Notes on "We Can Work It Out" (WCWIO.1)
KEY D Major
FORM Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse ->
Bridge -> Verse -> outro (w/complete ending)
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- We begin our studies of the Beatles' songs with an example chosen on
purpose roughly from the middle of the catalog; it's having been released
as one side of a double A single together with
"Day Tripper" on the same day
as the _Rubber Soul_ album.
- "We Can Work It Out" is a deceptively simple example of how innovative the
Boys could be within the framework of what on the surface is just a 2:10
pop single from what we would later would knowingly look back on as a prime
nodal point of their songwriting career.
- The form is slightly unusual in that there is no intro, no instrumental
break, and no fade out. The verse is repeated only the first time. In
many other songs, the verse section would be repeated in the middle as
well, with that repetition in the form of a guitar solo.
- The slight asymmetry works very well. If you imagine the Verse section
repeated at any point of the song other than the first time I believe it
would drag. If you ommit the first repeat you feel rushed into the bridge.
- We'll call this form the "double bridge with single verse intervening."
Melody and Harmony
- The melody of the song is "appoggiatura" intensive; (i.e. this is a
technical term defined as follows: "a 'leaning note', normally one step
above the main note. It usually creates a dissonance in the harmony and
resolves by step on to the main note on the following weak beat." Grove
Dictionary, quoted without permission.) Combined with rhythmic
syncopation and a tendency to hammer away on the same note for several
syllables at a time, these leaning tones give the song a persuasively
- A couple of highlighted lyric fragments to show where these babys are:
Think of what I'm *SAY_ING*
*WE CAN* work it out.
*WE CAN* work it *OU-UT.*
... and there's no *ti-i-i-i--ime* for
fussing and *FIGHT-ING* my friend
- The choice of keys and chord progressions here is straightforward
compared many another Beatles song; no tricky chromatic progressions
(e.g., Help! intro) nor remote modulations (e.g.,
You're Gonna Lose that Girl
mid-section). The verses are in D major and the bridge is in b
minor, the "relative minor" of D; pretty standard.
- The opening phrase relies on the modal flat-VIII chord (C Major) in order
to establish the home key instead of the "V" (A major) chord. The latter
doesn't make an appearance until the very end of the verse section.
- The verse and refrain have different harmonic shapes. The verse is open
ended in that it procedes from the tonic eventually to the dominant chord
which ultimately wants resolution: I -> flat-VII-> I-> IV-> V. When it
flows into the refrain, it's with a "deceptive cadence" (technical
term used to describe the situation where you get a different chord than
you expected) to the b-minor (vi). It's this hanging dominant chord which
requires the brief outro to tie things up neatly.
- The bridge has an harmonic shape completely closed off but in its
contrasting key. This closed-ness is part of why the return to the
original key seems somewhat abrupt; of course the rhythm (see below)
plays a part in that too.
- The basic backing consists of acoustic rhythm guitar, bass guitar, drums
and tambourine, onto which are superimposed a part for harmonium and
- The appogiatura motif is followed through on the backing track. On the
incomplete non-vocal take 1 you can hear a lot of leaning tones in the top
line of the rhythm guitar. It even carries through to the final melodic
riff of the outro.
- Perhaps the best example (and also one of *the* highlights of the entire
song) is in the bridge where the harmonium sustains the note B-natural
through a change of chord from b-minor, to G major (where it belongs)
and continues to hold it through the shift down to F# Major before letting
it fall finally to A#. Again, the take 2 we're privileged to have with the
forward-mixed harmonium really underscores it.
- For the verses Paul sings a double (triple?) tracked solo lead. In the
bridges he's joined in parallel thirds by John.
- Here's where things really get interesting! Compared to other songs
(e.g. Can't Buy Me Love) where the phrases are all 4-measures long and
come in 16 measure sections of 4-times-4, this song does some fancy things.
- The verses are indeed 16 measures long but are divided into three
phrases in a 6+6+4 AAB pattern. This lends them a bit of a free-verse
quality in spite of the underlying steady 4/4 rhythm.
----------------------- 2X ----------------------
|D |- 9-> 8|- |- 9 |C 3-> 2 |D |
D: I flat VII I
|G 9-> 8|D |G 9-> 8|A |
IV I IV V
- The melodic leaning tones add several harmonic dissonances I've notated
above. The most iteresting one is the way the appgogiatura 9th (E) in
measure 4 is not allowed to resolve until the next measure where its
resolution note (D) is now become a dissonance over the new chord change.
- A precious Beatles "detail" moment: in the lone middle verse, they
throw in a syncopated dotted rhythm into the final measure of the
second iteration of the first phrase above. It's the only place in
the song where it happens. In consequence, you wind up feeling as if
they're winking at you when, in the same measure of the final verse,
they blithely play even quarter notes with a casual vengeance.
- The bridge indeed contains only 4 measure phrases but these
are organized into a 12 measure section of 3-times-4 which is
repeated to make the overall bridge length 24 measure:
|b |- |- |- |
|G |- 6->5 |F# 4-> |- 3 |
|b 4->3 |- |- |- |
- The asymmetry of the this three line bridge is effectively
underscored by the shift to the "3/4 oom-pah-pah" rhythm in the
third phrase. This rhythmic shift is interesting in that it is done
without changing the tempo. The length of a measure remains the same
except it is suddenly filled for one phrase with 3 beats instead
of four; a sort of time warp. When the verse returns after this
it sounds faster but isn't really! Another characteristic detail:
the way in which the slow triplets are articulated by tambourine
and harmonium only; no drums, because the latter would be overkill.
- This type of slow triplet is something we'll discover to be a favorite
of John's over the long run. They tend to connote a kind of rhetorical
emphasis not at all disimilar from Macca's hammered leaning tones.
A good precedent setting example of slow triplets that the Beatles
surely would have been familiar with is the in final refrain of Buddy
Holly's "That'll Be The Day."
- Again there is harmonic dissonance created by melodic leaning tones
which I've notated.
- The outro is a four measure extension of the final verse:
|D |G 6/4 |D 5/3 |- |
I (IV?) I
- The cadence sounds plagal, with the G chord in the second measure
sounding like G Major in the second ("6/4") inversion. You'll get
used to me asking you to think of that G chord as neighbor tone
motion in the upper voices, rather than a true root chord change.
- This brief little outro makes for an ingeniously unifying effect. The
tune, chords, and backing texture feel on the one hand as though derived
from the verse, but the slow triplets are clearly an allusion to the bridge.
- The finished track does a neat fade down on the final chord. The
unprocessed, rough take 2 mix betrays a long-sustained and ultimately frayed
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- A-a-a-nyway, there's still more one could say but I think I've overdone it
here plenty for one day; is there anyone I haven't alienated ? :-). WARNING:
this *can* (and most certainly will) become part of a series if you don't
"They tried to fob you off on this musical charlatan,
but *I* gave him the test." 021300#1.1
053189 1.0 Original release
021300 1.1 Expand and adapt to series template
Copyright (c) 2000 by Alan W. Pollack
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