‘Bad Boy:’ Larry Williams and the Beatles
The bad little kid moved into the neighborhood. He’s obsessed with rock and roll music. He plays his records loudly. All day and all night. And it’s not just the music that’s got the neighbors up in arms. He’s not serious about his schoolwork. He irritates the teacher and the other students. He’s cruel to animals. He shoots a canary and feeds it to the neighbor’s cat. He gives the dog a bath in the washing machine. Today that bad little kid would have PETA at his doorstep. But the fictional bad boy described in this song bothers people most with his loud rock and roll. This is juvenile delinquency, 1958 style.
Some cultural critics of the time considered rock and roll music and juvenile delinquency closely aligned. Larry Williams must have known that when he wrote “Bad Boy.” But Williams’ bad boy does not seem so much a perpetrator as he does a selfish and mischievous kid. He does some cruel things, particularly to animals, but given the life of crime Williams himself is believed to have led, this kid seems like the Disney version of a juvenile delinquent. Perhaps a more true-to-life Williams character would hook up the high school football coach with the homecoming queen.
Larry Williams was allegedly involved in drug dealing and prostitution before and throughout his career in music. Pushing drugs and ladies of the night apparently brought him greater riches than his inventive and vibrant recordings. That’s tragic as the criminal life probably led to his mysterious death in 1980. Not tragic but still unfortunate is that the world of rock and roll did not benefit from a Larry Williams fully focused on his music.
On his recording of “Bad Boy,” Williams gave it less of a rocking edge than he did on “Dizzy Miss Lizzie,” “Slow Down” or “She Said Yeah.” He chose to play up the comedic elements of the song, creating a performance similar in style to The Coasters. Williams knew he had conjured a good story and he had a good time telling it.
The Beatles recorded their version of “Bad Boy” on May 10, 1965, the same day they recorded “Dizzy Miss Lizzy.” As on the group’s other two Williams covers, John Lennon sings lead. George Harrison plays a crisp lead guitar, very much in front, but blending nicely with Lennon’s rhythm guitar. Neither Lennon’s singing nor Harrison’s lead guitar are as intense as their performances on “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” but the Beatles still deliver a solid rocker. Lennon does a fine job in telling the story of the bad boy and seems amused when he exhorts, “Now, Junior, behave yourself ” at the end of each verse. Actually, Junior may have been a lost cause, but on May 10, 1965, the Beatles’ studio behavior earned an A plus.