I Should Have Known Better

A Hard Day's Night album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 25, 26 February 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 10 July 1964 (UK), 26 June 1964 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, harmonica
Paul McCartney: bass
George Harrison: lead guitar
Ringo Starr: drums

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A Hard Day's Night

Memorably performed during a train carriage scene in the A Hard Day's Night film, I Should Have Known Better was written by John Lennon, and was the second song on the soundtrack album.

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That's me. Just a song; it doesn't mean a damn thing.
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song was written in January 1964, and shows the emerging influence of Bob Dylan upon Lennon's writing. George Harrison had acquired a copy of The Freewheelin' in Paris that month, which the group greatly admired.

I Should Have Known Better opens with an approximation of Dylan's harmonica style. The song was one of The Beatles' last to feature the instrument, which had been prominent on their earlier hits Love Me Do, Please Please Me and From Me To You.

John Lennon played a Gibson Jumbo J-160E electro acoustic guitar. Harrison, meanwhile, used his new Rickenbacker 360/12 Deluxe 12-string, which quickly became a trademark sound on the A Hard Day's Night album.

I Should Have Known Better was featured in a memorable scene in the A Hard Day's Night film. The Beatles mimed to the song and played cards in a train, while actors, including George Harrison's future wife Pattie Boyd, looked on.

The scene was actually filmed in a stationary van at Twickenham Film Studios, London, on 11 March 1964. The van was rocked by members of the film crew to mimic the movements of a train.

In the studio

The Beatles began recording I Should Have Known Better on 25 February 1964, a day which also saw them record Lennon's You Can't Do That and McCartney's ballad And I Love Her.

That day the group recorded three takes of I Should Have Known Better. At this stage the song was quite different to the final version, containing a Dylanesque harmonica solo and ending on a lead guitar line.

Only one of the three takes was complete; the second attempt was a false start which ended when Lennon collapsed into hysterics over his harmonica playing.

The Beatles returned to the song the next day, recording 18 takes. Again there were many aborted attempts, and the final version was take nine.

John Lennon double-tracked his lead vocals and overdubbed his harmonica part to complete the song. The final version, including these additions, was take 22.

Chart success

In the UK, I Should Have Known Better was the second song on the A Hard Day's Night album, which was released on 10 July 1964.

There are four I really go for: Can't Buy Me Love, If I Fell, I Should Have Known Better - a song with harmonica we feature during the opening train sequence - and Tell Me Why.
John Lennon, 1964
Anthology

In the US it featured on the film soundtrack album of the same name, which was released on 26 June. The album also contained an orchestrated version, scored and conducted by George Martin.

I Should Have Known Better was also released on 13 July in the US, as the b-side to the A Hard Day's Night single.

The song was released as a single in a number of European countries, including Norway, where it topped the charts, and West Germany, where it reached number six.

25 responses on “I Should Have Known Better

          1. Oudis

            Perhaps John, Paul, George, AND GEORGE MARTIN were the talents in the band. Do people know how much of the “Beatle sound” is owed to G. Martin? He was the fourth Beatle -in my humble opinion.

    1. Joseph Brush

      Well there was Bob Dylan, whom the Beatles were getting into in 1964, who was playing the harmonica. In 1960 there was Buster Brown’s Fannie Mae as well.

  1. Steve

    I find it quite weird with how John played the harmonica on this song and it says he played acoustic guitar as well. In the movie when they performed “I Should Have Known Better” on stage, he wore his guitar but he didn’t play it, and when they performed it on the train, he didn’t even have his guitar with him. He just sang and played harmonica, I find that weird.

  2. Johan Cavalli

    This Lennon song is a masterpiece. In the pop music before the Beatles, the songs tension usually disappear in the middle part, you only are waiting for the good first bit to come back, but here the tension increases!, the transition to the middle part goes by a new key and very unique you have another changes of key in the middle part …oh oh oh ohoe…and the long middle part ends with a falsetto. It is absolute marvellous. The more you listen, the better. It´s best the second part.
    I can see no influence from Dylan here. This song from 1964 is from the period 1963-1965 when Lennon´s compositions dominated the singles and the albums.

  3. Frank Cegelski

    I’ve always thought it curious that John doesn’t necessarily get the response he was looking for after

    “….and when I ask you, to be mine…..you’re gonna say you love me too.”

    Paraphrasing the lyrical conversation, I interpret:

    “will you marry me?

    “I love you too”

    If I asked a girl to marry me, the response of “I love you too”, seems a little like the old “I like you as a friend brush off.

    Just wondering if anyone else had pondered that…

    Fortunately, in my case, 25 years ago this December, I got the response I had hoped for!

    Great web site, and commentators are actually civil in their disagreements. How refreshing.

  4. Phil

    All great comments already mentioned here about this fantastic Beatles’ song. Upon close listening through headphones or ear-buds, we also get to experience an “intimate appreciation” of actually hearing John Lennon taking a deep breath as he prepares to sing the next line of the song. The Beatles were all often seen smoking cigarettes in those early days, so perhaps this shortness-of-breath may have added to the fact that his microphone (usually the Neumann U47 Tube) was easily able to detect this detail with ease. I will never tire of anything by The Beatles!

  5. Phil

    Just to be clear(er) regarding my previous comment about being able to hear John Lennon taking a deep breath before singing the next line of “I Should Have Known Better.” I failed to mention that I was referring to only the stereo version of this song, where John’s opening harmonica solo also suffers, compared to the mono (original) recording of the song. On the original mono recording, the opening harmonica solo is perfect, and it is nearly impossible to hear John gasping for air as he prepares to sing the next verse. I especially can appreciate the many differences between some of their mono and stereo versions. I nearly always prefer their earliest songs left in the “original” mono!

  6. Utamia

    Has anybody ever heard the handclap overdubs for I Should Have Known Better? In this video at 0:23 they are doing hand clap around the microphone. I can tell it it for this song because it is on beat with the music. The handclaps would have been a very fine addition.

  7. James Ferrell

    Great song. It some ways it’s a lot like the song “A Hard Day’s Night”–key of G, simple melody sitting on the D note for long stretches, just a tad slower in tempo–but it has a totally different feel, relaxed and happy instead of hectic and excited.

    This is one of a bunch of John’s songs on AHDN that don’t have a chorus (also AHDN, If I Fell, I’ll Be Back). And a few other AHDN songs have just a line at the end of the verse that functions like a chorus (You Can’t Do That, And I Love Her, I’ll Cry Instead). Not unheard of for a pop song, but it does seem like this album has a particularly high concentration of chorusless song that are nevertheless instantly catchy and memorable.

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