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

MP3: Lowell George :: What Do You Want the Girl to Do?
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!


  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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