We Can Work It Out/Day Tripper single artwork - GermanyWritten by: Lennon-McCartney
Recorded: 20, 29 October 1965
Producer: George Martin
Engineer: Norman Smith

Released: 3 December 1965 (UK), 6 December 1965 (US)

Available on:
Past Masters


Paul McCartney: vocals, bass
John Lennon: vocals, acoustic rhythm guitar, harmonium
George Harrison: tambourine
Ringo Starr: drums

‘We Can Work It Out’ was released as a double a-side single with ‘Day Tripper’ in December 1965. It was recorded during the sessions for the Rubber Soul album, and released on the same day.

The lyrics might have been personal. It is often a good way to talk to someone or to work your own thoughts out. It saves you going to a psychiatrist, you allow yourself to say what you might not say in person.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Recorded over two days in sessions amounting to 11 hours – The Beatles’ longest time spent completing a song to date – ‘We Can Work It Out’ bore the distinctive hallmarks of both its songwriters.

Paul McCartney wrote the upbeat verses and chorus, reportedly after a disagreement with Jane Asher, while John Lennon had the idea for the pessimistic “Life is very short” counterpoint.

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, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

McCartney’s contribution was written at Rembrandt, the house in Heswall, Cheshire he had bought for his father in July 1964. In the dining room of the large mock-Tudor house was a piano, which McCartney often used to work out new songs on. However, ‘We Can Work It Out’ was written on an acoustic guitar in one of the bedrooms.

I had the idea, the title, had a couple of verses and the basic idea for it, then 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.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Promotional films

Unlike its single counterpart ‘Day Tripper’, ‘We Can Work It Out’ never became a fixture of The Beatles’ live repertoire. They did, however, make three promo films for the song on 23 November 1965, at Twickenham Film Studios in London, in which they mimed to the song.

The black-and-white clips were immediately distributed to broadcasting organisations. The most commonly-used version of ‘We Can Work It Out’ was a straightforward performance piece with the group wearing black suits; in another the group wore their Shea Stadium gear, and the third opened with a shot of John Lennon with a sunflower over his eye.

In the studio

The basic track of ‘We Can Work It Out’ was laid down on 20 October 1965, while The Beatles were recording Rubber Soul. In a four-hour session they rehearsed and then recorded just two takes of the rhythm track.

They then spent nearly five further hours overdubbing instruments, including John Lennon’s distinctive harmonium in the verses. The vocals took up much of the evening session, and were completed during a two-hour session on 29 October.

The other thing that arrived on the session was we found an old harmonium hidden away in the studio, and said, ‘Oh, this’d be a nice colour on it.’ We put the chords on with the harmonium as a wash, just a basic held chord, what you would call a pad these days.
Paul McCartney
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles

Chart success

‘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.

John 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 1965 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, and became 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 Paul McCartney, who was steadily becoming more influential as a musical leader of the group.