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“What You’re Doing”

Listen to “What You’re Doing”

JOHN 1980: “His song… I might have done something.”

PAUL circa-1994: “‘What You’re Doing’ was a bit of filler. I think it was a little more mine than John’s… You sometimes start a song and hope the best 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 a song.”

About “What You’re Doing”

“What You’re Doing” is a song by the English rock band the Beatles from their album Beatles for Sale, released in December 1964. It was written by Paul McCartney, although credited to Lennon–McCartney. The song was one of eight original compositions on Beatles for Sale. In North America, where Capitol Records typically altered the content of the band’s albums, “What You’re Doing” instead appeared on the 1965 US release Beatles VI.

“What You’re Doing” was written by McCartney in Atlantic City on 30 August 1964, shortly following the end of the Beatles’ 1964 world tour. Throughout the song, McCartney adds to the rhyme scheme by combining a single, two-syllable word with two one-syllable words. He used the same technique on “She’s a Woman“, which was also recorded during the Beatles for Sale sessions. Inspired by his often turbulent relationship with girlfriend Jane Asher, McCartney has gone on record as not liking “What You’re Doing”, regarding it as “filler”.

The track features a guitar riff played by George Harrison on his Rickenbacker 12-string electric guitar. The sound was influential on the Byrds, who crafted their sound partly on the Beatles’ use of the Rickenbacker, and Harrison in turn adopted influences from the Byrds in his 1965 song “If I Needed Someone“.

The Beatles attempted to record the song on 29 September 1964, but only the basic rhythm track was taped over seven takes (with take seven being deemed the best). A day later, after finishing the recording of “Every Little Thing“, the group recorded five more takes, with take 11 being deemed the best. The group remade the song into its final form on 26 October, immediately after completing work on the Carl Perkins-cover “Honey Don’t“. It was the last song to be completed for Beatles for Sale.

Meaning of “What You’re Doing”

The lyrics of “What You’re Doing” address a relationship where the narrator is feeling neglected or misunderstood. The narrator expresses frustration and seeks clarification from their partner about their actions and feelings. They want to understand why things are the way they are in the relationship.

Despite the somewhat serious subject matter, the song maintains an upbeat and catchy melody, which is characteristic of The Beatles’ early style.

Overall, “What You’re Doing” is a reflection on the complexities and challenges of romantic relationships. It touches on themes of communication, understanding, and the desire for mutual respect and consideration.


  • Paul McCartney – lead vocal, bass
  • John Lennon – harmony vocal, acoustic rhythm guitar
  • George Harrison – harmony vocal, twelve-string lead guitar
  • Ringo Starr – drums
  • George Martin – piano

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