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"We Can Work It Out"
US picture sleeve
Song by The Beatles
A-side"Day Tripper"
Released3 December 1965 (UK)
6 December 1965 (US)
Recorded20 & 29 October 1965
EMI Studios, London
GenreFolk rock[1]
LabelParlophone (UK)
Capitol (US)
Producer(s)George Martin
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"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.[2]

The song is an example of Lennon–McCartney collaboration,[3] 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.[2]


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.[4] McCartney then took the song to Lennon:

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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.[4]

With its intimations of mortality, Lennon's contribution to the twelve-bar bridge contrasts typically with what Lennon saw as McCartney's cajoling optimism,[2] 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:

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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.'[5]

Based on those comments, some critics overemphasised McCartney's optimism, neglecting the toughness in passages written by McCartney,[2] 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,[4] possibly meant to suggest tiresome struggle.[2]

Music critic Ian MacDonald said:

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[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.[2]

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.[6] They spent nearly 11 hours on the song, by far the longest expenditure of studio time up to that point.[2]

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.[4] 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.[2] It has sold 1.39 million copies in the UK.[7]

"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.[8] It was preceded by "I Feel Fine", "Eight Days a Week", "Ticket to Ride", "Help!", and "Yesterday".[9] 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.[10]

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+.[11]


Personnel per MacDonald[2]

MacDonald was not sure whether or not Harrison sang a harmony vocal part.[2] 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.[2]

Charts and certifications[]

Deep Purple version[]

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"Exposition/We Can Work It Out"
Song by Deep Purple
from the album The Book of Taliesyn
ReleasedDecember 1968
RecordedAugust 1968
GenreProgressive rock, psychedelic rock, hard rock
LabelHarvest Records (UK)
Tetragrammaton (US)
Songwriter(s)Beethoven, Ritchie Blackmore, Nick Simper, Jon Lord, Ian Paice
Producer(s)Derek Lawrence

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 Tchaikovsky'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[]

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"We Can Work It Out"
Song by Stevie Wonder
from the album Signed, Sealed & Delivered
B-side"Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"
ReleasedMarch 1971
Producer(s)Stevie Wonder

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.

Other cover versions[]

  • In 1966, Petula Clark recorded a version for the My Love album.
  • In 1971, Valerie Simpson covered the song on her album Exposed.
  • In 1975, Humble Pie covered the song for their album, Street Rats.
  • In 1975, Mike Harrison covered the song on his album Rainbow Rider.
  • In 1976, The Four Seasons did a cover version of the song for the musical documentary All This and World War II.
  • In 1978, Melanie covered the song on her album Phonogenic – Not Just Another Pretty Face.
  • In 1981, Chaka Khan covered the song on her album "What Cha' Gonna Do for Me".
  • In 1981, Stars on 45 covered it as part of an eight song Beatles medley in their hit "Stars on 45", which hit #1 that June.
  • In 1988, Kids Incorporated covered it in the Season 5 episode "When the Clock Strikes Twelve".
  • In 1990, Tesla covered the song on their live album Five Man Acoustical Jam.
  • In 1995, PFR released a cover of the song with Phil Keaggy for the various artists tribute CD Come Together: America Salutes The Beatles.
  • In 2001, Anthony Stewart Head & George Sarah recorded the song on their album Music for Elevators.
  • In 2002, Heather Nova recorded a version for the I Am Sam soundtrack.
  • In 2002, The Punkles recorded a cover version of the song on their second album Punk!.
  • In 2002, Noa and Mira Awad did a cover version together that appears on Noa's album Now.
  • In 2004, Beatallica recorded a mashup of the song and Metallica's "Hit the Lights" called "We Can Hit the Lightz", on their second EP Beatallica.
  • In 2006, Plain White T's recorded a cover of the song for the deluxe version of their album Every Second Counts.
  • In 2007, Shelter recorded a version for a re-release of their 1995 album Mantra.
  • In 2007, Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor did their version at Chicago Convention.[clarification needed]
  • In 2008, Chris de Burgh recorded a cover version of the song on his album Footsteps.
  • In 2008, Overboard recorded an a cappella version for their album Castaways.
  • In 2009, The Slackers recorded a reggae version of the song on their album Lost & Found.
  • In 2011, Crooked Still recorded a bluegrass music version of the song for their EP, Friends of Fall.
  • In 2012, Big Time Rush recorded a pop version of this song for their television film Big Time Movie.

In popular culture[]

  • The song is mentioned in the 1967 film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, starring Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, and Spencer Tracy.
  • Denis Leary's character in National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1 quotes the lyric "life is very short, and there's no time for fighting or fussing, my friend" during a war of words with William Shatner's character.
  • Bad Religion quoted the lyric "there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend" in their song "You" on the No Control album. The same song references McCartney's solo hit "Maybe I'm Amazed."


  1. "We Can Work It Out review".
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 MacDonald 2005, pp. 171–172.
  3. Hertsgaard 1995, p. 150.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Miles 1997, p. 210.
  5. Sheff 2000, p. 177–178.
  6. Lewisohn 1988, pp. 64, 66.
  7. Sedghi, Ami (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  8. Fred Bronson's Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, 5th Edition.
  9. Wallgren 1982, pp. 38–45.
  10. The Beatles Bible 2008.
  11. Rowe, Matt (18 September 2015). "The Beatles 1 To Be Reissued With New Audio Remixes... And Videos". The Morton Report. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  12. Kent, David (2005). Australian Chart Book (1940–1969). Turramurra: Australian Chart Book. ISBN 0-646-44439-5.
  13. " – The Beatles – We Can Work It Out" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  14. "Top RPM Singles: Issue 5686." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  15. " – The Beatles – We Can Work It Out" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  16. "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  17. "The Beatles Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  18. Hoffmann, Frank (1983). The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Metuchen, NJ & London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. pp. 32–34.
  19. "Top 100 Hits of 1966/Top 100 Songs of 1966". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  20. "The Cash Box Year-End Charts: 1966". Cashbox Archives. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  21. [[[:Template:Certification Cite/URL]] "[[:Template:Certification Cite/Title]]"] Check |url= value (help). Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved 14 May 2016. URL–wikilink conflict (help) If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 


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  • Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 0-517-57066-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • MacDonald, Ian (2005). Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties (Second Revised ed.). London: Pimlico (Rand). ISBN 1-84413-828-3.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Miles, Barry (1997). Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-5249-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • "Number 1s Index". 2009. Retrieved 21 October 2009.
  • Sheff, David (2000). All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-25464-4.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Wallgren, Mark (1982). The Beatles on Record. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-45682-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[]

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Preceded by
"The Carnival Is Over" by The Seekers
UK number one single (The Beatles version)
16 December 1965 (5 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Keep On Running" by Spencer Davis Group
Preceded by
"The Sounds of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel
Billboard Hot 100 number one single (The Beatles version)
8–21 January 1966 (2 weeks)
29 January – 4 February 1966 (1 week)
Succeeded by
"My Love" by Petula Clark

Template:The Beatles singles Template:UK Christmas No. 1s in the 1960s