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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out

In the midst of the sessions for their sixth album, the Beatles recorded two tremendous songs, each one good enough to be the A-side of the next single.  The problem was that no one on the creative team could decide which song should actually be the A-side.  The solution?  A double A-sided single.

As I have written about the group's output so far, I have usually referred to a composition as being either a Lennon song or a McCartney song, except for the 50-50 collaborations.  The truth, of course, is more complicated that that.  In many instances, one songwriter would come in with a partially completed tune and rely on input from the other to complete the work.  And the amount of said input could vary a great deal.  But in most cases, we can be certain who the chief composer of any given song was.  The two songs on this single represent John and Paul working together at the height of their powers, collaborating as well as they ever would.

Day Tripper - This hard-rocking pop song is primarily John's.  John and Paul referred to this as a "forced" composition, meaning they were under pressure to come up with a single.  It features what is probably the best of all the guitar riffs ever recorded by the Beatles, outshining even those on Ticket to Ride and I Feel Fine.  The riff opens the song and continues throughout except during the refrain, either building in intensity or falling into the background as necessary.  Vocally, it is the most democratic of songs.  Though a duet overall, Paul sings the first line of each verse before John joins in, and John's voice leads into each refrain.  The instrumental break builds upon the guitar riff until George takes a brief solo moment and the wordless voices behind reach a crescendo.  The riff starts again supported by a tambourine, and then all of the instruments re-enter taking us into the third and final verse.  The power of the sound is quite impressive, especially considering how stripped-down the instrumentation is.  Even one year later, the group would no doubt have added several more layers of overdubs to enhance the sound.

We Can Work it Out - Only days after recording Day Tripper, McCartney came in with this song.  He only had the verses of this lyric about an argument, and they simply weren't enough for a complete song.  John came up with a bridge which perfectly complemented Paul's verses.  Many consider this song to be one of the finest examples of their collaboration.  And while many writers have stated over the years that Paul's voice is the optimistic one and John's is negative, I believe the reverse is true.  When I listen to the lyrics, Paul seems to me to be entrenched in his position, and John is the one who recognizes the futility of fighting. 

As with Day Tripper, the instrumentation is quite simple, but we have a new sound for the Beatles on display here.  John plays a keyboard called a harmonium, which requires a constant pumping motion of the feet.  Until I learned this fact, I mistakenly thought for many years that an accordion was being played on this track.  I was really not far off the mark, since the two instruments produce sound in much the same way.  The harmonium will be heard again on Rubber Soul, in the same way that the electric piano was used repeatedly during the Help! sessions.

For the first time, manager Brain Epstein saw to it that promotional films were made for the two songs, so that it was no longer necessary for the group to appear live on various television shows around the world.  Today, these films can still be enjoyed via YouTube.

Releasing the songs as a double A-sided single produced different results in different countries.  In the UK, Day Tripper went to number one, while in the US, We Can Work it Out was the chart-topper, with Day Tripper still reaching a respectable number five.  The single was available on the same day as the album Rubber Soul in December of 1965, making an impressive output of sixteen new songs in England.

In the US, both songs later appeared on the compilation album "Yesterday"...and Today.

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