I Know There's an Answer

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"I Know There's an Answer"
Song by The Beach Boys from the album Pet Sounds
Released May 16, 1966 (1966-05-16)
Recorded February 9 / March 1966,
United Western Recorders, Hollywood
Genre Psychedelic rock, psychedelic pop
Length 3:09
Label Capitol
Producer Brian Wilson
Pet Sounds track listing

"I Know There's an Answer" (additionally released with alternate lyrics as "Hang On to Your Ego") is a song by the American rock band The Beach Boys, taken from their 1966 album Pet Sounds. It is the ninth track on the album. The song was composed and produced by Brian Wilson in lyrical collaboration with bandmate Mike Love and the group's road manager Terry Sachen.[1] Written as a reaction to Wilson's experiences with lysergic acid diethylamide, he later said, "I had gotten into that kind of thing. I guess it just came up naturally."[2]

It is characterized by its unusual juxtaposition of instrumentation which unfolds as the song progresses, which include tack piano, bass harmonica, banjos, saxophones, flutes, and organ.[3][4]


Its composition features a verse/refrain/verse/refrain/bridge/refrain pattern,[5] music framing devices consistent with other tracks of Pet Sounds such as "You Still Believe in Me", along with a melody which stretches two octaves.[4] Dissimilar to other tracks is its key movement which occurs for the lyric "now what can you tell them"—it proceeds up a minor third whereas Wilson usually proceeded down.[6] Inverted chords are used just as they are in other Pet Sounds compositions.[7]

Author Jim Fusilli observed that "the lyrics seem an oddity when compared with the elegance and empathy of the rest of the recording."[8] The narrator expresses pity for "uptight people" who "trip through the day," but leaves them alone to live as they wish.[9] The refrain of the song states: "I know there's an answer / I know now but I have to find it by myself"

Verse and chorus of "Hang On to Your Ego", with significantly different vocal arrangement.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Under its initial title "Hang On to Your Ego", the song originally spoke to members of psychedelia who relied on the drug for escapism. Its alternative narrator instead encourages them to "hang on to your ego / hang on but I know that you're gonna lose the fight".[4] Author Donald Brackett summarized that "Hang On to your Ego" contains "Wilson's warnings about losing touch with one reality through effortless chemistry while coming closer to another one through the determined effort of talent ... don't let your identity be melted away during your search for enlightenment. It's an artificial paradise, he cautions, since as Jack Kerouac once remarked, enlightenment wasn't built in a day!"[10]

During vocal overdub sessions in March 1966, Mike Love objected to the possible drug connotations of the title and certain lyrics. "I was aware that Brian was beginning to experiment with LSD and other psychedelics ... The prevailing drug jargon at the time had it that doses of LSD would shatter your ego, as if that were a positive thing ... I wasn't interested in taking acid or getting rid of my ego."[1] As Love later admitted that he would actively refuse to sing some lyrics of Pet Sounds,[11] he reasoned: "[It] was too much of a doper song for me. So I came up with the alternative lyric, which reflected finding yourself. Brian didn't balk. Maybe he cared, maybe he didn't. He didn't say anything to me directly."[12] Al Jardine corroborated that the decision to change the lyrics was ultimately Wilson's. "Brian was very concerned. He wanted to know what we thought about it. To be honest, I don't think we even knew what an ego was... Finally Brian decided, 'Forget it. I'm changing the lyrics. There's too much controversy."[1] According to musicologist Philip Lambert, the revision introduced contradictions in the lyricism:

If the message is to "seek answers within," then the song's opening line, "I know so many people who think they can do it alone" (which Mike didn't change), no longer makes sense as an argument to be refuted. In fact, the new message contends, those people are right, they can do it alone, by recognizing their self-worth and realizing their unexplored potential.[4]

"The subject of the revised song is the self-centeredness of people and how the singer hesitates to tell them... the way that they live could be better."[according to whom?] "How can I come on when I know I'm guilty" was excised in favor of "how can I come on and tell them the way that they live could be better".[8] Most of the other lyrics stayed the same,[8] and in spite of the changes, the psychedelic lyrics "they trip through their day and waste all their thoughts at night" were kept in the song.[4]


The song's early recording sessions were originally named "Let Go of Your Ego". The basic track was made on February 9, 1966 at United Western Recorders.[2] The eclectic instrumentation includes prominent use of timpanis, bass harmonica, and tambourine.[3] For the song's bass harmonica break, Wilson instructed session musician Tommy Morgan to "wail on that, baby,"[3] where Morgan's solo is joined by Glen Campbell's banjo.[4] When first recorded as "Hang On to Your Ego", Brian sang the sole lead as a guide vocal. After being revised to "I Know There's An Answer", the lead vocal was sung by Mike Love and Al Jardine with Wilson singing lead on the choruses.[1][8]


The Beach Boys
Additional musicians

Cover versions[edit]

The song, as "Hang On to Your Ego", was later covered by Frank Black on his eponymous 1993 album. The cover is a departure from the original in style as it is heavily influenced by 1980s synthesizer work while staying true to the original, with Black even singing in the style of Brian. Sonic Youth covered "I Know There's an Answer" in 1990. The song appears as a bonus track on the reissue of Goo. The Levellers covered the song as "Hang On to Your Ego" in 1997 as a b-side for the single What a Beautiful Day.


  1. ^ a b c d Elliott, Brad (August 31, 1999). "Pet Sounds Track Notes". beachboysfanclub.com. Retrieved March 3, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Out-Of-Sight! SMiLE Timeline". Archived from the original on 2008-03-11. Retrieved 2011-10-30. 
  3. ^ a b c Fusilli 2005, p. 91.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Lambert 2007, p. 237.
  5. ^ Granata, p. 105.
  6. ^ Lambert 2007, pp. 237–8.
  7. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 238.
  8. ^ a b c d Fusilli 2005, p. 90.
  9. ^ DeRogatis 1996, p. 36.
  10. ^ Brackett 2008, p. 35.
  11. ^ Magazine 2007, p. 64.
  12. ^ Fusilli 2005, p. 89.
  13. ^ "Larry Knechtel biography". Retrieved March 17, 2011. 

External links[edit]