Do You Want To Know A Secret

Please Please Me album artworkWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 11 February 1963
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 22 March 1963 (UK), 22 July 1963 (US)

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

Available on:
Please Please Me
On Air - Live At The BBC Volume 2

Recorded for the Please Please Me album, Do You Want To Know A Secret was written by John Lennon and sung by George Harrison.

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I can't say I wrote it for George. I was in the first apartment I'd ever had that wasn't shared with fourteen other students - gals and guys at art school. I'd just married Cyn, and Brian Epstein gave us his secret little apartment that he kept in Liverpool for his sexual liaisons separate from his home life. And he let Cyn and I have that apartment.
John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

Lennon based the song on Wishing Well, from Walt Disney's 1937 animated feature film Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

My mother was always... she was a comedienne and a singer. Not professional, but, you know, she used to get up in pubs and things like that. She had a good voice. She could do Kay Starr. She used to do this little tune when I was just a one- or two-year-old... yeah, she was still living with me then... The tune was from the Disney movie - 'Want to know a secret? Promise not to tell. You are standing by a wishing well.'

So, I had this sort of thing in my head and I wrote it and just gave it to George to sing. I thought it would be a good vehicle for him because it only had three notes and he wasn't the best singer in the world. He has improved a lot since then, but in those days his singing ability was very poor because (a) he hadn't had the opportunity, and (b) he concentrated more on the guitar. So I wrote that - not for him as I was writing it, but when I had written it, I thought he could do it. It was just written.

John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

The song was later given to Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, another group managed by Brian Epstein. Lennon recorded a demo while in a Hamburg nightclub's toilet; he claimed it was the only place quiet enough to record in. At the end of the demo, now sadly lost, he pulled the lavatory chain.

The Dakotas recorded it at their debut session at Abbey Road on 14 March 1963, and later that year it reached number one in the singles charts.

In the studio

Do You Want To Know A Secret was recorded along with nine other Please Please Me songs on 11 February 1963. It was the fourth song to be recorded that day.

Do You Want To Know A Secret was 'my song' on the album. I didn't like my vocal on it. I didn't know how to sing; nobody told me how to.
George Harrison

The final version was take six, which also included an overdub of the harmony vocals and two drum sticks being hit together during the middle eight. With the overdubs, this final version became known as take eight.

32 responses on “Do You Want To Know A Secret

  1. SD

    During the backing vocal overdub by John and Paul, Ringo added some drumsticks tapped together (recorded with echo). You can hear them from 1:09 to 1:20.

  2. J. Garcia

    Why was John Lennon so condescending with George. Obviously George could do backup harmony——–which can be more difficult than singing lead.

    I still believe that despite the talent both John and Paul were insecure.

    At the onset John didn’t even know guitar chords and George helped. I never read about George putting down John for that.

    1. Kat

      I think it’s not so much some insecurity John and Paul have, but more of the fact that John was outspoken in his life not only about fellow band mates but his self in general. Also, with George being so humble and reserved to some extant we never really see George “put someone down.”

      Also when it comes to backup the only really hard harmony that the fab did was probably Paul’s part which most often than not was the higher range. While George did the mid to low range which was already naturally in his voice and vocal range.

    2. JP

      Well, John never had sufficient tact and never kept his mouth shut when he should have. I think John wanted to keep George “in his place” and made comments about Harrison’s singing abilities to further that. George was not a singer on the same level as John or Paul However, John was never as good a guitarist as George. Harrison’s singing skills improved dramatically (Something, The Inner Light, I Me Mine, While My Guitar Gently Weeps) while John’s skills as a guitarist did not match George’s improvement as a singer. Just my opinion.

    3. Jack Langowski (@lango6)

      I hardly see John’s comments as a put down (who’s the insecure one here?). If anything, he’s being honest about George’s abilities at the time and even explaining them as understandable given George’s experience and focus during that period. Remember that at this early phase of the group’s development and with the ages of the members, John’s status is still quite senior (particularly as the founder and leading creative force). He still thinks of George as a ‘kid’. So, yes, to give him a vocal role beyond harmonizing (as mentioned, no small feat) John and Paul wrote songs they wouldn’t necessarily sing and have George or Ringo sing them (whether they originally intended those songs for them seems to vary).

      As to the remark about John’s chord knowledge, you are referring to the Quarrymen period. In fact, John learned more chords from Paul than George, and you can imagine the insecurity John overcame when he invited Paul to join his band. Paul was clearly the superior musician (even a better technical guitarist than George in many instances, though George is easily the most expressive).

      I submit that John had every right to make the statements he did. Yes, he lacked tact at times, but then I don’t ever sense malice (well, aside from those jabs at Paul and Linda post-breakup), just brutal honesty. And don’t you think they all were insecure? They are in their early twenties with popular (though not critical for some time) acclaim and who knows if it will go on? By Rubber Soul/Revolver they’re pretty sure of themselves. Many of John’s remarks that come after the breakup are incisive and abrasive based on his bitterness over the complications and conflicts, mainly with Paul. Plus, he’s moved on to his solo career and not fully aware of his accomplishments as a Beatle to where he’s intentionally diminishing them (and his mates’) to shift focus to his current interests.

    4. SergioQ

      Hello all, long time reader…first time replied

      Doesn’t sound condescending to me. Sounds like John refers to George being new to singing and getting better with time and experience. And as a side note, John always seemed humble about his own guitar skills. So I don’t read this as him thumping his chest. Just recalling his thoughts at the time he wrote the song, and reflecting on the changes after as time went on. Kirk out.

  3. David

    I always have the feeling that George fluffs the little guitar lead-in at the beginning, after “I really care”. The version on the Billy J Kramer cover is really crisp and sharp. To my untrained ears it sounds like an edit: maybe George Martin (who I presume produced the Billy JK version, correct me if I’m wrong) regretted not having cleaned up The Beatles’ version…

  4. M. Whitener

    It seems odd that George didn’t like his vocal on here. Maybe that’s a bit of George’s gripe on his vocal role in the group. It sounds like most of his early vocals on ballads. The guitar work on here is among the best on album by him here too. Backing vocals are quite solid too.

    I feel kinda bad putting this out here, but I didn’t really get a full grip on this one until I “played” it on Rock Band. I’ve enjoyed it since then.

  5. David, Perú

    Great guitar on this song and quite good solid vocals as well. The first time I heard it, I thought it was from later albums like A Hard Day’s Night or Rubber Soul.

  6. George Kirrin

    Did Billy J sing different words to George? In particular, did he sing “I’m not in love with you”? Who was that aimed at? Brian Epstein who took him to New York even before he took The Beatles? Was Billy J reluctant to record/release it as a single?

  7. Pepperland

    I’m pretty sure that Paul doesn’t sing in this song. It sounds like George is doing the high doo-dah-doo part and that’s why they did it as an overdub. I don’t know why they wouldn’t use Paul but it sounds a lot like George IMHO.

  8. Father McCartney

    I remember reading a lengthy-ish interview with George in a guitar magazine in the 1990s(‘Guitar World’?) in which he said his vocal in ‘While my Guitar Gently Weeps’ is unlistenable, and he was still embarrassed by it. “Sounds like I’m singing in the toilet”, he said.
    In the same interview he slagged of John’s guitar playing a bit – something like he found it difficult to play lead over certain bits as John wasn’t the best guitar player in the world and couldn’t keep rythim very well.

  9. Russ

    I am such a rube – for years, I thought that John sang this song! Perhaps because it is penned by John, it simply sounds like something he would sing. I actually find a lot of similarity in John and George’s voices. I love George and Ringo’s voices. Regardless, this one is one of my kids favorites and very catchy.

    1. John

      Don’t feel bad, Russ – I always thought John sang this too – especially the way he sings, “Ahhm in love with you”, kind of gravelly.
      This was one of the first Beatles songs I ever heard. I still have the original 45 with the yellow Vee Jay label!

    2. foreverOK

      Even at this early stage George has his own ‘voice’ … I do agree with John in that if George had had more singing time he would’ve been great at that stage. I’m wondering about the ‘insecurity comments’ on John and Paul. Recently read an excerpt when Pete Best was in the group and they were all getting on the bus. The girls were all around Pete, and that steamed the other guys. While of course Ringo definitely brought expertise that Best didn’t have, I wonder if the added factor of cutting off the possibility of another ‘bus event’ happening again had something to do with it. Too bad George didn’t sing this in Ed Sullivan show (or did he?).

  10. pepperland

    Okay you may think I’m stupid saying this but I have listened to the alternate takes of this song and it is definitely George singing the high vocal and in take 7 George does an “aahh” and that is 100% him. Also before take 8 George is talking with John about if they should do the Doo rah doos or whatever they are in the first verse and it is clearly John and George then.

    1. pepperland

      In fact, if you listen to this you will see what I mean.
      For some reason, they decided to add the backing vocals as well as drum sticks as an overdub.
      I don’t know why they did this but at the start of the video, you can hear George talking about which section they should do the backing vocals in. Notice him saying “Well, we’re not doing them in the first verse”. George might be singing because they could have been planning on doing three-part harmony but I can only hear two backing vocals. Maybe Paul’s harmony didn’t really work so they didn’t use it.

  11. Billy Shears

    A sweet and simple song that’s often overlooked. It parallels much of the top 40 pop music happening then. Kind of sing-song and whispy. It could have been sung by a dozen groups at the time. It seems to lack the “Beatle” flavor that was due to happen just around the corner. It’s a good showcase for very young George and probably did as good a job as John or Paul would have done with it.

  12. Lewie

    I don’t think John played guitar on this track, as on the new bootlegs album, the outtake of the song I can only really hear the one guitar and handclaps which would suggest it was john clapping and George playing the guitar, as it was a live performance. Not sure, but that’s just what I think

  13. Frank the Knife

    John is full of shit when he says George was a poor vocalist— on the Decca sessions, John sounds tight and scream-y without being musical, and Paul sounds like a terrible Elvis impersonator. George is just himself and does the best lead vocals on “Three cool cats,” “Sheik of araby” and the rest – he just sounds like he’s having fun.

  14. Johan cavalli

    Lennon´s melody in Do You Want to Know a Secret from 1962 is a masterpiece. Lennon underated it. He never realised how wonderful it is. A bittersweet melody that starts and starts, and suddenly it´s away…Many people hear the similarity with Yesterday. The same short start, and then the same upclimbing melody. McCartney composed Yesterday 1964 or 1965. He could unconsciously been influenced by Lennon´s song.

  15. Graham Paterson

    As someone else said a sweet and simple song. It is a lovely tune. Nice story how John Lennon’s inspiration came from memories of his mothers singing.Obviously he gave it to George to sing.Fits in well to the “Please Please Me” album.

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