Time for me to be a hypocrite. I ranked “I Wanna Be Your Man” the worst original Beatles song largely due to its lousy, basic 18-word vocabulary. “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” clocks in at just 17 unique words, yet here it is, nearly 75 slots higher. I mean, obviously there are plenty of legitimate reasons for that which I’ll get into, but I’ll admit, that’s a pretty wide jump. You’re probably thinking, “How do you justify that, Anthony? How do you sleep at night? Do you have any value system whatsoever? You’re so inconsistent. No, wait, sorry, I’m wrong. Because you consistently frustrate me with your stone-cold hypocrisy. That’s the one thing you manage to do with an iota of consistency. Anyway, happy birthday. Love, Mom.”
So what exactly is it about “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” then that makes it so darn good?
-The vocal. Paul McCartney holds nothing back, each line sung with more grit than the last. That said, my favorite moment arrives in the very first line, when Paul stutters, “Why don’t we d-do it in the road?”
-The entire song just grooves, baby. The ominous drum opening, the pulsating piano, those slick little guitar licks…there’s nothing musically innovative in the slightest, but it works so well.
-Economy of lyrics. The Beatles say more with these 17 words than some artists do in their entire careers. And it goes without saying that “No one will be watching us, why don’t we do it in the road?” tells a better story than, “Tell me that you love me, baby, let me understand. Tell me that you love me, baby, I wanna be your man.”
As an aside, if you want to really dive into economy of lyrics, there is no greater example than R.E.M.’s brilliant “The One I Love.” No song before or since has so succinctly gotten its message across utilizing a mere 21 different words. And yet it’s still misinterpreted! People who apparently read the title and decided, “Well, that sure sounds nice” have allegedly used this as a wedding song, despite the fact that the titular “one I love” is described as “a simple prop to occupy my time.” Oh, and the chorus is just the word “Fire!” repeated over and over. Ah yes, the perfect soundtrack for walking down the aisle. If I were at a wedding where they played that, I feel like out of principle I would need to object to the union. And then take advantage of the captive audience by talking at length about why, if push comes to shove, I would rank Document as my least favorite R.E.M. album from the IRS years.
“And if there are any Beatles fans in the crowd, I have a blog you should check out. I’ll write the URL on the dinner table name cards since we won’t be needing them now.”
PS: This entry is 280 unique words.