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
ReleasedMay 16, 1966 (1966-05-16)
RecordedFebruary 9 / March 1966
StudioUnited Western Recorders, Hollywood
Producer(s)Brian Wilson
Audio sample
"I Know There's an Answer"
"Hang On to Your Ego"
Song by The Beach Boys
from the album Pet Sounds (1990 reissue)
Released1990 (1990)
RecordedFebruary 1966 (1966-02)
  • Brian Wilson
  • Terry Sachen
Producer(s)Brian Wilson

"I Know There's an Answer" is a song by American rock band the Beach Boys, the 9th track on their 1966 album Pet Sounds. It was composed and produced by Brian Wilson in lyrical collaboration with bandmate Mike Love and the group's road manager Terry Sachen.[1] The song was written as a reaction to Wilson's experiences with the drug LSD, as he explained, "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] Mojo described it: "A fried treatise on how LSD separates the turned-on 'us' from the uptight 'them'."[5] For a 1990 CD reissue of Pet Sounds, an earlier recording of the song with different lyrics was released as a bonus track under the name "Hang On to Your Ego".

Love was not originally listed as co-writer, and only received his credit after a 1990s court case. During the song's recording sessions, conflicts arose between Wilson and his bandmate. Love thought it was "too much of a doper song" and suggested that it should instead be about "finding yourself". After careful consideration, Wilson allowed Love to revise some of the song's lyrics, renaming it from "Hang On to Your Ego" to "I Know There's an Answer". The song's references to LSD were ultimately kept in its lyrics.


Its composition features a verse/refrain/verse/refrain/bridge/refrain pattern,[6] 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.[7] Inverted chords are used just as they are in other Pet Sounds compositions.[8]

Wilson characterized the song as "a Bob Dylan-kind of lyric".[9][better source needed] Author Jim Fusilli observed that "the lyrics seem an oddity when compared with the elegance and empathy of the rest of the recording".[10] The narrator expresses pity for "uptight people" who "trip through the day", but leaves them alone to live as they wish.[11] The refrain of the song states: "I know there's an answer / I know now but I have to find it by myself". When asked what the "answer" was, Wilson said it was: "Your self. There is an answer for you."[12]

"Hang On to Your Ego"[edit]

Under its initial title "Hang On to Your Ego", the song originally spoke to members of psychedelia who relied on LSD 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!"[13]

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,[14] 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."[15] 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] In a 1999 interview, Wilson added: "It was an inappropriate lyric. ... I just thought that to say 'Hang on to your ego' was an ego statement in and of itself, which I wasn't going for, so I changed it. I gave it a lot of thought."[12] 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".[10] Most of the other lyrics stayed the same,[10] 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 timpani, 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][10]


Sourced from liner notes included with the 1999 mono/stereo reissue of Pet Sounds,[16] except where otherwise noted.

The Beach Boys
Additional musicians and technical staff

Cover versions[edit]


  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 February 1, 2010. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  3. ^ a b c Fusilli 2005, p. 91.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Lambert 2007, p. 237.
  5. ^ "The Beach Boys' 50 Greatest Songs". MOJO. April 24, 2015. Retrieved 2016-06-01.
  6. ^ Granata 2003, p. 105.
  7. ^ Lambert 2007, pp. 237–238.
  8. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 238.
  9. ^ "Pet Sounds Live in London ( 2002)". YouTube. 2014-03-07. Retrieved 2016-06-01.
  10. ^ a b c d Fusilli 2005, p. 90.
  11. ^ DeRogatis 1996, p. 36.
  12. ^ a b Valania, Jonathon (August–September 1999). "Bittersweet Symphony". Magnet. Retrieved 2016-06-01.
  13. ^ Brackett 2008, p. 35.
  14. ^ Magazine 2007, p. 64.
  15. ^ Fusilli 2005, p. 89.
  16. ^ Pet Sounds (CD Liner). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 1999.
  17. ^ http://www.beachboysarchives.com/page10


External links[edit]