When was it recorded? Oct. 20 & 29, 1965
When was it first released, and on which album? Dec. 3, 1965 as a single
Who wrote it? Lennon/McCartney
Have I heard this song before? Yes
What my research dug up:
According to Wikipedia, “We Can Work It Out” was “an example of Lennon–McCartney collaboration at a depth that happened only rarely after they wrote the hit singles of 1963.”
“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 (David Sheff, All We Are Saying)
Paul reportedly started work on the song after a disagreement with girlfriend Jane Asher.
Paul also claimed in his biography, “…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” (Barry Miles, Many Years From Now). Music critic Richie Unterberger praised this structure, writing in his review, “The necessary darker component of the human equation is supplied by Lennon’s bridge, which descends into minor chords and radiates impatience, doubt, and disillusionment.
…It was also a masterstroke to switch the tempo to waltz-time for part of the bridge, which emphasized the more downcast and forlorn lyrics of Lennon’s section.”
The Fab Four recorded the rhythm track for “We Can Work It Out” Oct. 20, 1965 during a session for “Rubber Soul.” According to the Beatles Bible they spent most of the four hours rehearsing the tune and recorded only two full takes.
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “They then spent nearly five further hours overdubbing instruments, including Lennon’s distinctive harmonium in the verses.” (Unterberger enjoyed this touch, writing that the harmonium “gives the tune a faintly old English folk air,” which seemed apt.) The Beatles then spent two hours on Oct. 29 perfecting the vocals. According to Wikipedia, the 11 hours spent producing this track were “by far the longest expenditure of studio time [the Beatles had required] up to that point.”
According to the Beatles Bible, “‘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 fought tooth and nail to keep “Day Tripper” as the sole A-side but lost to the majority. “Day Tripper” / “We Can Work It Out” was released as the first initial ‘double A-side’ single Dec. 3, 1965, the same day as the album “Rubber Soul.”
“We Can Work It Out” soon proved more popular than its single companion. It peaked at #1 in Canada, Ireland, the UK and the US, and according Wikipedia it was “the Beatles’ fastest-selling single since ‘Can’t Buy Me Love.’” The RIAA has certified the single Gold.
Quoth the Beatles Bible, “Unlike its single counterpart… ‘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.” According to my research, the most commonly used promo featured the Beatles wearing black suits and giving “a straightforward” performance of the song.
Version two features the Beatles switching it up by wearing black turtlenecks.
The third features the Fab Four wearing the stage suits and opens with a photo of John with a flower over his eye.
Aaaand this video compares all three plus a fourth version similar to the black turtleneck version.
Hooray for music videos! And hooray for this song being short and unrepetitive enough for me to enjoy listening to it many, many times. This one’s a classic for a reason.