Tuesday, May 11, 2010


"When You Do That To Me" / Graham Parker

We're still in the 80s -- 1985 to be precise -- and when I think of what other dreck was being played on the radio back then, it's galling. Really, DJs, would it have hurt you to play a song like this? This is not challenging, wrenching music -- it's bright, infectious pop with a clever beat and a sly sexy subtext. What's not to love?

Wikipedia tells me that this album was mostly recorded in New York City, just as GP was beginning to relocate to the States; it did produce one (sorta) hit, "Wake Up (Next To You)." I have no memory of ever hearing this song, but then I hardly ever listened to the radio in the mid-80s. I listen to "Wake Up" now and it's a little too Tears for Fears-y for me; "When You Do That To Me," on the other hand, is more Huey Lewis-y, which in my book is a very very very good thing.

Did I say a sly sexy subtext? To be honest, it's not all that subtle -- remember, this was the era of the Eurythmics' S&M-inspired "Sweet Dreams," which upped the ante for suggestive lyrics. But at least in the opening verse, things remain merely lascivious:
When you walk that walk girl
Into a dark bedroom
It fills my heart with lovin'
Puts sugar in my spoon
Let's be honest: Can you hear this without picturing that seductive walk of hers? Me, I can't even hear it without immediately trying to walk that walk.

The spirit of doowop scintillates through the refrain, with its playfully shifting syncopation. The tune switches happily to a major key, and a sprightly guitar riff (thanks, Brinsley!) dots all the i's and crosses the t's. Though the melody simply skips between two notes, the words land on different notes each time the title phrase is repeated. "WHEN you DO that TO ME / WHEN YOU do THAT to ME" -- it's sort of like one of those old handclap songs, when you have to focus on getting the counterrhythm just right. You wait eagerly for the refrain to come around again, because now you've got the hang of it, you've just got to sing along.

In verse two, however (back to an ominous minor key), we learn that what they're doing in that dark bedroom may be illegal in at least a few states: "If I took a picture / Tried to write a book / It would shock the printer . . . " The imagination goes wild. And to help it along, the percussion sneaks in a few whip cracks and metallic clangs (snap those handcuffs tight!). With Graham urgently repeating in the bridge "I need you so bad, it feels so bad," not to mention the endless iterations of "When you do that to me" in the outro -- well, he seems to be operating on sheer reptilian brain at this point.

The bridge and the outro build a little too frenetically, turning clamorous and dark -- it was the 80s after all. That taut, lively refrain gets lost in an overproduced tangle of minor-key organ, smackdown drums, and menacing guitar line. I know, I know, I get the point; it just isn't as much fun. But hey, I'm not complaining -- it's still a tasty track indeed.


Alex said...

I remember hearing "Wake Up Next to You," "Mighty Rivers," "Break Them Down" and this song on the radio back in the day. (College and alternative radio, to be sure...)

Great stuff -- and such a pity that none of the major record labels could figure out how to market him. Guess he got the last laugh, though -- he got to keep all his advances that would never recoup and the labels are almost all dead by now.

Marie Miller said...

Hi Holly, I linked to your blog from another whose title I've forgotten already. I'm very glad that I did because you write so incredibly well - it's such a pleasure to read your posts. I've been lingering on the British Invasion as that music was and still is very evocative for me. Hope you don't mind that I've added a link on my own music blog to yours. Mine is http://spreadthatrhythmaround.blogspot.com. I hope you'll take a look sometime (though I don't write nearly as well as you do.)
Best wishes, Marie

Holly A Hughes said...

Wow, Marie -- you have some amazing rare stuff on your blog! I'll have to spend some more time poking around there. Thanks for stopping by!

Spread That Rhythm Around! said...

Hi Holly,

Thanks for visiting my blog. I feel much the same way about the British Invasion era as you do, so I'll be posting some of my favourites soon. Right now, I seem to have slipped into a '60s soul groove.

Did you ever buy the UK magazines "FABulous" (weekly) or "Rave" (monthly)?

Best wishes,

Holly A Hughes said...

I think I got a copy of FAB once. Mostly I was a Tiger Beat gal, I have to admit.