The song was originally intended to be The Beatles’ sixth UK single, until Paul 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!
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.
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.
One of the song’s main strengths is in McCartney 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.
Melody Maker, 1964
‘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 1964 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 ‘You Can’t Do That’ 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 1964 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 1964 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. This last version can be heard on 2013’s On Air – Live At The BBC Volume 2.