I Hear You Knocking

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"I Hear You Knocking"
Label of 78 rpm Imperial Records single listing "D. Bartholomew" as writer
Single by Smiley Lewis
B-side"Bumpity Bump"
ReleasedJuly 1955 (1955-07)
StudioJ&M, New Orleans, Louisiana
GenreNew Orleans R&B
Songwriter(s)Dave Bartholomew[1]
Producer(s)Dave Bartholomew
Smiley Lewis singles chronology
"Bells Are Ringing"
"I Hear You Knocking"
"One Night"

"I Hear You Knocking" (or "I Hear You Knockin'") is a rhythm and blues song written by Dave Bartholomew. New Orleans rhythm and blues singer Smiley Lewis first recorded the song in 1955. The lyrics tell of the return of a former lover who is rebuffed.

"I Hear You Knocking" reached number two on the Billboard R&B singles chart in 1955, making it Lewis's most popular and best-known song. Subsequently, numerous artists have recorded it, including Welsh singer and guitarist Dave Edmunds, whose version reached number one in the UK Singles Chart for six weeks in 1970 and was in the top 10 in several other countries.


Several earlier blues and R&B songs use lyrics similar to "I Hear You Knocking".[2] James "Boodle It" Wiggins recorded an upbeat piano blues in 1928 titled "Keep A Knockin' An You Can't Get In"[3] which repeated the title in the lyrics. It was followed by songs that used similar phrases, including "You Can't Come In", by Bert M. Mays (1928);[4] "Keep On Knocking", by Lil Johnson (1935); "Keep a Knocking", by Milton Brown & His Brownies (1936); and "Keep Knocking (But You Can't Come In)", by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (1938).[5] None of these early singles listed a songwriter or composer.

However, when popular jump blues bandleader Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five recorded the song as "Keep A-Knockin'" in 1939,[6] the single's credits listed "Mays-Bradford" (Bert Mays and Perry Bradford). In 1957, Little Richard recorded it with the songwriter listed as "R. Penniman", Richard's legal name, although Bert Mays and J. Mayo Williams were later credited as songwriters.[2]

Beginning with his signing by the 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.

Original song[edit]

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 listed as the producer and songwriter, along with Pearl King (a Bartholomew pseudonym; the maiden name of his wife). He claims that he wrote it "in the backseat of a car coming out of San Francisco".[7] "I Hear You Knocking" uses a modified twelve-bar blues arrangement, in which the progression to the IV chord is repeated:[8]


It has been notated in 4/4 time in the key of C with a moderate tempo.[9] Instrumentally, the song is dominated by piano triplets in the style of Fats Domino, played by Huey "Piano" Smith.[10] 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

"I Hear You Knocking" was released as a single by Imperial Records in 1955. It entered Billboard's R&B charts[11] on September 3, where it spent eighteen weeks and reached number two.[12]

First cover versions[edit]

Also in 1955, actress and pop singer Gale Storm recorded "I Hear You Knockin'" for Dot Records. Her cover version reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart,[12] number three on the Cash Box Best-Selling Record chart and became a gold record. Bartholomew believed her version "killed his [Lewis's] record";[7] blues researcher Bill Dahl added, "Storm swiped his [Lewis's] thunder for any crossover possibilities with her ludicrous whitewashed cover of the plaintive ballad."[13] The experience reportedly led Bartholomew to refer to Lewis as a "'bad luck singer', because he never sold more than 100,000 copies of his Imperial singles".[13] English singer Jill Day also recorded the song in 1956, as did Connie Francis in 1959. In 1961, Bartholomew produced Fats Domino's remake of the song.[7]

Dave Edmunds version[edit]

"I Hear You Knocking"
Single cover sleeve with black & white photo of Edmunds playing an acoustic guitar
Single by Dave Edmunds
B-side"Black Bill"
ReleasedNovember 1970 (1970-11)
StudioRockfield, Monmouthshire, Wales
Songwriter(s)Dave Bartholomew
Producer(s)Dave Edmunds
Dave Edmunds singles chronology
"I Hear You Knocking"
"I'm Comin' Home"
Official Audio
"I Hear You Knocking" on YouTube

Welsh singer and guitarist Dave Edmunds recorded "I Hear You Knocking" in 1970. He had originally planned to record a cover of "Let's Work Together" by Wilbert Harrison, but had to reconsider when he heard a version that had been recorded by Canned Heat.[15] He later recalled:

Then an album of Smiley Lewis was released on United Artists in Britain, and they played "I Hear You Knocking" on the radio in Britain while I was driving along. I thought, "hang on", the two songs have identical format. You could use the same backing track for both songs. It's just a simple 12-bar thing. So I thought, I'll do that.[15]


Edmunds recorded the song at Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire.[16] Whereas Lewis's original recording is a piano-driven R&B piece with a 12/8 shuffle feel, Edmunds' version features prominent guitar lines and a stripped-down, straight-quaver rock-and-roll approach.[17] He plays all the instruments (except possibly bass guitar) and AllMusic writer Stephen Thomas Erlewine suggests that the song "has a mechanical rhythm and a weird, out-of-phase vocal that qualifies as an original interpretation".[18] Edmunds uses fills and a solo played on slide guitar, and during the instrumental break he shouts out the names of several recording artists: "Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Chuck Berry, Huey Smith, Bob Dylan!"[19]

Release and charts[edit]

The recording was the first single to be released on MAM Records. In December 1970, "I Hear You Knocking" reached number one in the UK, where it remained for six weeks,[20] and became a Christmas number one. In an interview, John Lennon commented, "Well, I always liked simple rock. There's a great one in England now, 'I Hear You Knocking'."[21] It eventually sold over three million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[22] The single also placed in the top 10 in several other countries, including number four on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1971.[23] In 1972, the song was included on Edmunds' first solo album Rockpile.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis's single (see image) credited only Bartholomew as the songwriter.
  2. ^ a b Birnbaum, Larry (2012). Before Elvis: The Prehistory of Rock 'n' Roll. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 338. ISBN 978-0-8108-8629-2.
  3. ^ Paramount Records (catalogue number 12662); Sliwicki, Susan. "James Wiggins Came 'Knocking' Long Before Little Richard Did". Goldminemag.com. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  4. ^ Vocalion Records (catalogue number 1223)
  5. ^ Columbia Records (20228)
  6. ^ Decca Records (7609)
  7. ^ a b c Hannusch, Jeff; Black, Adam (1991). "They Call Me the Fat Man ..." (Box set booklet). Fats Domino. Hollywood, California: EMI Records USA. p. 34. E2-96784.
  8. ^ "I Hear You Knocking, by Smiley Lewis". Musicnotes.com. Alfred Publishing. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  9. ^ Lewis' 1955 recording is in the key of E.
  10. ^ 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 (2010). Louisiana Rocks!: The True Genesis of Rock and Roll. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-58980-677-1.
  11. ^ At the time, Billboard published three separate charts. Whitburn (1988), p. 13.
  12. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. pp. 256, 392. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.
  13. ^ a b Dahl, Bill (1996). "Smiley Lewis". In Erlewine, Michael (ed.). All Music Guide to the Blues. San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books. p. 165. ISBN 0-87930-424-3.
  14. ^ Molanphy, Chris (November 19, 2022). "Angry Young Men Edition". Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia (Podcast). Slate. Retrieved February 18, 2023.
  15. ^ a b Wiser, Carl. "Dave Edmunds". Songfacts. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  16. ^ "Dave Edmunds: Still Rockin' at 65". BBC South East Wales. April 14, 2009. Retrieved June 13, 2019.
  17. ^ Rolling Stone (2004). "Dave Edmunds". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). New York City: Fireside Books. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-7432-0169-8.
  18. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2002). "Dave Edmunds". In Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (eds.). All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (3rd. ed.). San Francisco: Backbeat Books. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-87930-653-3.
  19. ^ Dave Edmunds (1970). "I Hear You Knocking" (Musical recording). England: MAM Records. Event occurs at 1:16. MAM 1.
  20. ^ a b "Dave Edmunds – Singles". Official Charts. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  21. ^ Wenner, Jann (2001). Lennon Remembers. New York City: Verso Books. p. 10. ISBN 978-1-85984-376-5.
  22. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins. p. 278. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  23. ^ a b "Dave Edmunds: Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard.com. Retrieved December 3, 2017.
  24. ^ "Go-Set National Top 60". Go-Set. March 27, 1971.
  25. ^ "RPM 100 Singles" (PDF). RPM. Vol. 14, no. 26. February 13, 1971. ISSN 0315-5994 – via Library and Archives Canada.
  26. ^ "Dave Edmunds singles" (in German). Offizielle Deutsche Charts. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  27. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – I Hear You Knocking". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  28. ^ Downey, Pat; Albert, George; Hoffman, Frank (1994). Cash Box Pop Singles Charts, 1950-1993. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited. p. 108. ISBN 1563083167. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  29. ^ "Top Singles for 1971". Go-Set. 1971.
  30. ^ "Top 100 Single-Jahrescharts 1971" (in German). Offizielle Deutsche Charts. Retrieved August 12, 2018.