With this post I introduce a new feature which I call One Song, Three Versions. It always fascinates me how different artists can take just one song, run it through their own filter and make something completely different out of it…
“Baby Don’t You Do It” was a song written by the Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland who crafted so many hits for the Supremes, Temptations, etc. In fact, this was originally supposed to be a Supremes song but Marvin Gaye wound up doing it. Allmusic says this song’s, “lyrics create a convincing sense of heartbroken frenzy as its narrator begs his icy object of affection not to break his heart and makes dramatic threats like “Go to the river and there I’ll be/I’m gonna jump in, baby, if you don’t see by me.”” Yeah, baby.
The Band did this song too and in fact, I think I heard their version before I ever heard Marvin Gaye’s. Same song right? (Except they called it “Don’t Do It.”) But listen to how the bass punctuates the beat and Levon Helm’s voice has a more world-weary quality. And love that horn section. “My biggest mistake was loving you too much.” Right! If I had only loved you less things would be all right.
You want the difference between rock and roll and Motown? It’s all right here. I like The Band’s version better. Except for when I like Gaye’s better. (The Black Crowes did this song too and it’s good but pretty much covered The Band’s version.)
I only found out very recently that one of my favorite bands – The Who – did this song too. Apparently, it was an outtake from their great Who’s Next album but was released much later on CD. Note how they make it into a Who song with Keith Moon’s wild over-the-top drumming and Townshend’s great rhythm guitar. Bonus – Leslie West, then of Mountain, plays guitar on this.
In an interview, West said: “The Who’s company were representing us in England. I think this was in about 1971, I got a call from Kit Lambert, one of their managers, asking would I play guitar on this new album they’re doing? I said, “They have a guitar player.” But he said, “Pete doesn’t want to overdub, he wants to do it straightaway.”
So I came in and we did the whole album, and then they went back to England, and Glyn Johns re-did it [with Townsend playing the lead guitars].And then, sure enough, they re-released it in the Nineties, the Who’s Next re-mixes. So it’s on there, and it talks about me in the booklet. On one [bonus] cut especially, “Baby Don’t You Do It”, you hear me playing lead on the right, and Townsend playing on the left, the rhythm, and it was so thrilling to do that.”
Fantastic! “Now you got me where you want me baby, you gonna let me go?” Is this even the same fucking song at this point? Does it even matter? It’s only rock ‘n roll.