Peggy Lee recorded this American Blues and Jazz-influenced Pop song on July 27, 1942 in New York with Benny Goodman. It was Lee's first hit single, selling over 1 million copies and bringing her to national attention.
The song was written in 1936 by Kansas Joe McCoy, who originally recorded it as "The Weed Smoker's Dream." McCoy later rewrote the song, refining the composition and changing the lyrics entirely. The new version was titled "Why Don't You Do Right?" and was recorded by Lil Green in 1941.
It was Lil Green's version that prompted Peggy Lee to cover the song. In a 1984 interview she recalled, "I was and am a fan of Lil Green, a great old blues singer, and Lil recorded it. I used to play that record over and over in my dressing room, which was next door to Benny's (Goodman). Finally he said, 'You obviously like that song.' I said 'Oh, I love it.' He said 'Would you like me to have an arrangement made of it?' I said, 'I'd love that,' and he did."
The song tells of a woman who is complaining about her destitute partner's lack of ability to make some money. The topic of financial woes was a common theme following the Great Depression and Prohibition.
Other artists who have covered this include Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Johnny Otis, Mel Torme, Kiri Te Kanawa, Ashlee Simpson and, Sinéad O'Connor.
The song was performed by the animated character Jessica Rabbit (voiced by actress Amy Irving) in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
A dance version titled "Why Don't You" by Serbian producer and DJ Gramophonedzie was a 2010 chart hit in the UK.