The Generational Evolution of “I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmunds

A recurring theme can be used in songs for generations. Knocking on a door is such a simple action, yet it’s been sung about for years. In 1928, James “Boodle It” Wiggins recorded a song called “Keep A-Nockin’ an You Can’t Get In.” Bert M. Mays, Lil Johnson, Milton Brown, Bob Wills, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Dorsey, Little Richard, and The Everly Brothers all released variations on the song.

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In 1955, Smiley Lewis cut “I Hear You Knocking,” and Gale Storm, Connie Francis, Fats Domino, Shakin’ Stevens, Billy Swan, Gary Glitter, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Wynonna all recorded versions of the song.

In 1972, a guitar-playing singer/producer from Wales took the song to No. 2 on the charts. Let’s take a look at the story behind “I Hear You Knocking” by Dave Edmunds.

Earliest Instance

Howard Odum published song lyrics in 1909 to a song called “I Couldn’t Get In.” The lyrics included the lines I keep a-rappin’ on my woman’s do and I got my all-night trick, baby, an’ you can’t git in. “Keep a Knocking” would sometimes be credited to Perry Williams and sometimes to J. Mayo Williams. Years later, when Little Richard put the song on the charts, the songwriting credit was Richard Penniman (Little Richard’s legal name.)

James “Boodle It” Wiggins

Wiggins was best known for his recordings on Paramount Records. A year after he released “Keep A-Knockin’ an You Can’t Get In,” he was involved in a lynching. An altercation with a white woman resulted in a mob shooting the singer four times and lynching him. He reportedly survived the ordeal. Bert M. Mays recorded “You Can’t Come In” for Brunswick Records in 1928.

You went away and left me long time ago
Now you’re knocking on my door
I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in
I hear you knocking, go back where you been

Lil Johnson

Johnson recorded over 40 sides, mostly for Vocalian Records. She had quite a few risque titles, including “Get ‘Em from the Peanut Man (Hot Nuts),” “Anybody Want to Buy My Cabbage?” “Press My Button (Ring My Bell), “Rock that Thing,” and “Buck Naked Blues.” She recorded “Keep On Knocking” in 1935.

Western Swing Versions

In 1936, Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies recorded “Keep A-Knockin’ (But You Can’t Come In),” and Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys followed two years later with “Keep Knocking.” In 1939, Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five recorded an uptown version with minimal lyrics.

I begged you not to go, but you said goodbye
And now you’re telling me all your lies
I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in
I hear you knocking, go back where you been, oh yeah

“I Hear You Knocking”

Born Overton Amos Lemons, Smiley Lewis began performing in New Orleans in his late teens. He began recording for Imperial Records and had his most significant success with the Dave Bartholomew-penned song “I Hear You Knocking,” taking it to No. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. Gale Storm recorded a sultry version the same year, reversing the gender. Lewis also recorded “One Night (of Sin).” Elvis Presley cleaned up the lyrics and had a massive hit with it as “One Night” in 1958.

Little Richard and Fats Domino

As Fats Domino famously said when he was asked about rock ‘n’ roll, “Everybody started callin’ my music rock and roll, but it wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues I’d been playin’ down in New Orleans.” In 1957, Little Richard took a version of “Keep a Knockin'” to No. 8. He had this to say about rock ‘n’ roll, “I had never heard nobody do it, and I was scared. I really feel from the bottom of my heart that I am the inventor. If there was somebody else, I didn’t know then, didn’t hear them, haven’t heard them. Not even to this day. So I say I’m the architect.”

You better get back to your used-to-be
‘Cause you’re kinda love ain’t good for me
I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in
I hear you knocking, go back where you been

Dave Edmunds

The Welsh guitar wizard had just left his band Love Sculpture when he recorded his version of the song. He planned on recording “Let’s Work Together” by Wilbert Harrison but discovered Canned Heat had already cut it. Edmunds told journalist Carl Wiser, “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 formats.’ 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.” 

Suzi Quatro

In 1974, Suzi Quatro included “Keep a Knockin'” on her second album. She told her fans during the intro, “This is dedicated to all you 16-year-old girls out there. You know, when all those boys come round asking for a date, you just gotta sit back and be cool and tell ’em one thing … you keep on knocking, but you can’t come in.”

I told you way back in Fifty-two
That I would never go with you
I hear you knocking, but you can’t come in
I hear you knocking, go back where you been

Versions of the song continued through the years. Over a hundred years have passed, but people still relate to the lyrics and all of the different perspectives. Edmunds spoke further of the effects of the timeless music, “Rock ‘n’ roll will never die. There’ll always be some arrogant little brat who wants to make music with a guitar.”

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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