"We Can Work It Out" is a song by the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, but mainly by Paul McCartney. 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 Soulsessions.[3]

The song is an example of Lennon–McCartney collaboration[4] 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.[3]


 [hide*1 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 withJane Asher.[5] 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 waltz time, like a German waltz. That came on the session, it was one of the cases of the arrangement being done on the session."[5]

With its intimations of mortality, Lennon's contribution to the twelve-bar bridge contrasts typically with what Lennon saw as McCartney's cajoling optimism,[6] 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.'"[7]

Based on those comments, some critics overemphasised McCartney's optimism, neglecting the toughness in passages written by McCartney,[6] 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,[5] possibly meant to suggest tiresome struggle.[6]

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."[6]

Recording and release[edit]Edit

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.[8] They spent nearly 11 hours on the song, by far the longest expenditure of studio time up to that point.[6]

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.[5] 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.[6] It has sold 1.39 million copies in the UK.[9]

"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.[10] It was preceded by "I Feel Fine", "Eight Days a Week", "Ticket to Ride", "Help!", and "Yesterday".[11] The song became the band's 11th number one, accomplished in just under two years time.

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 asunflower in front of his eye.[12]

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).


Personnel per MacDonald[6]

MacDonald was not sure whether or not Harrison sang a harmony vocal part.[6] MacDonald praised the tambourine playing and noted that some sources attribute it to Harrison, not Starr. He mentions though that Starr is more likely to have played the instrument.[6]


Chart Peak


CAN CHUM Chart 1[13]
UK Singles Chart 1[14]
US Billboard Hot 100 1[15]
Irish Singles Chart 1

Deep Purple version[edit]Edit

"Exposition / We Can Work It Out"
Song by Deep Purple from the albumThe Book of Taliesyn
Released December 1968
Recorded August 1968
Genre Progressive rockpsychedelic rockhard rock
Length 7:06
Label Harvest Records (UK)

Tetragrammaton (US)

Writer BeethovenRitchie Blackmore,Nick SimperJon LordIan Paice


Producer Derek Lawrence
The Book of Taliesyn track listing
"Kentucky Woman"


"Exposition / We Can Work It Out"




Deep Purple covered it on their second album The Book of Taliesyn, from 1968. The band drastically reworked it, as they always did with covers. The first three minutes of the song is a fast, progressive instrumental jam incorporating themes from classical music (notably Tchaicowsky's Romeo and Juliet) called "Exposition," which seamlessly drifts over into the actual Beatles song. Such overblown arrangements and attempts at making a rather simple song sound epic, was normal for Deep Purple in this period, and they had already followed the same structure on their covers on the debut album (such as The Leaves' "Hey Joe"). Reportedly, the band recorded their version of the song because Paul McCartney himself had stated that he was really fond of their previous Beatles cover, "Help!", which was featured on Shades of Deep Purple. It was never performed live again after 1969.

Stevie Wonder version[edit]Edit

"We Can Work It Out"
Single by Stevie Wonder
from the album Signed, Sealed, and Delivered
A-side "We Can Work It Out"
B-side "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"
Released 1971
Genre R&B
Length 3:19
Label Tamla
Writer(s) Lennon–McCartney
Producer(s) Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder singles chronology
"Heaven Help Us All"


"We Can Work It Out" / "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"


"If You Really Love Me"


In 1970, Stevie Wonder covered the song on his album Signed, Sealed, and Delivered, and released it as a single in 1971. That single reached #13 on theBillboard Hot 100Stevie 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.

Other cover versions[edit]Edit

Cultural references[edit]Edit

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