Buried near the end of side two of the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled masterwork (more commonly known as the White Album), and coming right before the sweetly sung romantic ballad “I Will,” “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” finds Paul McCartney posing a musical question still not properly and conclusively answered so many years later.
“Why don’t we do what in the road?” Why don’t we have a bit of a frolic, play catch, dig for buried treasure or reach for the stars on a hot summer’s day? And what are the chances of being caught? “No one will be watching us,” McCartney assures. So there’s that guarantee of walking, or perhaps limping silently, away scot-free.
McCartney has explained the song’s meaning before, or answered the question with a loaded retort. Quoth Wikipedia: “McCartney wrote the song after seeing two monkeys copulating in the street while on retreat in Rishikesh, India, with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He (marveled) in the simplicity of this natural scenario when compared to the emotional turmoil of human relationships.” So that theory goes. It’s the “fish and finger pie” thing all over again–a smutty little joke…a wink wink, nudge nudge between singer and listener and, you know, say no more.
Or is it? If McCartney were asked today about this song, he’d probably say he doesn’t remember what in God’s name it was about. “That was so 46 years ago,” he would probably opine. Or he might suggest that Ringo has the skinny. But Ringo would probably laugh and, with the wave of his hand, dismiss the question outright. “Don’t we have better things to talk about?” he might ask. Ha ha, and all that.
And so, I ask: What’s more fun than playing the “What is Paul talking about?” parlour game? Nothing, really. So, as we’re doing that, let’s up the ante a bit more and note that “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road?” is only four seconds shorter than “I Will.” Believe it or not, it takes McCartney about the same amount of time to express his undying love for his woman as it does to comment on copulating monkeys. Or preparing a will. Or having a contest to see who can suck a lollipop down to the stick in less time.
The song, musically speaking, is simply, yet powerfully, stated: basic percussion, piano, bass, guitar and McCartney’s in-and-out Little Richard vocal stuck together for less time than it takes to fry an egg. “Why don’t we d-do it in the road? Why don’t we do it in the road? Uh, why don’t we do it in the ro-oad, mmm, why don’t we do it in the road? No one will be watching us, whyyy don’t we do it in the road?”
And one minute and forty-one seconds later, the song ends suddenly, abruptly–defiantly even, with a last “Why don’t we do it in the road?” The simultaneous slam on the piano, a fat pat on the snare drum, and a rigorous crash of the cymbal are all it takes to clear the aural decks and move on.
I must admit that I was one of those people who spent hours on end dissecting the obviously intended backwards messages in “Revolution 9,” stalling the motors on two, count ’em, two Symphonic all-in-one, fold-’em-up stereo turntables. I spent hours trying to figure the meaning of it all: Was Paul dead? Had my fab Paulie left this mortal coil? “You try to play that record backwards again,” my father warned, “and you won’t see another turntable in your room until you’re 25!” So I settled on letting other devoted Beatles fans figure out what the state of the Paul union was and concentrated instead on what it was that Paul, or his stand-in, was doing in the proverbial road.
It’s funny, really, how these odd, eccentric abnormalities associated with Beatles records stay with us in our creeping-up-slowly old age. In truth, it was all so silly, but it sure kept us busy and fixated. The prize at the end of all of the detective work was that all was well. Paul was alive and well and pouring a bucket of water on Life magazine’s photographer at his Scottish farm. I got another Symphonic turntable.
Perhaps the answer to the musical question, “Why don’t we do it in the road?”, is, simply, “I Will.” There. That takes care of another mystery in this life. You’re welcome.