This lost gem was written by Bob Dylan circa 1970 but never recorded by him. Harrison laid down an acoustic demo during the All Things Must Pass sessions. Structurally, the song was pretty much in place then, but Harrison dropped it for fourteen years.
Out of nowhere, “I Don’t Want to Do It” was revived through the prodding of Dave Edmunds. Edmunds was a Welsh rocker who had solo hits, formed Rockpile with Nick Lowe, and produced the likes of the Flaming Groovies, Stray Cats, and Fabulous Thunderbirds. Edmunds was commissioned to put together the soundtrack of the ignominious Porky’s Revenge (1985), sequel to Porky’s (1982), which, along with Animal House (1978) instigated the ’80s wave of raunchy teen sex comedies. Edmunds did his own songs for the movie and also got others to contribute. Somehow it was decided to revive Dylan’s understated, melancholy composition for the occasion.
“I Don’t Want to Do It” has a unique place in Harrison’s oeuvre, with a sound different from any other period. It’s a little more rich, deep, and organic than Gone Troppo and without the pop sheen of 1987’s Cloud Nine. The piano matches the poignancy of the lyrics, accompanied by an organ, perhaps in honor of Dylan’s mid-sixties classics. Michael Schrieve’s drums give the song a faster-paced momentum than the song would have possessed had it been on All Things Must Pass, as it was recorded after the changes brought about by a younger generation of coked-up New Wavers with drum machines. As usual, Harrison does his own back-up vocal harmonies. It’s too bad this very appealing sound with Edmunds was a one-off.
Dylan’s lyrics are unusually generic and seem to be not quite finished, which could be why he never released it. It opens with the singer wishing he could have another day of youth, back when he knew what was true and all he had to do was play in the yard. It was probably written in the late ’60s by Dylan when he was under pressure to resume touring, which would mean leaving his wife and young children, now playing in the yard themselves. The singer takes his woman into his arms and reassures her he doesn’t want to make her cry by saying goodbye. Ultimately Dylan decided not to leave his home and family for another half decade. Harrison could certainly relate, as this was the only song he released in the five years between 1982’s Gone Troppo and 1987’s Cloud Nine, except for a few songs for the movie Shanghai Surprise (1986). Harrison had married his wife Olivia in 1978 and had son Dhani the same year; he didn’t want to leave home either.
Around this period Harrison also recorded a version of Dylan’s Desire outtake “Abandoned Love,” which ended up on Dylan’s career retrospective Biograph. One of Dylan’s best, it’s exciting to hear Harrison perform such a deep-cut Dylan tune, though Harrison’s modern pop approach can’t match the rustic, fiddle-haunted soul of Dylan’s original.
The demo from the All Things Must Pass sessions: