You Can’t Do That – 5 of Swords
A Hard Day’s Night, 1964
John Lennon was the most macho of the four Beatles. He was the band’s element of Fire, the most masculine in all its best and – at times – worst ways. As part of this character trait, he sometimes displayed a chauvinistic attitude toward romantic relationships, particularly in some of the songs he wrote in 1964 and ‘65. A most obvious example is “You Can’t Do That”. The song is notable in part because it’s a rare case where John and George switched roles: John played the lead guitar, including the solo; and George, utilizing his new 12-string Rickenbacker, played rhythm guitar and contributed the song’s memorable intro. “You Can’t Do That” features a driving backbeat from Ringo, catchy backing vocals from Paul and George, and a pulsing cowbell contribution from Paul. The tune was featured as part of the Beatles’ live repertoire during their 1964 concert tours.
“You Can’t Do That” was being considered for the Beatles next single in early-1964 when Paul wrote “Can’t Buy Me Love”. The band decided to release both songs on the same single, with Paul’s superior contribution as the A-side and John’s serving as the B-side. It’s appropriate the two songs would appear on the same single, as they present such contrasting attitudes toward romantic relationships. Whereas Paul’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” is nakedly sincere and cheerful, John’s “You Can’t Do That” is cynical and distrustful. The lyrics express the words of a jealous lover telling his girlfriend that she can’t talk to another man. He’s presenting an ultimatum that if she doesn’t stop, he’s going to break up with her (and “leave her flat”).
It’s impossible to hear even a trace of love in the singer’s sentiments. His ego is raging and his paranoia about being made to look bad is his primary concern. That makes the 5 of Swords the tarot card that best corresponds to “You Can’t Do That”. This card symbolizes themes of discord, conflict, and disagreement. When we draw this card, we’re invited to consider a situation where our ego is threatened, anxiety is directing our actions, or where we’re focused on winning at all costs. These themes tend to occur when we’re looking to get the upper hand over someone, and we want to make sure we’re not left on the losing end of something. These are obviously not the conditions for a healthy, trusting, and loving relationship. They are, however, likely to be the drivers behind a suspicious lover who’s losing control of the situation.
Another way to appreciate the 5 of Swords is to examine it as a combination of the card’s suit and number. The suit of Swords relates to all things in the mental realm, including the role of ego. In terms of number, a 5 symbolizes a state of challenge or disruption. Putting these dynamics together, we can see how the 5 of Swords represents having our ego challenged. What we once took for granted has been disrupted, and we’re faced with adjusting our self-image to match the circumstances. In such cases, the result won’t usually be pretty.
This is clearly the case in “You Can’t Do That”. As she shows interest in someone else, his primary concern is not that he will lose her love and companionship. It’s that those who were once green with envy will now laugh in his face.
‘Cause I’m the one who won your love
But if they’d seen
You talking that way, they’d laugh in my face”
This is song #82 of the Beatles Song Tarot Project. Click here to learn more about this magical, mystical trip through the Beatles catalogue. (scroll down for the studio version, but first check out this excellent live version of “You Can’t Do That”!)