Arts/Literature

“We Can Work It Out”: that wonderful harmonium

Not enough songs make use of the harmonium.

“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.'” – John Lennon

I have reached a conclusion. Not enough songs make use of the harmonium.  Some may find this conclusion baseless. They would be mistaken.

Take, for example, “We Can Work It Out.” One side of the Beatles’ first “Double A side” single (b/w “Day Tripper”), it’s always been one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, partly because of that harmonium John added to the track. One of them (John or Paul) spotted a harmonium in a corner of one of the studios at Abbey Road and John suggested that they add it to “We Can Work It Out.”

The result is a song with a feel that reminds one of a French cafe. A suggestion from George, the time change from 4/4 to 3/4 time adds a lilting quality. Combined with the harmonium sounding much like an accordion – in a French cafe – the effect suggests a chanteur working – it’s Paul channeling his inner Jacques Brel and John enabling him with that damned wonderful harmonium sound. 

The lyrics, as John’s quote suggest, move between Paul’s conciliatory plea for communication and understanding and John’s more strident averring that a solution to the problem needs to be reached:

“We Can Work It Out”

Try to see it my way
Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?
While you see it your way
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone
We can work it out
We can work it out
Think of what you’re saying
You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright
Think of what I’m saying
We can work it out and get it straight, or say goodnightWe can work it out
We can work it outLife is very short, and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend
I have always thought that it’s a crime
So I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong
While you see your way,
There’s a chance that we may fall apart before too long

We can work it out
We can work it out

Life is very short, and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend
I have always thought that it’s a crime
So I will ask you once again

Try to see it my way
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we may fall apart before too long

We can work it out
We can work it out

One other thing we should mention. The always interesting Beatles Bible reports another piece of information:

‘Day Tripper’ was originally intended to be The Beatles’ final single of 1965. However, ‘We Can Work It Out’ was felt by the group and Brian Epstein to be the more commercial song.

Lennon disagreed, and fought to retain ‘Day Tripper’ as the lead song. The result was the single being marketed as the world’s first double a-side, which was released on 3 December in the UK – the same day as Rubber Soul; and three days later in the US.

Of the two songs, ‘We Can Work It Out’ was more commonly requested by record buyers, and was likewise favoured by radio stations. In the UK it entered the chart at number one five days after its release, where it remained for five weeks and sold over a million copies.

‘We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper’ also topped the charts in the US. It was The Beatles’ fastest-selling single since ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’ It was with this release that Lennon’s dominance of The Beatles began to cede to McCartney, who was steadily becoming more influential as a musical leader of the group. 

Perhaps this is true. If so, it doesn’t show up in the timeline of Beatles singles – there the split between John and Paul singles is close to even (ignoring “Yellow Submarine,” a Ringo song and “Something,” George’s breakthrough).

What remains is “We Can Work It Out.” It’s John and Paul writing together, the tension between their viewpoints on the song’s theme of whether a relationship can be saved creating a great song.

Made greater by that harmonium.

Leave us a reply. All replies are moderated according to our Comment Policy (see "About S&R")

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s