Another entry in the list of dark sixties ballads here – but this one is less warped, almost cheerful, and sounding positively like a pop song when contrasted with the other nightmares on the second side of Freaks.
You can look at Don’t You Know either as a potential classic narrowly averted, or as a mediocre demo, polished up into something fairly good at the last moment. That second view seems to be the one held by the band at the time. An early demo isn’t particularly promising, and the song had been out of the band’s set for two years by the time Freaks was recorded.
This version (from the Sudan Gerri tape) is the rougher by far, with a strummy 80s garage rock feel. Lacking some of the more subtle touches added later, it instead features Magnus thrashing about on his drums at double the speed of the rest of the band, like Animal from The Muppets.
The finished version on Freaks, on the other hand, is all sweetness and light. While the different members of the band sound like they’ve got entirely different ideas about what sort of song this is, the production ties them together almost seamlessly. It’s a bit of a surprise for the production to save a song on an album largely spoiled by poor production, but it’s not a typical Freaks song we’re dealing with here. The main improvement in this version is Candida. Her chiming oriental piano transforms the first half of the chorus utterly, and her three note piano riff pretty much defines the song. In the bridge she even gets to perform a short solo which sounds almost like a snatch of Chinese classical music.
The only real let-down in the song is Jarvis. Lyrically the song is, as Owen Hatherly puts it, a “mediation on dependency and futility”, but it’s a fairly half-hearted one, lacking the insight of ‘I Want You’. The only conclusion reached in the end is that love is hard and it can break you, a true enough statement but one which doesn’t require a master lyricist. His main problem, though, is in the vocal take, which is frankly less than satisfactory. The first line of the chorus is slightly out of step with the rest of the tune, and is so flat that Jarvis ends up speaking it rather than attempting to sing. Then in the second half of the chorus he decides to put himself through all manner of vocal gymnastics, but rather than expressing passion (as was presumably intended) they just sound strained and unnatural.