica Rabbit.

Due to the widespread popularity of the movie, the song was again brought back in the national spotlight over 40 years later after Peggy Lee’s national success.

References:

  1. Wikipedia article on Kansas Joe McCoy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kansas_Joe_McCoy
  2. Wikipedia article on Harlem Hamfats: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlem_Hamfats
  3. Memphis History’s article on Kansas Joe McCoy: http://www.memphishistory.org/Music/TheBlues/BluesArtists1/KansasJoeMcCoy/tabid/287/Default.aspx
  4. Weenie Campbell’s website, discussion on “The Weed Smokers Dream” lyrics: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=661.0;wap2
  5. Wikipedia article on Lil Green:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lil_Green
  6. Acrobat Music article on Lil Green: http://www.acrobatmusic.net/?cid=24&NewsId=113
  7. Wikipedia article on Peggy Lee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peggy_Lee
  8. Remembering Miss Peggy Lee, article from her personal website: http://www.peggylee.com/solos/accolades.html
  9. Wikipedia article on Why Don’t You Do Right: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_Don’t_You_Do_Right
  10. Wikipedia article on Who Framed Roger Rabbit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Framed_Roger_Rabbit
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5 responses

  1. François

    Hello ! I’m a french people. Sorry, my english is approximate, as you can see.
    I like Rock and Blues songs. I heard this song for the first time on Hugh Laurie’s album “Didn’t it rain”. I can translate the lyrics “word for word” from english to french language, but I dont understand the meaning of it. Could you help me ? Thanks a lot. François.

    July 26, 2013 at 11:24 am

    • Sure, what are you lacking understanding about? I can try to break it down or perhaps get one of my francophone friends to assist me.

      August 6, 2013 at 3:06 pm

  2. martin

    this song is about longing not for a woman not for sex but longing for money. great history lesson and preferred the original lyric.great song

    October 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm

  3. Pingback: Lil Green | foremothers

  4. Thank you so much : your article is a very interesting one.

    March 13, 2015 at 9:40 am

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