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 – c. April 17, 1966
StudioWestern, Hollywood
GenrePsychedelic pop
Length3:08
LabelCapitol
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Brian Wilson
Licensed audio
"I Know There's an Answer" on YouTube
Audio sample

"I Know There's an Answer" (alternately known as "Hang On to Your Ego") is a song by American rock band the Beach Boys from their 1966 album Pet Sounds. Written by Brian Wilson, Terry Sachen, and Mike Love, the song was inspired by Wilson's experience with the drug LSD and his struggle with ego death. Musically, it is distinguished for its colorful arrangement, unorthodox structure, and bass harmonica solo. The instrumentation also includes guitars, tack piano, banjo, clarinets, flutes, electric keyboards, and timpani. Wilson, Love, and Al Jardine trade the lead vocal, for which the melody spans two octaves.

Wilson and Sachen wrote lyrics to the song that criticized people who abuse LSD as a form of escapism. After Love voiced objections to its drug references, Wilson allowed him to revise the message to be about finding meaning within oneself. Although the references to "ego" were eliminated, the key line "they trip through the day and waste all their thoughts at night" remained. In 1990, an earlier mix of the song, featuring the group singing alternate lyrics, was released as a bonus track on the album's CD reissue. Cover versions of the song have been recorded by artists such as Sonic Youth and the Pixies' Frank Black.

Background[edit]

According to journalist Tom Nolan in 1966, Wilson felt he "can't go along" with LSD advocates such as Timothy Leary (pictured), noting that they "talk a lot, but ... don't really create".[1]

Originally conceived as "Let Go of Your Ego",[2] the song was first written by Brian Wilson and Terry Sachen; the latter had been hired as the band's road manager in January 1965.[3] Wilson was inspired to write the song following his experience with the drug LSD (or "acid").[4][5] Loren Schwartz, a talent agent who supervised Wilson's first LSD trip, recalled that Wilson had achieved "full-on ego death" through the drug.[6] Explaining Sachen's background, Schwartz wrote that Sachen had met Wilson through Wilson's younger cousins. "Terry ingratiated himself with Brian by supplying him with marijuana, hashish and tempting him with other substances."[7]

LSD first became a widely available street drug in early 1965.[8] Wilson was fascinated by the drug at the time, having had what he called a "religious experience" on the occasion that he used it,[9] but was less enamored with many of the so-called "acid heads".[1] His 2016 memoir, I Am Brian Wilson, stated of the song: "People took [acid] to get away from themselves, but that wasn't the right way to take it. It was supposed to make you go deeper into yourself. I wanted to remind people that they could survive everything best if they remembered who they were."[10][nb 1]

Having predated Wilson's collaboration with Tony Asher for the Pet Sounds album,[12][13] it is one of the five (of 13) tracks on the LP that the pair did not write together.[14][nb 2] Asher recalled, "Brian startled me one afternoon by saying 'Oh listen—I just wrote a song with Terry.' I listened to it and said to myself, 'You mean I'm not writing all the songs for the album?' ... I didn't feel betrayed—I was just surprised."[15]

Controversy and rewrite[edit]

The song was rewritten as "I Know There's an Answer" after Mike Love voiced objections to the lyrics.[16][17] Love stated in a 1993 interview that he found the original lyrics "so totally offensive [and] nauseating" that he refused to sing them.[18] He told Wilson that he was strongly opposed to drugs such as LSD and did not wish for the Beach Boys to be associated with its culture.[19] In his recollection, he was aware of the fact that Wilson had experimented with LSD and knew that the "prevailing drug jargon [suggested] 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."[20] He said, "The people that I'd seen indulge in those things exhibited behaviors and mannerisms that left much to be desired."[16]

Al Jardine recalled that "Brian was very concerned" and asked the rest of the band for their opinions: "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.'"[21] Love said that "Brian didn't balk" at his proposed lyric changes. "Maybe he cared, maybe he didn't. He never said anything to me directly."[16][22] In a 2007 interview, Wilson said he "didn't mind" changing the lyrics, "But you know what? The ego of the band was Mike. He was the ego guy."[23] When the song was published, Wilson neglected to credit Love as a co-writer. In 1994, Love successfully sued for writing credits on 35 Beach Boys songs, including "I Know There's an Answer".[24][25][nb 3]

In retrospect, Jardine said of the dispute, "It's funny...Now, it seems like no big deal; it just seemed like it at the time."[21] Conversely, Bruce Johnston felt it was not "one of my favorite songs. I remember recording it as 'Hang On To Your Ego,' and it just never, ever felt right to me either way. I was more interested in the harmonicas and the double bass."[26]

Lyrics[edit]

When the song was titled "Hang On to Your Ego", the lyrics referenced enlightenment through acid-induced ego death[17] and advised users of LSD to be wary of the drug's effects on the mind.[16] The narrator also expressed a frustration with the self-centeredness of others[27] and urged those who use psychedelics as escapism—like himself—to "hang on to" their ego, even though he believes that they are unable to.[28] In the interpretation of author Donald Brackett, the song warned against "losing touch with one reality through effortless chemistry while coming closer to another one through the determined effort of talent", in other words, "don't let your identity be melted away during your search for enlightenment. It's an artificial paradise, [the narrator] cautions, since as Jack Kerouac once remarked, enlightenment wasn't built in a day!"[29]

Wilson's then-wife Marilyn attributed an autobiographical quality to the piece. Like most songs on Pet Sounds, she believed that Wilson was writing about his frustrations relating "to life and how people think ... musically or intellectually or whatever".[30] Asked if "Hang On to Your Ego" was based on his struggles in maintaining his ego, Wilson responded: "Yeah. I had taken a few drugs, and I had gotten into that kind of thing. I guess it just came up naturally."[5] He later said that it had been "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."[31]

With the new title of "I Know There's an Answer", the song was altered to describe the protagonist's hesitation to tell the self-centered how they can improve their lifestyle.[27] In the verses, "how can I come on when I know I'm guilty" was modified to "how can I come on and tell them the way that they live could be better".[27] Elsewhere, in the choruses, "Hang on to your ego, hang on but I know that you're going to lose the fight" was changed to "I know there's an answer, I know but I have to find it by myself".[28] Most of the other lyrics stayed the same,[27] and despite concerns over the song's drug references, the key line "they trip through the day and waste all their thoughts at night" was kept.[2][28]

Love said that his revisions were an attempt to reflect the more "positive message" of "finding yourself".[16] Wilson supported this message; asked in an interview about what the "answer" in the song was, he responded, "Your self. There is an answer for you."[31] Although the narrator expresses pity for "uptight people" who "trip through the day", he leaves them alone to live as they wish.[32] According to musicologist Philip Lambert, the revision introduced contradictions:

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.[28]

Composition[edit]

"I Know There's an Answer" is structured in a verse/refrain/verse/refrain/bridge/refrain pattern. Unusually, the verses are divided by an eight-bar A section ("I know so many people ...") and a six-bar B section ("I know there's an answer ...". According to music historian Charles Granata, "The coupling of an eight- and a six-bar passage to create a fourteen-bar verse is rare (most verses are eight, twelve, or sixteen bars long); in this case, the listener isn't aware of the verse's compositional irregularity because the tune is so well-written."[2]

The song is in the key of B[33] and its lead melody spans two octaves.[28] Inverted chords are used just as they are in other Pet Sounds compositions.[34] Unlike other tracks on Pet Sounds, which modulate their respective keys down a minor third, the brief key change in "I Know There's an Answers" ascends a minor third (on the lyric "now what can you tell them").[35] Granata identified the "aah, di-di-di-di-da" backing vocals and Love's "ba doo-be-doo-be-dooooo" vocal break as the album's "most striking bit of doo-wop".[36]

A bass harmonica solo, played by session musician Tommy Morgan, is featured during the instrumental break.[37][nb 4] Morgan later commented, "Brian used instruments imaginatively. Not many people used bass harmonica at the time—Brian certainly used it before the Beatles. My solo ... was improvised, but whenever I played as part of the bass line, I played exactly what Brian told me to play."[37]

In Lambert's estimation, "This is one of Wilson's most vibrant instrumental conceptions, featuring organ, tack piano, harpsichord [sic], banjo, guitar, and bass harmonica. More so than any other song on the album, this one celebrates instruments and instrumental colours."[38] Session musician Carol Kaye commented, "Brian's putting us all on here with this royal 'blues' start and finally pretty song with its many facets of moods. He truly experimented on this." [39]

Recording[edit]

Wilson produced the backing track for "I Know There's an Answer" (then slated and logged as "Let Go of Your Ego") on February 9, 1966 at Western Studio.[2] With the exception of an overdubbed banjo, played by Glen Campbell, the track was recorded live with an orchestra of 15 musicians.[40] Before one of the takes, Wilson jokingly referred to the song as "Let Go of Your Libido", mispronouncing "libido",[41] after which he asked if anyone had heard the 1959 comedy album How to Speak Hip.[42] He recorded a guide vocal for the track later that day.[20]

Vocal overdubs followed a week later, by which time the song had been renamed to "Hang On to Your Ego".[2] As the session began, Love struggled to sing the song and repeatedly mocked the lyrics, at one point singing the opening lines in the style of comedian Jimmy Durante and actor James Cagney. Jardine similarly encountered issues singing the vocals to Wilson's satisfaction and remarked, "Hey, Brian. This is a little tricky. ... I cannot hack this without your help. I mean it. I'm mentally destroyed."[12] Love continued to joke around and distract Jardine, causing Wilson to lose his patience and shout through the studio intercom, "Hey, you guys. Don't fuck around. Please, we've got to do it, Mike. Come on. ... Guys, let's cut this fucking thing!"[43] After Jardine's 14th take, Wilson announced that he is satisfied with the performance, although Jardine felt that Wilson may have been "just accepting it". Jardine's vocal takes ultimately ran up to 18.[44]

On February 16, Wilson completed a mono mix of "Hang On to Your Ego".[45] The group later rerecorded the vocals to accommodate the song's reconfiguration as "I Know There's an Answer".[16] Except for the chorus, the final vocals were recorded on or around March 3 at Western. Further overdubs to the track, including the chorus vocals, were likely tracked on April 17 at Western.[40]

Critical reception[edit]

Reviewing the Pet Sounds album upon its release, Record Mirror's Norman Jopling wrote that "'I Know There's An Answer' is a bell-like item and starts off Ronette-ishly. Prominent bass, dramatic vocal work. Like 'Don't Talk', there's a strong hymnal flavour on this one, but the only complaint is that the backing dominates the vocals. Sax break [sic], which is very unusual on Beach Boy records, and tambourines galore at the end."[46]

Retrospectively, music journalist D. Strauss remarked that "I Know There's an Answer" demonstrated how Pet Sounds made the Beach Boys "the first major rock group to look music trends firmly in the eye and declare that rock really didn't matter . Rock is supposed to be about, you know, fucking, and Brian Wilson was recording a song ('I Know There's an Answer') that was originally entitled 'Get Rid of Your Libido.' [sic]"[47] In 2015, Mojo ranked it as the 20th-greatest Beach Boy song, describing it as a "fried treatise on how LSD separates the turned-on 'us' from the uptight 'them'."[48]

Frank Black version[edit]

"Hang On to Your Ego"
Frank Black - Hang On to Your Ego.jpg
Single by Frank Black
from the album Frank Black
Released1993 (1993)
Recorded1992
Length3:23
Label
Songwriter(s)
  • Brian Wilson
  • Terry Sachen
Producer(s)
Frank Black singles chronology
"Los Angeles"
(1993)
"Hang On to Your Ego"
(1993)
"Frank Black"
(1993)
Music video
"Frank Black - Hang On To Your Ego (Official Video)" on YouTube

Credited to his moniker Frank Black, Pixies member Charles Thompson recorded a cover version of "Hang On to Your Ego" that was issued as a single from his first solo album, Frank Black (1993). It was one of the first tracks recorded for the LP, which had originally been planned as a covers album.[49] His bandmate Joey Santiago guested on lead guitar.[50] Pixies biographer John Mendolssosn remarked that Thompson's rendition "could be played in actual discotheques – the kind in which men in tight-fitting shirts with extremely pointed collars try to persuade women with big hair and ankle bracelets to have sex with them – without there being a stampede for the exits!"[51]

The music video for the song was created on a budget estimated between $60,000 and $65,000. It was the second music video directed by They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh and featured cameo appearances from Tony Asher and Charles' younger brother Parker Thompson. According to a contemporary report, "The video treatment for 'Hang On to Your Ego' juxtaposes the concept of not loving yourself too much against images of people caught in the act of self-loving, says Flansburgh. The clip combines hi-tech, pop-art effects with a low-tech video portrait inspired by amateur public-access shows."[52]

Wilson's 2016 memoir briefly references this cover version, stating only that "Someone played me a song once by Frank Black. He was in the Pixies, a band I don’t know very well, and then he had some solo albums. On one of them he did a cover of 'I Know There’s an Answer' where he put the original lyrics back in ..."[4] In 2012, Thompson's version was ranked at number 10 on Paste magazine's list of "The 25 Best Beach Boys Covers".[50]

CD single track listing
No.TitleWriter(s)Length
1."Hang On to Your Ego"Wilson, Sachen3:23
2."The Ballad of Johnny Horton"Thompson4:22
3."Surf Epic"Thompson10:12
Total length:17:57

Personnel[edit]

Per band archivist Craig Slowinski.[40]

The Beach Boys

Session musicians (later known as "the Wrecking Crew")

Technical staff

List of cover versions[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The memoir goes on to say that he had only taken LSD once to this point.[11]
  2. ^ It is also one of only two tracks that Wilson wrote with a collaborator other than Asher, sharing the distinction with "I'm Waiting for the Day".[14][12]
  3. ^ Love was also awarded credit for "Hang On to Your Ego", which, if counted, would boost the number to 36.[25]
  4. ^ During the session, Wilson instructed Morgan to "wail on that baby for the instrumental break. ... Try to wail. Do a thing—you know."[37]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Nolan, Tom (November 27, 1966). "The Frenzied Frontier of Pop Music". Los Angeles Times West Magazine.
  2. ^ a b c d e Granata 2003, p. 105.
  3. ^ Badman 2004, pp. 82, 114.
  4. ^ a b Wilson & Greenman 2016, p. 179.
  5. ^ a b "Interview with Brian Wilson". The Pet Sounds Sessions (Booklet). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 1997.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  6. ^ Carlin 2006, pp. 174–175.
  7. ^ Daro, Lorren (May 28, 2012). "BRIAN AND LSD". Collapse Board. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  8. ^ Granata 2003, p. 55.
  9. ^ Granata 2003, p. 55–56.
  10. ^ Wilson & Greenman 2016, pp. 179–180.
  11. ^ Wilson & Greenman 2016, p. 169.
  12. ^ a b c Badman 2004, p. 114.
  13. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 236.
  14. ^ a b Granata 2003, p. 80.
  15. ^ Granata 2003, p. 103.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Granata 2003, p. 104.
  17. ^ a b Love 2016, p. 132.
  18. ^ "Good Vibrations? The Beach Boys' Mike Love gets his turn". Goldmine. September 18, 1992.
  19. ^ Love 2016, pp. 105, 131–132.
  20. ^ a b Elliott, Brad (August 31, 1999). "Pet Sounds Track Notes". beachboysfanclub.com. Retrieved March 3, 2009.
  21. ^ a b "Comments by Al Jardine". The Pet Sounds Sessions (Booklet). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 1997.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  22. ^ Fusilli 2005, p. 89.
  23. ^ Holdship, Bill (January 2007). "The Beach Boys: The Making of Pet Sounds". Mojo.
  24. ^ Doe & Tobler 2009, pp. 22, 25.
  25. ^ a b Doe, Andrew G. "Album Archive Part 2: 1966-1973". Bellagio 10452. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  26. ^ "Comments by Bruce Johnston". The Pet Sounds Sessions (Booklet). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 1997.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  27. ^ a b c d Fusilli 2005, p. 90.
  28. ^ a b c d e f Lambert 2007, p. 237.
  29. ^ Brackett 2008, p. 35.
  30. ^ "The Observers: Marilyn Wilson". The Pet Sounds Sessions (Booklet). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 1997.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  31. ^ a b Valania, Jonathon (August–September 1999). "Bittersweet Symphony". Magnet.
  32. ^ DeRogatis 1996, p. 36.
  33. ^ Lambert 2008, p. 116.
  34. ^ Lambert 2007, p. 238.
  35. ^ Lambert 2007, pp. 237–238.
  36. ^ Granata 2003, p. 35.
  37. ^ a b c Granata 2003, p. 150.
  38. ^ Lambert 2008, p. 128.
  39. ^ "Carol Kaye". The Pet Sounds Sessions (Booklet). The Beach Boys. Capitol Records. 1997.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  40. ^ a b c Slowinski, Craig. "Pet Sounds LP". beachboysarchives.com. Endless Summer Quarterly. Retrieved April 5, 2021.
  41. ^ Albanese, Paul J. (2002). The Personality Continuum and Consumer Behavior. Quorum Books. p. 183. ISBN 978-1-56720-558-9.
  42. ^ Chapman, Rob (February 2002). "Brian Wilson: Unfinished Symphony". Mojo.
  43. ^ Badman 2004, pp. 114–115.
  44. ^ Badman 2004, p. 115.
  45. ^ Badman 2004, p. 117.
  46. ^ Jopling, Norman (July 2, 1966). "The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (Capitol)". Record Mirror.
  47. ^ Strauss, D. (December 8, 1997). "Pet Sounds : It's Not Rock 'n' Roll, But We Like It". The New York Observer.
  48. ^ "The Beach Boys' 50 Greatest Songs". MOJO. April 24, 2015. Retrieved June 1, 2016.
  49. ^ Wild, Matt (October 3, 2013). "Sifting through the many solo albums (and names) of Frank Black/Black Francis". The A.V. Club.
  50. ^ a b Stiernberg, Bonnie (April 26, 2012). "The 25 Best Beach Boys Covers". Paste.
  51. ^ Mendelssohn, John (2009). Gigantic: The Story Of Frank Black And The Pixies. Omnibus Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-85712-116-5.
  52. ^ Russell, Deborah (March 8, 1993). "Artist Takes Vid Crew on 'Ego' Trip". Billboard.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]