Notes on "We Can Work It Out" (WCWIO.1)

KEY	D Major


FORM    Verse -> Verse -> Bridge -> Verse ->
                        Bridge -> Verse -> outro (w/complete ending)


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'll discover that "We Can Work It Out" is a deceptively simple example of just 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 knowingly look back on as a prime nodal point of their songwriting career.

- The form is one of small number of standard pop song models. Let's call it the "double bridge with single verse intervening." Over the long run it's one that the Beatles would use often, though I suspect the lack of an intro and inclusion of a complete ending are somewhat unusual variations on the model; at least in terms of pop music in general, if not the Beatles themselves.

- A close cousin of this form is the variation where two verses intervene between the bridges, the second of which is often an instrumental solo. In both cases, the doubling up of the verses before the first bridge and the single verse trailing the second bridge works very well. If you ommit the repeat at the beginning you feel rushed into the bridge. If you double up at the end, the whole thing starts to drag.

- Unique lyrics are provided here for the first 3 of the 4 verses; the 4th is an indentical repeat of the 3rd. Even so, two of the three variations cleverly use a common framework of "Try to see/while you see" for their first and third lines.

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 insistent edge.

- 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 vocals.

- 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	|-	|-	|-	|
D:	 vi
b:	 i

        |G	|- 6->5	|F# 4->	|- 3	|
         VI		 V

        |b 4->3	|-	|-	|-	|
D:	 vi

- 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 end.


- 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 watch out.


Alan (


"They tried to fob you off on this musical charlatan,
 but *I* gave him the test."				     021300#1.1


Revision History
053189	1.0	Original release
021300	1.1	Expand and adapt to series template
022000	1.2	Patch first section to more accurately describe form.
                Add comment re: verse lyrics.           

                Copyright (c) 2000 by Alan W. Pollack
                          All Rights Reserved
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