“What You’re Doing” is a song from the 1964 album, “Beatles For Sale”. George Harrison plays a guitar riff on his Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar which is prominent, of course. In short, the influence of the Rickenbacker on the Fab Four’s friends, The Byrds was noticeable. Then their influence went back to Harrison for his 1965 song “If I Needed Someone“. So, we can see musical evolution actually taking place here!
Recorded: 29th – 30th September, also the 26th October, 1964
Studio: EMI Studios, London
Genre: Jangle pop
Track Duration: 2:30
Record Label: Parlophone
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith
Paul McCartney: double-tracked lead vocal, also the bass guitar
John Lennon: harmony vocal, also the acoustic rhythm guitar
George Harrison: harmony vocal, also the twelve-string lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums
George Martin: piano
What You’re Doing
Not quite poetic license but still unusual, Paul McCartney changes the rhyming scheme somewhat. In short, he rhymes a two-syllable word with two one-syllable words. For example we get “Look what you’re doing, I’m feeling blue and lonely” (“doing” pairing with “blue and”). Then we get “You got me runnin’, and there’s no fun in it” (“runnin'” pairing with “fun in”).
We also see this effect in “She’s a Woman“. Not surprisingly, that song was also part of the Beatles for Sale sessions.
“What You’re Doing was a bit of a filler. I think it was a little more mine than John’s, but I don’t have a very clear recollection so to be on the safe side I’d put it as 50-50. It doesn’t sound like an idea that I remember John offering, so it sounds like a way to get a song started, some of them are just that. ‘Hey, what’cha doing?’ You sometimes start a song and hope the best bit will arrive by the time you get to the chorus, but sometimes that’s all you get, and I suspect this was one of them. Maybe it’s a better recording than it is a song, some of them are. Sometimes a good recording would enhance the song.”
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Although the song lyrics are simple, there’s enough in there to suggest he is singing about his rocky relationship with girlfriend, Jane Asher.
On the 29th September, 1964, The Beatles began recording “What You’re Doing” in the EMI Studios, London. There was seven takes with the final one being the better version. The next day, the band recorded five more takes with the fourth being the best (take 11). These takes came directly after they completed their recording of “Every Little Thing“.
Finally, on the 26th October, after finishing the cover song, “Honey Don’t“, The Beatles put together the best version. This was the final take of seven on the day (take 19).