The Paul McCartney Project

We Can Work It Out

Written by Lennon - McCartney

Album This song officially appears on the We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper 7" Single.
Timeline This song has been officially released in 1965
Sessions This song has been recorded during the following sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

We Can Work It Out” is a song by the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. It was released as a “double A-sided” single with “Day Tripper“, the first time both sides of a single were so designated in an initial release. Both songs were recorded during the Rubber Soul sessions.

The song is an example of Lennon–McCartney collaboration at a depth that happened only rarely after they wrote the hit singles of 1963. This song, “A Day in the Life“, “Baby, You’re a Rich Man“, and “I’ve Got a Feeling“, are among the notable exceptions.

Composition

McCartney wrote the words and music to the verses and the chorus, with lyrics that “might have been personal“, probably a reference to his relationship with Jane Asher. McCartney then took the song to Lennon: “I took it to John to finish it off, and we wrote the middle together. Which is nice: ‘Life is very short. There’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.’ Then it was George Harrison’s idea to put the middle into 3/4 time, like a German waltz. That came on the session, it was one of the cases of the arrangement being done on the session.

With its intimations of mortality, Lennon’s contribution to the twelve-bar bridge contrasts typically with what Lennon saw as McCartney’s cajoling optimism, a contrast also seen in other collaborations by the pair, such as “Getting Better” and “I’ve Got a Feeling“. As Lennon told Playboy in 1980: “In We Can Work It Out, Paul did the first half, I did the middle eight. But you’ve got Paul writing, ‘We can work it out / We can work it out’—real optimistic, y’know, and me, impatient: ‘Life is very short, and there’s no time / For fussing and fighting, my friend.’

Based on those comments, some critics overemphasised McCartney’s optimism, neglecting the toughness in passages written by McCartney, such as “Do I have to keep on talking until I can’t go on?“. Lennon’s middle shifts focus from McCartney’s concrete reality to a philosophical perspective in B minor, illustrating this with the waltz-time section suggested by George Harrison that leads back to the verse, possibly meant to suggest tiresome struggle.

Music critic Ian MacDonald said: “[Lennon’s] passages are so suited to his Salvation Army harmonium that it’s hard to imagine them not being composed on it. The swell-pedal crescendos he adds to the verses are, on the other hand, textural washes added in the studio, the first of their kind on a Beatles record and signposts to the enriched sound-palette of Revolver.

Recording and release

The Beatles recorded “We Can Work It Out” on 20 October 1965, four days after its accompanying single track, with an overdub session on 29 October. They spent nearly 11 hours on the song, by far the longest expenditure of studio time up to that point.

In a discussion about what song to release as a single, Lennon argued “vociferously” for “Day Tripper“, differing with the majority view that “We Can Work It Out” was a more commercial song. As a result, the single was marketed as the first “double A-side,” but airplay and point-of-sale requests soon proved “We Can Work It Out” to be more popular, and it reached No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, the Beatles’ fastest-selling single since “Can’t Buy Me Love“, their previous McCartney-led A-side in the UK. It has sold 1.39 million copies in the UK.

We Can Work It Out” was the last of six number one singles in a row on the American charts, a record at the time. It was preceded by “I Feel Fine“, “Eight Days a Week“, “Ticket to Ride“, “Help!“, and “Yesterday“. The song became the band’s 11th number one, accomplished in just under two years time.

Both sides of the single entered the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart the week ending December 18, 1965. Just three weeks later (January 8, 1966), “We Can Work It Out” hit number 1 on the chart, while “Day Tripper” entered the Top 10 at number 10. Ultimately, “We Can Work It Out” spent three non-consecutive weeks at number 1, while “Day Tripper” peaked at number 5.

The Beatles made 10 black-and-white promo films for television broadcasters on 23 November 1965, at Twickenham Film Studios in London, as they were often unable to make personal appearances by that time. Three of the films were mimed performances of “We Can Work It Out“, in all of which Lennon was seated at a harmonium. The most frequently-broadcast of the three versions was a straightforward performance piece with the group wearing black suits. Another had the group wearing the stage suits from their Shea Stadium performance on 15 August; the third opens with a shot of Lennon with a sunflower in front of his eye.

In 1991, McCartney played an acoustic version of the song for his MTV Unplugged performance, memorable for his flubbing the first verse and his good-natured reaction, later released on Unplugged (The Official Bootleg).

One of the November 1965 promo films was included in the Beatles’ 2015 video compilation 1, and two were included in the three-disc versions of the compilation, titled 1+.

Personnel

MacDonald was not sure whether or not Harrison sang a harmony vocal part. MacDonald praised the tambourine playing and noted that some sources attribute it to Harrison, not Starr. However, MacDonald considers it more likely that Starr played the instrument on the recording. […]

Stevie Wonder version

In 1970, Stevie Wonder covered the song on his album Signed, Sealed & Delivered, and released it as a single in 1971. That single reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Stevie Wonder’s cover version earned his second Grammy Award nomination in 1972, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

Wonder performed his version of the song for McCartney after the latter was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990.

In 2010, after McCartney was awarded the Gershwin Prize by the Library of Congress, Wonder (who had himself received the Gershwin Prize the year before) again performed his arrangement of the song at a White House ceremony held in McCartney’s honor. Wonder performed it a third time in January 2014 at the 50th anniversary tribute of The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

From The Usenet Guide to Beatles Recording Variations:

  • [a] mono 29 Oct 1965.
    UK: Parlophone R5389 single 1965, Parlophone PMC 7016 Collection of Oldies 1966.
    US: Capitol 5555 single 1965, Capitol T 2553 Yesterday & Today 1966.CD: EMI single 1989.
  • [b] stereo 10 Nov 1965.
    US: Capitol ST 2553 Yesterday & Today 1966, Apple SKBO-3403 The Beatles 1962-1966 1973.
    Australia: Parlophone PCSO 7534 Greatest Hits 2 1967.
  • [c] stereo 10 Nov 1966.
    UK: Parlophone PCS 7016 Collection of Oldies 1966, Apple PCSP 717 The Beatles 1962-1966 1973.
    CD: EMI CDP 7 90044 2 Past Masters 2 1988, EMI CDP 7 97036 2 The Beatles 1962-1966 1993.

In stereo [b], the harmonium is moved around: it’s to the right during the verses, but to center during the refrains and bridges, and it even drifts to the right in mid-bridge (“fussing and fighting”) and end of bridge. By contrast, in [c] it just stays to the right. But then again, at the very end, [b] reveals there are two harmonium tracks.Stereo [c] has reverb added to the vocals in places, especially the bridge.

Last updated on May 25, 2016

Lyrics

Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking
Till I can't go on?

While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that
Our love may soon be gone
We can work it out
We can work it out

Think of what you're saying
You can get it wrong and still
You think that it's all right

Think of what I'm saying
We can work it out and
Get it straight or say good night
We can work it out
We can work it out

Life is very short
And there's no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought
That it's a crime
So I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way
Only time will tell
If I am right or I am wrong

While you see it your way
There's a chance that we might
Fall apart before too long
We can work it out
We can work it out

Life is very short
And there's no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend

I have always thought
That it's a crime
So I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way
Only time will tell
If I am right or I am wrong

While you see it your way
There's a chance that we might
Fall apart before too long
We can work it out
We can work it out

Officially appears on


We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper

7" Single • Released in 1965

2:16 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Acoustic rhythm guitar, Harmonium, Vocals
George Harrison:
Tambourine
George Martin:
Producer
Norman Smith:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 20, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 28, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & mixing:
Oct 29, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Yesterday and Today (Mono)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:17 • Studio versionA

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Acoustic rhythm guitar, Harmonium, Vocals
George Harrison:
Tambourine
George Martin:
Producer
Norman Smith:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 20, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 28, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & mixing:
Oct 29, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


Yesterday and Today (Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:16 • Studio versionB

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Acoustic rhythm guitar, Harmonium, Vocals
George Harrison:
Tambourine
George Martin:
Producer
Norman Smith:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 20, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 28, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Nov 10, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


A Collection of Beatles Oldies (Mono)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:11 • Studio versionA • Mono

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Acoustic rhythm guitar, Harmonium, Vocals
George Harrison:
Tambourine
George Martin:
Producer
Norman Smith:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 20, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 28, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Overdubs & mixing:
Oct 29, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road


A Collection of Beatles Oldies (Stereo)

Official album • Released in 1966

2:11 • Studio versionC • Stereo

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Acoustic rhythm guitar, Harmonium, Vocals
George Harrison:
Tambourine
George Martin:
Producer
Norman Smith:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 20, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 28, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Nov 10, 1965


Past Masters

Official album • Released in 1988

2:15 • Studio versionC

Paul McCartney:
Bass, Vocals
Ringo Starr:
Drums
John Lennon:
Acoustic rhythm guitar, Harmonium, Vocals
George Harrison:
Tambourine
George Martin:
Producer
Norman Smith:
Engineer

Session Recording:
Oct 20, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Oct 28, 1965
Studio:
EMI Studios, Studio Two, Abbey Road

Session Mixing:
Nov 10, 1965


Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)

Official live • Released in 1991

2:48 • LiveL1

Concert From "MTV Unplugged" in Wembley, United Kingdom on Jan 25, 1991


Paul Is Live

Official live • Released in 1993

2:40 • LiveL2

Performed by:
Paul McCartneyLinda McCartneyRobbie McIntoshHamish StuartPaul WickensBlair Cunningham
Paul McCartney:
Producer
Geoff Emerick:
Engineering, Mixing
Julian Mendelsohn:
Recording
Bob Kraushaar:
Recording

Concert From the concert in East Rutherford, USA on Jun 11, 1993


1

Official album • Released in 2000

2:15 • Studio version


Back In The U.S.

Official live • Released in 2002

2:30 • LiveL3

Paul McCartney:
Executive producer
Performed by:
Paul McCartneyRusty AndersonAbe Laboriel Jr.Paul WickensBrian Ray
David Kahne:
Producer
Michael Brauer:
Engineer
Ricardo Chavarria:
Assistant engineer

Concert From the concert in Chicago, USA on Apr 11, 2002


Live performances

“We Can Work It Out” has been played in 358 concerts and 5 soundchecks.

Latest concerts where “We Can Work It Out” has been played



Tokyo • Tokyo Dome

Nov 01, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour


Austin City Limits Music Festival

Oct 12, 2018 • USA • Austin • Zilker Park


Edmonton • Rogers Place

Sep 30, 2018 • Part of Freshen Up Tour


Paul McCartney in Casual Conversation from LIPA

Jul 25, 2018 • United Kingdom • Liverpool • Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts



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