The Beatles, “Devil in Her Heart” from With the Beatles (1963): Deep Beatles

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When choosing songs to cover in concert or on record, the Beatles did not select obvious tracks. Sure, they played Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins tunes, but they also favored lesser-known R&B artists and girl-group covers. No other song may have as fascinating a history as “Devil in Her Heart,” originally released in 1962 as “Devil in His Heart” by a one-hit-wonder group called the Donays. Without the Beatles discovering the single by chance, the Donays may have faded into complete obscurity.

The origin of The Donays is shrouded in mystery, but they emerged from the Detroit area and were lead by singer Yvonne Vernee Allen (who would later join the Motown group the Elgins). Songwriter Richard Drapkin, who also recorded under the alias Ricky Dee, worked closely with Detroit label Correct-Tone Records. When the company added the Donays to its roster in 1962, Drapkin’s composition “Devil in His Heart” was chosen as the group’s first single. Motown artist Richard “Popcorn” Wylie produced the track along with its B-side: “Bad Boy,” another Drapkin composition (not to be confused with Larry Williams’ song of the same name). The song was picked up by New York label Brent Records, but failed to chart. For unknown reasons, the Donays never recorded another track, and would have faded into complete obscurity if not for a twist of fate.

In Anthology, George Harrison explained that the Beatles came across the Donays’ single in Brian Epstein’s NEMS store. “Brian had a policy of buying at least one copy of every record that was released. If it sold, he’d order another one, or five or whatever. Consequently, he had records that weren’t hits in Britain, weren’t even hits in America,” Harrison said. “Before going to a gig, we’d meet in the record store after it had shut, and we’d search the racks like ferrets to see what new ones were there. … ‘Devil In Her Heart’ and Barrett Strong’s ‘Money’ were records that we’d picked up and played in the shop and thought were interesting.” They added the song to their live repertoire, and would record their cover version for With the Beatles.

The Beatles began recording “Devil in Her Heart” on July 18, 1963, with George Martin producing as usual. George Harrison assumed lead vocals and guitar; John Lennon sang backup and played rhythm guitar; Paul McCartney contributed backing vocals and bass; and Ringo Starr played drums and maracas. They completed the song in six takes, with the latter three involving overdubs. Clearly, the Beatles held great affection for the song, as they performed it during their 1962-63 concerts and later for the BBC. The latter 1963 version can be found on the Live at the BBC Volume 2 compilation. During the 1969 Get Back sessions, the group briefly revisited “Devil in Her Heart” while rehearsing “Don’t Let Me Down.” As they were learning the song, Harrison began playing guitar riffs similar to those he used in “Devil in Her Heart”; Lennon commented on the similarities, which led to them fondly recalling the track.

What makes the Beatles’ take on “Devil in Her Heart” so effective are two elements: Harrison’s strong vocal performance and Starr’s powerful drumming. Harrison’s double-tracked voice resounds, resisting his friends’ advice to stay away from a certain woman. “I’ll take my chances / For romance is / So important to me,” he argues. He then asserts that “she’ll never hurt me / She won’t desert me.” Lennon and McCartney’s additional backing vocals stress their roles as the Greek chorus, advising Harrison that appearances can be deceiving. Harrison’s narrator refuses to believe that his lover will “tear [his] heart apart.” “No, no, nay will she deceive” Harrison insists (a change from the original lyric “No, not me will he deceive”). His Latin-inspired guitar work also deserves a mention, closely mirroring the feel of the original.

Another crucial element is Ringo Starr’s drumming, a force that adds a distinctly rock edge to the Donays’ Motown-esque take on “Devil in His Heart.” His thundering drums kick off the track, effectively introducing George Harrison’s guitar-fueled melody. Proving his versatility as a percussionist, Starr includes fills and patterns reflecting the song’s Latin-inspired origins. He is an important ingredient in making the song rock, and he perfectly complements—but never overwhelms—Harrison’s voice.

“Devil in Her Heart” exemplifies the early Beatles, in that it represents their eclectic song selection, willingness to take risks, and ability to transform a cover into their unique sound. These are all qualities that would play even greater roles as they developed artistically, even as they ultimately turned away from covers and concentrated on their own compositions. The track also showcases George Harrison’s strong voice, one that does not always receive the attention it deserves. Finally, the Beatles’ cover of “Devil in Her Heart” rescued the Donays from complete obscurity, revealing a charming track from the heyday of the “girl group” era.

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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