Bo Diddley

You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover

Song Review by

Bo Diddley's songs are often stereotyped as sticking to the famous Bo Diddley beat: bah bah-bah bah, bah-bah. Like many stereotypes, there's some degree of truth to that, and at the same time many exceptions that render the stereotype as a whole false. Many Diddley songs did use the Diddley beat, but many did not. "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover," one of his greatest singles, did not. The song does start with a burst of guitar chords that come close to, but do not precisely repeat, the vaunted "classic" Diddley rhythm. The main body of the song, though, boasts a beat that's utterly compulsive and primordial, but closer to a way-speeded-up walking rhythm than to the standard Diddley pattern. It's a good framework for him to declare some of his typical joking but authoritative boasts, here amounting to a series of metaphors of all sorts of things you can't judge by their appearances before landing on the title phrase (actually sung as "you can't judge a book by looking at its cover"). The band comes to a dead stop for the most part during that section, except for especially declarative beats, as Diddley's voice rises in emphasis. That's the cue for everyone to go into the chorus, where Diddley makes it explicit what his message is: you women can't judge my loving process by my appearance (appropriate in the days when guys with glasses, such as Diddley, were thought of as meek and mild). Especially cool is the point where he throws in an off-kilter chord that's higher than it should sound in the progression, in keeping with his general eccentric attitude toward music and life in general. As in so many Diddley tracks, Jerome Green's maracas hold an utterly entrancing rhythm that does much to add to the power of the song. It's actually a composition by Willie Dixon, the blues/R&B songwriter who wrote so many classics (usually for Chess artists) in the 1950s and 1960s, but Diddley makes the song his own, and it endures as one of his most enjoyable and memorable singles.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Bo Diddley [1962] 1962 Hallmark 3:17
No Image 1967
Super Blues 1968 Chess / MCA 3:29
No Image 1981 Chess
No Image 1983 Chess
The Chess Box 1989 MCA / Chess 3:08
The Chess Box 1990 Chess 3:12
No Image 1991
Various Artists
Roots Records 3:08
Bo's Blues 1993 Ace 3:14
Chess Rhythm & Roll 1994
Various Artists
Chess / MCA 3:10
Bo Knows Bo 1995 Universal Special Products 3:13
Mona [Drive] 1996 Drive (import) 3:49
Guitar Legends 1997 Universal Special Products 3:15
His Best 1997 Chess 3:16
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Bo Diddley 2000 MCA 3:13
Mojo Chess Originals 2005
Various Artists
Chess 3:15
Chess Pieces: The Very Best of Chess Records 2005
Various Artists
Universal International 3:11
The Story of Bo Diddley: The Very Best of Bo Diddley 2006 Universal International 3:14
The Definitive Collection 2007 Geffen / Chess 3:16
Rock N' Roll Legends 2008 Chess 3:15
Gold 2008 Geffen 0:00
Chess Chartbusters, Vol. 5 2008
Various Artists
Spectrum Music / Universal 3:09
Confessin' the Blues 2018
Various Artists
BMG 3:10
No Image
Various Artists
Universal Music 3:14
Just Go Wild over Rock 'n' Roll
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 3:15