lowell-george.jpg(Sevens, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, pays tribute to the art of the individual song.)

Masterful songwriting often leads to reinvention. Sometimes a song so is so approachable, so adaptable, that to cover it almost feels like a duty. At their best, these interpretations have the ability to transcend just being a cover, but act as a new entry into the song’s lineage.

Question at hand: Is it possible that one could make an Allen Toussaint composition more soulful than its original? Could someone further Toussaint’s vision, placing the original in it’s shadow, wallowing in a lack of extravagance that, rather than destroying, instead uplifts and invigorates it? That’s a tall order, indeed, but when it comes to Toussaint, there may have been only one person able to make that claim: Lowell George.

I originally happened upon George’s cover of “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” under tepid circumstances. By tepid, I don’t mean in my life, and I don’t mean that day (or that particular ride) with the car radio on. I speak of the first minute-and-a-half of the song, which admittedly feels more Michael McDonald Yacht Rock than the soul-and-face-melting opus it becomes. It doesn’t help that one of the most throw-away lines in Toussaint’s songwriting career (“Like it’s good for her/like Apple Pies/And she don’t even cry”) occurs in the first few lines, or that one of the most endearing qualities of the song – the false-start pace that repeats each verse – sounds, upon first listen, like it may have been the chorus when you first pass it, leaving little satisfaction.

But wait: with George’s chiming scratch guitar, backing vocals – and horns – coalescing into a truly massive crescendo, the true, actual, chorus literally made me pull the car over. Sitting on the side of the road in a small town listening, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to head bang, head shake, dance or just pound out the beat on the steering wheel. And then…the song collapsed. Frightened, alone without song or artist, I waited for several painful seconds until the verse came back – now, not as painful as a Doobie Brothers song, but with a heart wrenching  story unfolding itself. In a way, Toussaint’s plain sung, almost monotone and barely played original hides the pain of the narrator: speaking both of himself and of the anonymous protagonist as he loses grip and slowly his relationship – while the dutiful, diligent and loyal love is “broken in two.”

Sometimes the songs that mean the most pass us by before we knew they even kicked in — before they even allow us to register the sheer power that 3-5 minutes of verse/chorus can wield. As I pulled back onto the road I found myself wishing that “What Do You Want the Girl to Do?” was on my iPod and not on a lost FM station disappearing into the ether somewhere in the Northeast. words/ b. kramer

Download:
MP3: Lowell George :: What Do You Want the Girl to Do?
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Amazon: Lowell George – Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here

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12 Responses to “Sevens :: What Do You Want the Girl to Do?”

  1. What an excellent piece of writing. And the song is pretty good too! I enjoyed reading this. Thanks!

  2. Love Lowell. One of the best imo..

  3. Yes, there are always cheesy songs (read – part about similarities to Yacht Rock, though I suspect Toussaint’s version is immensly funky) we enjoy (Boz Scaggs’s JoJo is another example – revisited after reading an interview on Pitchfork w/Okkervil River). The writing on Lowell George’s variation was eloquent and perfect – one of the best pieces I’ve read.

  4. Great song! Lowell has always been one of my all-time faves. The entire solo album (Thanks I’ll Eat It Here) is pretty solid, though I don’t enjoy it as much as Little Feat’s work. Bonnie Raitt covered this song on her 1975 release, Home Plate (though she changed the gender in the title). While I’m a big fan of her work, it doesn’t hold a candle to Lowell’s version.

  5. @ dpop, yeah, the Bonnie Raitt cover was how I first heard this tune as a kid. Her tastes have always been super-solid.

  6. I knew there was a reason I mentioned Boz Scaggs previously. Scaggs, on his album Silk Degrees (which I have been obsessed with – yes, I know it’s cheesy – on and off), also covered “What Do You Want The Girl To Do?”, though I prefer Lowell George’s version. Also check out “What Can I Say” and “Georgia” onSIlk Degrees.

  7. SIlk Degrees is the shit, man!! No shame!

    http://www.aquariumdrunkard.com/2007/07/11/to-the-sad-sad-truth-the-dirty-lowdown/

  8. Thanks! Glad to know I’m not the only one who digs Silk Degrees. Got to put that on my iPod – Lowdown has to be the best, must funky “pop” song of the 70s.

  9. Sounds cool. Got some Motown going on in there :)

  10. The Little Feat version of Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down” (on Dixie Chicken) also surpasses the original.

  11. Perfect description.

    What a magic song. At first I thought it was a bit corny. But the more I listened, the more powerful the chorus became.

  12. i heard this song for the 1st time yesterday on a radio station in london and i’m now obsessed with the thing. ooooooooohhhhhhhh

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