100 Greatest Beatles Songs

From 'Helter Skelter' to 'Sgt. Pepper's,' ranking of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison's output

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'We Can Work It Out'
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30. 'We Can Work It Out'

Writers: McCartney-Lennon
Recorded: October 20 and 29, 1965
Released: December 6, 1965
12 weeks; no. 1

"We Can Work It Out" plunges the listener into the middle of an argument, a good-cop/bad-cop seesaw between hopeful choruses and verses full of warnings: "Our love may soon be gone." It's a McCartney song that grew out of an argument with girlfriend Jane Asher. Lennon contributed the pessimistic minor-key bridge: "Life is very short, and there's no time for fussing and fighting." ("You've got Paul writing 'we can work it out,'" Lennon said. "Real optimistic, and you know, me, impatient.")

The group stumbled upon an old harmonium in the studio. McCartney remembered thinking, "This'd be a nice color on it." In the verses, with the "suspended chords . . . that wonderful harmonium sound gives it a sort of religious quality," Ray Davies of the Kinks told Rolling Stone in 2001. Harrison suggested switching the rhythm in the bridge from a straight 4/4 rhythm to waltz time. With the signature change, the vintage instrument evoked a circus-carousel feel — a vibe that the Beatles would return to two years later on "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" on Sgt. Pepper. The 11 hours they spent on "We Can Work It Out" was by far the longest amount of studio time devoted to a Beatles track up to that point.

The tension in the lyrics between a hopeful McCartney and a saturnine Lennon foreshadows the ways in which they would move apart. "They were going through one of their first periods of disunity, so maybe it's a subtext to where the band was," Davies observed. "This is one of my little theories: Every career has its story, and if you look at the song titles, it sums up what they were doing."

Appears On: Past Masters

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