Camera Obscura, the Beach Boys and the Staple Singers All Do It Again
Photo: Camera Obscura / Facebook

Photo: Camera Obscura / Facebook

The Scottish indie-pop band Camera Obscura released their fifth album, Desire Lines, this week. They’ve always had one eye on the past of music — their 2006 single “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” was an answer song to “Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken?” by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions — and the title of the first single from Desire Lines, “Do It Again,” owes as much to pop history as Tracyanne Campbell’s callout to Smokey Robinson‘s “Tears of a Clown” in the middle of the song.

The first significant song called “Do It Again” showed up in 1922 — a slinky number written by George Gershwin and Buddy DeSylva for a Broadway show called The French Doll. It became a standard, performed originally by Irène Bordoni and later by Marilyn Monroe and by Judy Garland, whose 1961 live recording from Carnegie Hall was reprised a couple of years ago by Rufus Wainwright.

In 1967, the sunshine pop duo of Jon & Robin had their one and only single, “Do It Again a Little Bit Slower,” and lip-synched it for the Cleveland-based TV variety show Upbeat!

The following year, the Beach Boys, who’d seen their commercial standing start to slip, had a big chart comeback with their own song “Do It Again”; it stayed in their live set ever after, and opened all their 50th-anniversary shows last year. It’s a very simple surf-rock song in the vein of their earliest hits with a handful of weird psychedelic touches in the production (like a trippy drum sound). Here’s their performance of the song from the Ed Sullivan Show in October, 1968.

The next band to have a hit with a “Do It Again” was Steely Dan, whose own song by that name opened their debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill in 1972. (A clip of a live performance from 1973 is below.) Steely Dan’s song turned out to be oddly susceptible to being done again: Eumir Deodato promptly recorded a jazz-soul instrumental version of it, Deep Heat did a nifty funk version in 1975, and — as you’ll see shortly — it would turn up on the charts again a decade later in other guises.

27 years after their first performances, the Staple Singers had their second and final #1 pop hit (and third and final #1 R&B hit) with “Let’s Do It Again,” the intensely sexy theme song from a 1975 movie called Let’s Do It Again, written for them by Curtis Mayfield. The Staples had started out as a gospel act, and had more or less kept in the inspirational vein ever since; “Let’s Do It Again” was just about the most secular song they’d ever recorded.

It was just about time for a country “Do It Again” by that point, and Larry Gatlin had a Top 20 country single with his “Do It Again Tonight” in 1978, featuring bizarre, disco-inspired production.

After Michael Jackson‘s Thriller started selling a bajillion copies in 1983, an Italian studio group called Club House recorded a medley of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” and “Billie Jean”–the distinctive bass line of the latter turned out to go nicely with the melody of the former. (They followed it, less successfully, with a version of Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition” sung over the groove from Chic’s “Good Times.”)

When the Club House recording started to turn up on the American pop charts, a Detroit-based group called Slingshot recorded a total soundalike version — same chintzy keyboard tone, same vocal inflections — and was rewarded by hitting the top of the U.S. dance-club play chart. (They followed it, less successfully, with a version of AC/DC‘s “You Shook Me All Night Long” sung over the groove from Kraftwerk‘s “Tour de France.”)

The Kinks recorded their own “Do It Again,” a song about being stuck in a routine, in 1984, as they were hoping to have a reprise of their previous album’s surprise hit “Come Dancing.” (Ray Davies has always been pretty up-front about his ambitions.) They made a similarly goofy video for it, below; “Do It Again” also became the title of the 2010 documentary in which reporter Geoff Edgers tries (and fails) to reunite the Kinks.

Recently, Holy Ghost! reprised Steely Dan’s trick of “opening your first album with an original song called ‘Do It Again,’ perhaps in the hopes of precipitating a long career” in 2011; here’s a live performance from that year.

There have been plenty of other cognates of doing things again in music in the 89 years between DeSylva/Gershwin’s song and Camera Obscura’s, from Debbie Rich’s 1989 country hit “Do It Again (I Think I Saw Diamonds)” to Britney Spears‘ “Oops! I Did It Again” to Jay-Z‘s “Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up).” But the most monomaniacally doing-it-again example of doing-it-again has to be Kevin Ayers‘ song “We Did It Again,” originally written when he was in the prog-rock group Soft Machine (the recording below is from their 1968 debut album), and performed by him time after time both with them and on his own –sometimes for half an hour or more at a stretch, until the song became a prophecy that fulfilled itself.

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