Friday, September 7, 2012

We Can Work It Out

Richard Furnstein: "We Can Work It Out" seems like the ultimate nose-to-nose, grind-out-a-hit song from the Lennon/McCartney team. The whole thing seems like it was written and recorded in thirty minutes, and most of that time was probably spent trying to fix Ringo's uneven tambourine playing. The song comes in as a swell of acoustic guitars, spastic percussion, and the lurching wheeze of John's harmonium. Paul seems to be appealing to a lover, an extension of the emotional turmoil that runs through his Rubber Soul compositions. Meanwhile, John takes a universal love force approach to the middle eight which gives the song an unexpected and vaguely philosophical color. We are suddenly rushed back to the crisis of the heart in the verse (spurred by John's at once tender and confrontational offering "So I will ask you once again"). It's a completely effective blend of their songwriting personalities. "We Can Work It Out" is one of the greatest examples of the two sides of the Lennon/McCartney team. It is almost a shame that it didn't bolster an already stellar Rubber Soul tracklist, an album that starts to show the growing separation between Lennon and McCartney as songwriters/voices. Even Ringo's clumsy percussion suggests that "pobody's nerfect," yet things still work out for the best.

Robert Bunter: This is a nice early example of the Paul/John dichotomy which would subsequently play out via the contrasting flipsides of singles like “Strawberry Fields Forever” b/w “Penny Lane,” “Hello Goodbye” b/w “I Am The Walrus” and “Hey Jude” b/w “Revolution.” On “We Can Work It Out,” these oppositional attitudes are actually competing for attention within the same track – Paul sings with major-key confidence that the lovers or friends will be able to work it out, while John bursts in with minor-key urgency and abrupt, jarring time-signature shifts to point out that life is short and things don’t always end up as happily as the Paul-figure would have them. It’s difficult not to hear this song and reflect on the ultimate fate of the friendship and creative partnership which it simultaneously addresses and exemplifies. Life was very short for John Winston Ono Lennon, they did fall apart before too long, and it was a crime that these two couldn’t ultimately bury the hatchet. Paul was right, too: they could have worked it out, and John was a selfish pig who couldn’t see past his own ego long enough to make nice with the others and record the multi-platinum series of 1970s and ‘80s alternate-universe Beatle records of which I’ve so often dreamed. Let me tell you about them. I’m seeing an extension of Abbey Road’s moog experiments on an experimental fall ’71 LP which I imagine would have been titled …

Richard Furnstein [interrupting hastily]: Oh, not this again. Listen, Robert. I've listened to "Power Cut," your mix of Red Rose Speedway and Mind Games filler. It's clearly inadequate. Lennon's "Meat City" fading into a live cut of "Soily" by Wings? Oh, the places you'll go.

I am not completely sure I buy the theory that Paul was eager to reunite with John in the 1970s. Think about it: Paul had everything to lose by working with John again. Wings were one of the biggest bands on the planet. Paul could easily shed conflicting band members and ego trips, handling the overdubs himself if needed. Meanwhile, John was dependent on Yoko and a slew of sleazy Los Angeles session musicians to bring life to his musical visions. Unfortunately, many of those visions turned out to be dank, reverb-soaked oldies covers, sticky with saxophone ooze and monstrous snare drums. John didn't want to tour, get into minor and goofy concepts, or create medleys on the second sides of his albums. He just wanted to gaze into the spotty studio walls and moan about psychosexual power trips with Yoko. Sure, life was very short but John seemed to be speeding up the rate of decay by becoming a grouchy old man in his mid 30s. Meanwhile, Paul was smoking spliffs in Nigeria and writing Bond themes and having efficient normal person sex with Linda.

Lennon and McCartney both understood that love is all you need, and they were just trying to piece together the jigsaw of understanding that scattered across the table of love.
Robert Bunter: Stick to the point, Richard. We were talking about “We Can Work It Out.” Along with “All You Need Is Love,” “Within You Without You,” “The Word” and a handful of others, this song deals explicitly with the ideas of human love and understanding that were so foundational to the Beatles’ entire message. Superficially this song deals with a lovers’ quarrel, but by this point in their career (“sixty … FIVE?!?” – Graham Nash, I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times) they were already starting to address the larger problems of mankind. “We Can Work It Out” is sunny and optimistic while still acknowledging the risks and potential consequences of self-absorption and lack of empathy. You would probably have a more solid understanding of these concepts if you weren’t such a pig and didn’t spend every minute trying to belittle me and my carefully-considered hypothetical post-’70 Beatles albums.

Richard Furnstein: I'm trying to see it your way, but I'm disgusted by your vacant stare. Do you have to keep on talking until you can't go on? No, I'm seriously asking because I can see specks of food around your stabbed-fish-open mouth, your toxic saliva running down your unshaven chin. You don't think I understand the social awakening implied by Lennon/McCartney? That's a junior varsity analysis. You can't bring that slow pitch here to the big leagues. I'll play along: Lennon was thinking globally while McCartney was acting locally. They both understood that love is all you need, and they were just trying to piece together the jigsaw of understanding that scattered across the table of love. You are completely right, it's a beautiful sentiment and I'm sorry I pointed out that you have the mouth of a murdered carp.

Robert Bunter: Hah! You fell for it. I was just proving the Beatles’ point, and you couldn’t have illustrated the whole thing more beautifully. Maybe a few more meditation sessions or a handful of low-milligram Xannies are in order, Furnstain. I’d love to spend more time explaining the obvious to you, but it’s getting late and I have a thing. Let me just briefly point out that Stevie Wonder offered a wonderfully re-inventive, funky take on this song; the wheezing harmonium offers an enchanting whiff of eastern European peasant gypsy music; the mono mix is better than the stereo, and I love you deeply, old friend.

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