Song of the Day #105: ‘What You’re Doing’ – The Beatles

Beatles For Sale feels like it should be the group’s third album — so much so that I have accidentally miscategorized it as such several times already in preparing this week’s blog posts. After the all-original material of A Hard Day’s Night, it returns to the pattern of the band’s first two releases, splitting the lineup between originals and covers.

I imagine it was a bit of a let-down when it came out. Following the phenomenal artistic success of A Hard Day’s Night it must have seemed like a step backward. For me, who discovered all of The Beatles’ albums nearly two decades after the group broke up, that wasn’t really an issue.

To be sure, the album contains a lot of great music. ‘No Reply,’ ‘I’m a Loser,’ ‘I’ll Follow the Sun’ and ‘Eight Days a Week’ are all excellent, and that’s just on the first half of the album.

But for my money, the best song on Beatles For Sale is hidden away at track number 13. ‘What You’re Doing’ isn’t one of the best-known Beatles songs, but it’s one of my absolute favorites. I can’t even explain why, really… it just works for me on a chemical level that defies analysis.

I suspect it has a whole lot to do with two things that leap out at you during the first 15 seconds of the song — Ringo’s big, bold Phil Spector-esque drumwork and that delicious guitar lick that drives the rest of the song like a foundation made of rock candy. I also love the wacky piano-fueled bridge that drops in from nowhere halfway through the song.

I’ve never seen this song mentioned among The Beatles “greatest hits” but I believe it very much belongs in the company of those other songs the world loves so much.

4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #105: ‘What You’re Doing’ – The Beatles

  1. Dana says:

    I agree that this album was really a bit of a step back for the Beatles, which for them basically means going from great (Hard Day’s Night) to the merely very good. The original songs, including this one, seem to mostly come from Lennon, and you can see a bit of the darker emotional side starting to bleed through the pop tunes–something I find very compelling. But I also think Paul’s “I’ll Follow the Sun” is a standout on this album.

  2. Dana says:

    I stand corrected as to the author of this song–it is actually from Paul.

  3. pegclifton says:

    Thanks again for another great song, just love their sound.

  4. Amy says:

    Love those drums. I can see what you mean. There’s no easy way to explain the appeal of this song other than to say – listen to it.

    What always strikes me when I listen to this sort of offering from The Beatles is how incredibly talented they were to be able to write these perfect pop confections and the more ambitious songs that followed. Many artists can do one or the other effectively; I’m not sure how many can do both as well as The Beatles did.

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