“You Can’t Do That” is a song written by John Lennon (credited to Lennon–McCartney) and released by the Beatles as the B-side of their sixth British single “Can’t Buy Me Love”.
One of Lennon’s semi-autobiographical songs, “You Can’t Do That,” “contradicted the genial tone with its tense threats, sexual paranoia and nagging, dragging groove,” according to Robert Sandall. The song’s jealousy theme was re-visited in other Lennon compositions, such as “Run for Your Life” and “Jealous Guy”. Influenced by the then relatively unknown Wilson Pickett, the song is rooted in the twelve-bar blues form, with Lennon introducing a discordant Sharp 9th (F) on the D7th chord, pointedly emphasising “…I told you before…” and then pushing this note for the exasperated “Oh!” before resolving to the song’s key of G. Lennon also played the guitar solo, which he conceived. The song reflected Lennon’s love for hard-edged American R&B—”a cowbell going four in the bar and the chord going chatoong!” as he put it.
George Harrison wrote the intro and outro guitar riff in the studio according to Tom Petty in Rolling Stone. When asked by Petty how he came up with it, Harrison recalled “I was just standing there [in the studio] and thought, ‘I’ve got to do something!'”.
With filming due to begin on A Hard Day’s Night, film director Richard Lester needed the Beatles to provide him with original material ahead of production and “You Can’t Do That” was selected to be part of the Scala Theatre “live performance” scene in the film, but was dropped from the final cut along with “I’ll Cry Instead” and “I Call Your Name.” The recording took nine takes to complete, and was considered for the A-side of their next single until McCartney wrote “Can’t Buy Me Love.”
“You Can’t Do That” was recorded on Tuesday, 25 February 1964, in Abbey Road Studios in London. An early take with a guide vocal is included on Anthology 1. It was the first song completed in the week before the Beatles began filming A Hard Day’s Night, though “I Should Have Known Better” and “And I Love Her” were also started on the same day.
While in New York for The Ed Sullivan Show, guitarist George Harrison was presented with a Rickenbacker 360 Deluxe electric 12-string guitar worth (in 1964) $900. Only the second one produced, it was heard for the first time on “You Can’t Do That” and gave the song its distinctive chiming sound.
The song was first released as the B-side of the “Can’t Buy Me Love” single on 16 March 1964 in the United States by Capitol Records and on 20 March 1964 in the United Kingdom by Parlophone. It was the Beatles seventh US single and sixth UK single. It was later included in the A Hard Day’s Night album in the UK, and The Beatles’ Second Album in the US.
The Beatles were filmed miming to “You Can’t Do That” as part of the final concert sequence in the A Hard Day’s Night film. The filming took place on 31 March 1964 at the Scala Theatre, London, but was not used. It was, however, broadcast on The Ed Sullivan Show on 24 May. The performance is included in the documentary The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night”.
The Beatles recorded “You Can’t Do That” four times for BBC radio in 1964. It also became a part of the group’s live repertoire that year, and was the second song in their set—after “Twist And Shout”—during their Australian and North American tours.
According to Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles Recording Sessions book, George Martin overdubbed a piano track to Take 9 on 22 May 1964 ostensibly for the album version of this song, but it was never used.
John Lennon – lead vocal, lead guitar (solo), rhythm guitar
Paul McCartney – backing vocal, bass, cowbell
George Harrison – backing vocal, 12 string lead guitar
Ringo Starr – drums, bongos