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.

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

‘I Should Have Known Better’ 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’ Bob Dylan in Paris that month, which the group greatly admired.

The song 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 John Lennon’s ‘You Can’t Do That’ and Paul 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.

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

In the US it featured on the film soundtrack album of the same name, which was released on 26 June 1964. 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 of 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.

Previous song: ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
Next song: ‘If I Fell’
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