We Can Work It Out
Release Date: December 6th, 1965
Words by: Kevin Harvey
December 16th, 2015
"We Can Work It Out" was one of those half dozen songs, first heard in a car, that stunned me with its depth and beauty. In those days, songs were best heard first in a car, freezing the moment forever in TIME and context. It was, in many ways, the high water mark of the Beatles first period, the body of work I came to think of as Pronoun Songs: "I'll get You"; "She loves You"; "From Me to You"; "Love Me Do"; "Please Please Me"; "And I love Her". There are more, but you get the idea."We Can Work It Out" was something else. I couldn't quite solve it or shake it for years.
"We Can Work Out" came out of the car radio differently, a solid block of sophisticated art, a progression from single, isolated pronouns to the simple, problem solving, we! There was something unique about the instrumentation; at first, one couldn't name it, any more than one could even tell if the song was uptempo or not. Was it a ballad? Not really. Whatever it was, it was actually beautiful and one knew it on first hearing alone. I was in a car, being driven by a kid who would die within a decade in a grotesque automobile accident. We were stopped at a red light and "We Can Work it Out" was carving out a mythic square in my memory.
There was something about all Beatles' material, prior to Revolver, that made one think of winter, to trick the memory into thinking the songs first arrived in cold weather. When, of course, they couldn't all have come out in winter. And yet, "We Can Work Out" did come out in December, welded to "Day Tripper", one half of a double A-sided 45.The song deepens, standing the pitiless test of time, and then Lennon's voice cuts through.
So I didn't know what to make of it that first day in the car. The narrator is of course asking that unnamed things be seen from his point of view, but he isn't demanding or even pleading. "Try to see it my way," he asks. (Heard now, the break-up of the "Get Back"/"Let It Be" sessions hovers around McCartney's vocal like psychic undertow, as if predicting the disintegration of the most important band in the world.) "Day Tripper" was obvious, sexy, suggestive, but "We Can Work It Out" was something else. I couldn't quite solve it or shake it for years. We were ending the great Period of Pronouns and didn't realize it. Pronouns would soon become characters -- from the forlorn Ms. Rigby to the mean-spirited Mr. Mustard -- concepts, cartoons and conceits would soon replace the everyday pain of love gone bad.
But listen to "We Can Work it out" again: there is something faithful, trusting, in the song's structure and delivery. Even a suggestion of a waltz. It's an under the radar Beatles track, like "Yes It Is" or "Baby's In Black", but is it as good as I first thought all those years ago? The song deepens, standing the pitiless test of time, and then Lennon's voice cuts through: "Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting, my friend"; and now, chilled, fifty years after first hearing it in someone else's car, I understand the pull of its mystery. And embrace it.