I Hear You Knocking
|"I Hear You Knocking"|
|Single by Smiley Lewis|
|Format||10" 78 rpm & 7" 45 rpm records|
|Recorded||J&M Studio, New Orleans, Louisianna, 1955|
|Genre||New Orleans rhythm and blues|
|Label||Imperial (no. X5356)|
|Smiley Lewis singles chronology|
"I Hear You Knocking" (or "I Hear You Knockin'") is a rhythm and blues song written by Dave Bartholomew and Earl King (using the pseudonym "Pearl King"). It was first recorded by New Orleans rhythm and blues artist Smiley Lewis in 1955. The song tells of the return of a former lover who is rebuffed and features prominent piano accompaniment. "I Hear You Knocking" reached number two in the Billboard R&B singles chart in 1955, making it Lewis' most popular and best-known song. Subsequently, it has been recorded by numerous artists, including Welsh singer/guitarist Dave Edmunds, who had a number one hit with the song in the UK in 1970 and in the Top 10 in several other countries.
Several earlier blues and R&B songs used lyrics similar to "I Hear You Knocking". James "Boodle It" Wiggins recorded an upbeat piano blues in 1928 titled "Keep A Knockin' An You Can't Get In" (Paramount 12662), which repeated the signature line. It was followed by songs that used similar phrases, including "You Can't Come In" by Bert M. Mays (1928, Vocalion 1223), "Keep On Knocking" by Lil Johnson (1935), "Keep a Knocking" Milton Brown & His Brownies (1936), and "Keep Knocking (But You Can't Come In)" by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (1938, Columbia 20228). None of these early singles listed a songwriter or composer.
However, when popular jump blues bandleader Louis Jordan with the Tympany Five recorded the song as "Keep A-Knockin'" in 1939 (Decca 7609), the single's credits listed "Mays-Bradford" (Bert Mays and Perry Bradford) (later, in 1957, Little Richard recorded it with "R. Penniman", Richard's legal name, listed as the writer, although "credit was later given to Bert Mays and J. Mayo Williams"). Beginning with his signing by Los Angeles-based Imperial Records in 1950, Smiley Lewis was one of the main proponents of the emerging New Orleans rhythm and blues style, along with Fats Domino, Lloyd Price, Dave Bartholomew, and Professor Longhair.
Smiley Lewis recorded "I Hear You Knocking" with Dave Bartholomew's band at J&M Studios in New Orleans, owned by Cosimo Matassa. Bartholomew is also listed as the song's producer and songwriter, along with Earl King as "Pearl King". "I Hear You Knocking" uses a modified twelve-bar blues arrangement, where the progression to the IV chord is repeated:
It has been notated in 4/4 time in the key of C with a moderate tempo. Instrumentally, the song is dominated by piano triplets in the style of Fats Domino, played by Huey "Piano" Smith. The lyrics echo some of the lines from the earlier songs:
- You went away and left me long time ago
- Now you're comin' back knockin' on my door
- I hear you knockin', but you can't come in
- I hear you knockin', go back where you been
First cover versions
In the 1950s, it was a common record industry practice for popular R&B songs to be re-recorded or "covered" by pop artists. Well-known early examples include Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" which was re-recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets and Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" by Pat Boone. In some cases, cover versions "[took] the dominant share of the record market" and prevented the original songs from entering the pop charts or "crossing over". Such was the case with "I Hear You Knocking". Actress/pop singer Gale Storm's recording of the song (Dot 15412) in 1956 reached number two in Billboard's pop chart and number three in the Cash Box Best-Selling Record chart. One writer noted "Storm swiped his [Lewis'] thunder for any crossover possibilities with her ludicrous whitewashed cover of the plaintive ballad". Writer/producer Dave Bartholomew expressed his disappointment, reportedly leading him to refer to Lewis as a "'bad luck singer', because he never sold more than 100,000 copies of his Imperial singles". English singer Jill Day also recorded the song in 1956 as did Connie Francis in 1959.
Dave Edmunds rendition
|"I Hear You Knocking"|
|Single by Dave Edmunds|
|Format||7" 45 rpm record|
|Writer(s)||Dave Bartholomew, Pearl King|
Welsh singer and guitarist Dave Edmunds recorded "I Hear You Knocking" in 1970. Whereas Lewis' original song is a piano-driven R&B piece, Edmunds' version features prominent guitar lines using a stripped down rock and roll approach. In an interview, John Lennon commented "Well, I always liked simple rock. There's a great one in England now, 'I Hear You Knocking'".
Edmunds plays all the instruments (except possibly bass) and, according to one writer, the song "has a mechanical rhythm and a weird, out-of-phase vocal that qualifies as an original interpretation". Edmunds uses fills and a solo played on slide guitar and during the instrumental break, he shouts out the names of several 1950s recording artists, including "Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Chuck Berry, Huey Smith and the Clowns!".
In December 1970, "I Hear You Knocking" reached number one in the UK, including the Christmas number one slot and topped the UK singles chart for six weeks. It also placed in the Top 10 in several other countries, including number four in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.
Other recorded versions
Examples of notable musicians who have recorded "I Hear You Knocking" include:
- Lewis' original single (see image) only listed Bartholomew as the songwriter.
- Birnbaum, Larry (2012). Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll. Scarecrow Press. p. 338. ISBN 978-0-8108-8629-2.
- Sliwicki, Susan. "James Wiggins came 'Knocking' long before Little Richard did". Goldminemag.com. Goldmine Magazine. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
- "I Hear You Knocking, By Smiley Lewis". Musicnotes.com. Alfred Publishing Co. Inc. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
- Lewis' 1955 song is performed in the key of E.
- According to Matassa, "Most people think Fats Domino played his own piano but he didn't always. Huey "Piano" Smith did the piano work on many of Fats' records. He also did the piano intro on Smiley Lewis's 'I Hear You Knockin'". Aswell, Tom (2009). Louisiana Rocks!: The True Genesis of Rock and Roll. Pelican Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-58980-677-1.
- Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. p. 256. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
- "[Cover versions] capitalize[d] on the ethnic divide in American radio". Shuker, Roy (2012). Popular Music Culture: The Key Concepts. Routledge. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-415-59866-8.
- Sagolla, Lisa Jo (2011). Rock 'n' Roll Dances of the 1950s. ABC-CLIO. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-313-36557-7.
- Caves, Richard E. (2000). Creative Industries: Contracts Between Art and Commerce. Harvard University Press. p. 300. ISBN 978-0-674-00164-0.
- Dahl, Bill (1996). Erlewine, Michael, ed. All Music Guide to the Blues. Miller Freeman Books. p. 165. ISBN 0-87930-424-3.
- Wirt, John (2014). Huey "Piano" Smith and the Rocking Pneumonia Blues. Louisiana State University Press. pp. 32, 134. ISBN 978-0-8071-5295-9.
- H, T (2004). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide. Fireside. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8.
- Wenner, Jann (2001). Lennon Remembers. Verso. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-85984-376-5.
- Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002). Erlewine, Stephen Thomas, ed. All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul. Backbeat Books. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-87930-653-3.
- "Dave Edmunds — Singles". Official Charts. Official Charts Company. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
- "Dave Edmunds — Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
- "I Hear You Knockin' — Song search results". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
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