You Can't Do That - Reviews

Reviewed by Ian MacDonald, in Revolution in the Head:

Returning to London a week after recording CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, The Beatles paused for a day before flying to New York for a brief round of TV and concert engagements to consolidate the success of I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND. Back a fortnight later, with their first feature film due to start shooting in five days, they dashed into Abbey Road to do a B-side for their sixth single, finishing it in four takes. Like its A-side, YOU CAN'T DO THAT is a blues with a contrasting eight-bar section, this time given a bitter pentatonic twist.

Written by Lennon, the song is punchily aggressive, leaning towards outright dissonance in its arpeggio guitar riff and equipped with frankly autobiographical lyrics. (He later recalled it as written under the influence of Wilson Pickett. Pickett, though, was then an obscure singer of 6/8 'talking' ballads a year away from his first hit, 'In The Midnight Hour', which is presumably what Lennon was referring to.) As a performance, it's among The Beatles' best from this period, with McCartney and Harrison yelling one of their most exciting backing vocal arrangements and tension tightening at the guitar solo before relapsing on a sullen lead-bass unison at the end. Not surprisingly, it was taken into The Beatles' act during 1964.

The paranoid possessiveness of YOU CAN'T DO THAT marks it 'personal' in more ways than one. After the head-to-head collaboration of I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND, McCartney and Lennon had rebounded into competitive solo writing, McCartney pushing himself with the optimistic CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, Lennon covering his partner's move with some self-promotion of his own in the present track. This divergence was to become emphatic with A Hard Day's Night. In the first phase of The Beatles' career (up to and including I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND), Lennon and McCartney had been equal in their output of solo and collaborative songs, Lennon stealing fractionally ahead of McCartney on With The Beatles. During A Hard Day's Night, Lennon began to work very hard on his songwriting, contributing four-fifths of the group's originals. Rivalry was always hot between them and McCartney's gesture of A-side independence with CAN'T BUY ME LOVE must have jolted Lennon who, till then, had regarded himself as undisputed leader. Coinciding with McCartney's newfound concentration on the actress Jane Asher, Lennon's sudden burst of work allowed him to dominate the band's composing for almost a year. In this light, the imperious YOU CAN'T DO THAT, title and all, sounds very much like the first blow in a deliberate campaign of reconquest.

Posted: 7 feb 2016