The code of the beat.

Marquee Names: Rhetta Hughes’s “You’re Doing With Her — When It Should Be Me”

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Spotting new details in a classic Rhetta Hughes number.

It can be a fool’s errand to try to reverse-engineer what makes a particular song “work.” Part of how we experience music relies on ineffable qualities, but I find that there’s a pleasure in deep listening even if, ultimately, there’s no secret pattern to be sussed out. Sometimes, it’s enough to spot details that you miss at the middle distance of listening.

I’ve been semi-obsessed with Rhetta Hughes’s “You’re Doing With Her” lately. This 1968 single, which also appears on Hughes’s Re-Light My Fire LP, is one of those incredible sides that highlights the ascendance of funk aesthetics within soul music of the late ’60s. Obviously, Hughes, who had a scorcher of a voice, has much to do with the song’s quality, but when I started to listen to what was happening around and beneath the vocals, the full marvel of the song began to emerge.

Start with bassist Bob Babbitt and that nine-note riff that catapults the rhythm section into instant action and provides the song’s main propulsive force. But even that isn’t nearly as impressive as the work that drummer George McGregor puts in here. I don’t know if this song’s multi-track stems survived, but I would love to hear the isolated drums, just to admire all the fills and rolls he has going on; the drumming is relentless (in a good way).

But the one detail that kills me every time? It’s the wail/scream that kicks in during the second bar of the chorus. I’ve listened to this dozens of times and I still can’t tell if that’s 1) a backup singer, 2) Hughes overdubbing herself, or 3) some kind of string arrangement operating in a human-like timbre. All I know is that it’s incredibly eerie and the kind of subtle facet to the song that makes you wonder, “How the hell did someone think to add this?” (And thank god they did).

The music and video below is presented here for the purpose of scholarship

Rhetta Hughes – “You’re Doing With Her — When It Should Be Me”

Articles, BeatTips, Editor's Choice, Marquee Names

About Author

Oliver Wang is a music writer, scholar, and DJ who created Soul-Sides.com. Since 1994, he’s written on popular music, culture, race, and America for outlets such as NPR, Vibe, Wax Poetics, Scratch, The Village Voice, SF Bay Guardian, and LA Weekly.

Wang is also an associate professor in sociology at CSU-Long Beach and author of the book, “Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews of the SF Bay Area.”