You Can’t Do That

A Hard Day's Night album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 25 February, 22 May 1964
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 20 March 1964 (UK), 16 March 1964 (US)

John Lennon: vocals, lead guitar
Paul McCartney: backing vocals, bass, cowbell
George Harrison: backing vocals, 12-string rhythm guitar
Ringo Starr: drums, conga

Available on:
A Hard Day's Night
Anthology 1
On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2

First released in the UK and US as the b-side of Can't Buy Me Love, You Can't Do That was a typically confrontational song written by John Lennon.

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The song was originally intended to be The Beatles' sixth UK single, until McCartney came up with Can't Buy Me Love. By 1964 Lennon and McCartney were writing together less frequently, and the quality of Can't Buy Me Love spurred Lennon on to write the majority of the A Hard Day's Night album.

Lennon's autobiographical lyrics show the jealousy and possessiveness he felt towards women at the time. The music, meanwhile, was based around blues changes and US soul and R&B.

That's me doing Wilson Pickett. You know, a cowbell going four in the bar, and the chord going chatoong!
John Lennon
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

In turn, it is possible that You Can't Do That was an influence on Bob Dylan; it bears musical and lyrical similarities to Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine) from Blonde On Blonde.

You Can't Do That was first released in March 1964. It later reappeared on the second half of the UK album A Hard Day's Night, and in the US on the Capitol release The Beatles' Second Album.

The song became a part of The Beatles' live repertoire in 1964. It was commonly the second song performed - after Twist And Shout - during their Australian tour in July, and in their August-September tour of the US and Canada.

The Beatles also performed the song at the New Musical Express Pollwinners' Concert on 26 April, and for the ITV network TV show Blackpool Night Out on 19 July.

In the studio

You Can't Do That was recorded on 25 February 1964. The Beatles also started And I Love Her and I Should Have Known Better on the same day, although they failed to finish them during the session.

You Can't Do That was completed in nine takes, only four of which were complete. It featured George Harrison's first prominent use of his new Rickenbacker 12 string guitar, given to him while in New York for The Ed Sullivan Show. The instrument gave the song its distinctive chiming sound, heard most prominently in the intro and ending.

Take six of the song, containing a guide version from Lennon as the band perfected the rhythm track, was included on the Anthology 1 collection.

One of the song's main strengths is in McCartney's and Harrison's answering harmony vocals. The rough-and-ready guitar solo, meanwhile, was performed by Lennon - the first such occurrence on a Beatles release.

I'd find it a drag to play rhythm all the time, so I always work myself out something interesting to play. The best example I can think of is like I did on You Can't Do That. There really isn't a lead guitarist and a rhythm guitarist on that, because I feel the rhythm guitarist role sounds too thin for records. Anyway it drove me potty to play chunk-chunk rhythm all the time. I never play anything as lead guitarist that George couldn't do better. But I like playing lead sometimes, so I do it.
John Lennon
Melody Maker, 1964

On 22 May 1964, after You Can't Do That had already been released, George Martin overdubbed a piano track onto the song. It was never used.

On the airwaves

You Can't Do That was filmed as part of the concert sequence in the A Hard Day's Night film, though it didn't make the final cut. Accordingly, the song was then relegated to side two of the album.

The filming took place at the Scala Theatre, London, on 31 March 1964. The clip of the group miming to You Can't Do That was given by United Artists to The Ed Sullivan Show, which broadcast it exclusively on 24 May.

The Beatles recorded You Can't Do That four times for BBC radio in 1964, none of which was included on Live At The BBC.

The first took place on 28 February at the BBC Piccadilly Studios, London, for the From Us To You programme. It was first broadcast on 30 March, just days after the Can't Buy Me Love single was released.

The Beatles played it again for Saturday Club on 31 March, which had its first transmission on 4 April. The session took place at the Playhouse Theatre, London

On 1 May they taped a version for From Us To You at the BBC Paris Studio, which was first broadcast on 18 May. And on 14 July The Beatles were at Broadcasting House, London, for the final radio version, which audiences heard for the first time on the Top Gear programme two days later.

19 responses on “You Can’t Do That

      1. metzgermeister77

        It’s a real shame they focus almost exclusively on his strumming hand and don’t show his fretwork at all, but I figure most tv crews had no idea what they were doing when it came to musicians.

      2. Andre

        Tks! That was the only video that I have ever watched that shows him playing the solo! Although I think they are not actually playing it live. All other videos of live concerts, when it comes to de solo, the camera points at george who is plaiyng the riff. Tks for the link!

    1. grego mac

      I think the cameramen didn’t know that John would be playing the lead. I think that is why it seems so confusing on the video tape from Germany or wherever it is on the Anthology documentary.

      1. vonbontee

        In my experience, film crews don’t often have much of a clue about how to cover rock music in live performance – they don’t perceive guitar solos as such, and so the idea of shooting closeups of the soloist’s hands doesn’t occur to them. If they decide to shoot a closeup of anything, it’ll most likely be a head shot. That still occasionally happens today, and it would’ve been much more prevalent back in the Beatles’ day.

  1. M. Whitener

    There is a very clear close up of John playing the lead on this from the extra scenes from “A Hard Day’s Night”. Look it up on YouTube. It would be on the same set as they did the final concert in the film on. It shows John’s solo while cutting to Paul & George singing the bridge.


  2. DQ

    In the DVD Anthology, it shows the Beatles playing “You Can’t Do That” in Australia and George plays the solo. (He looks like he misses a note toward the end, and he and Paul smile or chuckle at one another.) In the recorded version, besides his solo, John plays a great rhythm, and gets a very unique, growling or howling sound of his six-string Rickenbacker. A great song.

  3. tom watt

    Dont know how dq thinks george is playing the solo in Ausralia. Have just watched it and it looks like he continues playing the riff he plays throughout the song.In any case the 12 string has a distinctive sound and the solo sounds like a six string.

  4. Pablo Castro

    The solo is definetely John’s, but as George’s 12-string guitar plays the riff throughout the whole song , while John’s plays rhythm except for the solo , maybe more precise would be : John : lead/rhythm guitar ; George : 12-string guitar.

  5. xiij

    If the words were cute, rather than mean, if the three singers were girls not boys, if the tempo was a couple of notches faster, allowing the song to bounce rather than growl, then this would be an excellent girl group song. As it is, its something even better.

  6. Avi

    Tom Petty writes:
    George Harrison and I were once in a car and the Beatles song “You Can’t Do That” came on, with that great riff in the beginning on the 12-string. He goes, “I came up with that.” And I said, “Really? How?” He said, “I was just standing there and thought, ‘I’ve got to do something!’ ” That pretty much sums him up. He just had a way of getting right to the business, of finding the right thing to play. That was part of that Beatles magic – they all seemed to find the right thing to play.

  7. Billy Shears

    The song is also available on the US release “The Beatles Second Album” and “Live at the Hollywood Bowl”. Great rocker. Simple message – typical Lennon – a little self-loathing, but the tune is happy and snappy.

  8. Shane

    They did You Can’t Do That on Ready Steady Go which of course was the British version of American Bandstand in 1964. It’s available on YouTube. However, they lip synced the song as all artists on the show did

    1. Jeff Reichenbach

      Lip synch or not ,I believe
      1 George. 12 string main rhythm guitar.
      2 John, backing rythmn chords and the guitar solo. It has his trademark all over it.
      3 Paul on bass. Just holding down the bottom, nothing fancy.
      4 Ringo, simple 4/4 with his accents.
      The YouTube video shows the crowd dancing enthusiastly. I thought it was funny because, lyrically the song is like “hey girl,don’t mess with me! “, but it looks like the band is having a good laugh!

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