Inspired by Paul McCartney’s often-stormy relationship with Jane Asher, ‘What You’re Doing’ saw The Beatles experimenting with arrangement and production in a number of ways.

We wrote this one in Atlantic City like ‘Every Little Thing’. It’s not that Atlantic City is particularly inspiring, it’s just that we happened to have a day off the tour there! Ringo does a nice but of drumming decoration in the introduction, and I double-track on the vocal as well as playing some piano.
Paul McCartney
Disc, 14 November 1964

There are several notable aspects to the song. The first is the four-bar solo drum pattern which introduces the song, which returns again before the coda. It is possible that this, as in ‘Ticket To Ride’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, was suggested by McCartney.

McCartney deploys an unusual internal rhyming scheme in the verses: ‘doing’ is paired with ‘blue and’, and ‘running’ with ‘fun in’ – an effect also used on ‘She’s A Woman’. Additionally, the shouted emphasis of certain words in John Lennon and George Harrison’s backing vocals – which recall those from ‘PS I Love You’ – add a sense of urgency.

Most notable, however, is the distortion on the guitar backing and solo – an unusual sound at the time. The piano/bass break before the ending also showed The Beatles testing out ideas and establishing recording techniques which they would later use to dazzling effect.

‘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.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

‘What You’re Doing’ was first released in the UK on Beatles For Sale. US audiences had to wait until June 1965 to hear it, when it appeared on the Beatles VI album.

The song became part of a medley, alone with ‘Drive My Car’ and ‘The Word’, on the 2006 album Love.

In the studio

‘What You’re Doing’ was recorded over three days at Abbey Road. The first session took place on 29 September 1964, at which The Beatles taped seven takes of the rhythm track.

They recorded another five attempts the following day. At this stage the instrumental break was an octave higher, and there was a brief pause before the coda.

‘What You’re Doing’ was eventually completed on 26 October; the final song to be finished on the final day’s recording for Beatles For Sale. Seven takes were recorded, only three of which were complete. Take 19, the final attempt, was the one used for the album.

Previous song: ‘I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party’
Next song: ‘Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby’
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