“We Can Work It Out” is a song by the English rock band The Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. It was first issued as a double A-side single with “Day Tripper” in December 1965. The release marked the first time in Britain that both tracks on an artist’s single were promoted as joint A-sides. The song was recorded during the sessions for the band’s Rubber Soul album. The single was number 1 in Britain (where it was also the top-selling single of 1965), America, Australia, Canada, and Ireland.
“We Can Work It Out” is a comparatively rare example of a Lennon–McCartney collaboration from this period in the Beatles’ career, in that it recalls the level of collaboration the two songwriters had shared when writing the group’s 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.
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 overemphasized 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 a 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
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