207. ‘Day Tripper’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’, by The Beatles

The Fab Four claim their third straight Christmas number one (before Christmas number ones were a thing, but still), and they do so with their most straight-up rock record yet.

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Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out, by The Beatles (their 9th of seventeen #1s)

5 weeks, from 16th December 1965 – 20th January 1966

There’s a riff – a riff we all know – dun-duh-duh-duh-duh-dun-dada-da-dada – (riffs never really work when written out…) which keeps on going till the end. It’s a riff record – maybe, just maybe, they’d been listening to The Stones –a great, straight-up rock song.

I like the way the intro builds: guitar, then bass, then drums, and the way that the solo is basically the riff, beefed-up. It’s a simple song – there’s no reinventing the wheel here. I guess it’s experimental, in the sense that they’re experimenting with a heavier sound, but that’s stretching it a bit. It’s a John Lennon number, and one of the things I like most about him is that he never lost his rock ‘n’ roll roots, never stopped being a fan of Chuck and Buddy, no matter how avant-garde he and his bandmates seemed to get.

Of course, like any great rock song, there’s a fair amount of raunch here too. She’s a big teaser, She took me half the way there now… Not much imagination needed. Especially after Lennon admitted that he would have made it ‘prick teaser’, had he been allowed. Tried to please her, She only played one night stands… So on and so forth. Another layer of innuendo comes when you consider the ‘trip’ aspect of the lyrics. A ‘day tripper’ would be someone who only drops acids on special occasions. A weekend hippy, a ‘Sunday driver’.

Whether it’s about drugs or sex, or both, doesn’t really matter, though. This is a cracking rock number – one that I’ve enjoyed reacquainting myself with for this post. It’s one of those Beatles songs that kind of gets lost among the mega-hits. But, actually, listen to the soooooo long growl, and the way that the solo ascends to a climax with a hint of ‘Twist and Shout’, and try telling me that this isn’t one of their best. And, come to think of it, I can think of two other songs off the top of my head in which the ‘Day Tripper’ riff makes an appearance: ‘Hair of the Dog’, which gleefully rips it off to the extent that when Guns N’ Roses covered it they gave up the pretence and by the end were just playing the Beatles’ riff, and The Wildhearts’ ‘My Baby Is a Headfuck’. So maybe I’m underestimating it…

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What of the flip-side? We’ve not had a double-‘A’ side #1 for a while (nearly three years to be precise) and ‘We Can Work It Out’ is the perfect companion for ‘Day Tripper’, in that it sounds pretty much the opposite. I’ve always thought that double-‘A’s should contrast, one should be the yin to the other’s yang, and so gone is the electric guitar and the bravado, replaced by acoustics and recriminating.

It’s a folk-rock waltz of a record, in which Paul McCartney muses on a failing relationship: Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?… Think of what you’re saying, You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s all right… He remains positive – the title is ‘We Can Work It Out’ after all – but if you listen closely to the lyrics it becomes clear that any compromise will be on his terms: While you see it your way, There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long… Very passive-aggressive… Actually, the more I listen, the more I realise how the singer of this song is being a bit of a dick. Life is very short, And there’s no time, For fussing and fighting my friend… (So hurry up and just admit I’m right!)

The accordion-slash-harpsichord sounding instrument which characterises this disc – the one that creates the woozy, trippy feel at the end of the bridge, and that closes the song with a little riff – is a harmonium, apparently. This is where pop music has been heading throughout 1965, with the baroque-folk stylings of The Byrds, Sonny and Cher and The Walker Brothers, and it’s nice to close out the year in this way. A sign of where The Beatles were heading. ‘Rubber Soul’ was released while this disc sat at #1, and ‘Revolver’ would be coming up very shortly after.

This was The Beatles first double-‘A’ side as they couldn’t agree on which record was the more commercial sounding. Lennon was the one who forced ‘Day Tripper’ to get equal-billing, but in terms of airplay at the time ‘We Can Work It Out’ was the winner. In the US they were released separately, with ‘We Can Work It Out’ hitting the top of the Billboard 100 and ‘Day Tripper’ only making #5. But for me rock always wins. ‘Day Tripper’ all the way…

And so we cross the midway point of The Beatles’ chart-topping run. Nine down, seven to go. To celebrate, I thought I’d do a quick rank of the hits that have gone so far. Based solely on personal preference not artistic merit. Let me know if you agree or are scandalised by my ignorance. In ascending order (worst – best), then:

We Can Work It Out > Can’t Buy Me Love > From Me To You > I Feel Fine > A Hard Day’s Night > Ticket to Ride > I Want to Hold Your Hand > Day Tripper > Help! > She Loves You

Actually, that was really hard and kind of pointless. I don’t dislike any of those songs. A ‘bad’ Beatles disc is another act’s signature song. But it’ll be interesting to add the next seven to the list, and to see where they fit in. Anyway, look! Suddenly it’s 1966. Onwards!

Listen to every number one so far – by The Fab Four or otherwise – with this playlist: