OK, two of my favorites, The Beatles and Stevie Wonder. What geniuses!! What’s so special about this Rick Weiss cover of Stevie Wonder’s cover of the Beatles ‘We Can Work It Out’ ? Besides the song’s compelling melody and timeless universal lyrics such as these:
Try to see it my way.
We can work it out.
You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s alright.
And my personal favorite:
Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.
My version of this song was ‘inspired’ by Stevie Wonder’s take on this song. I’ve always known there was something particularly special (aside from being, well, Stevie’s version) about his version, but it’s taken me many years (actually, until tonight) to understand the major but subtle changes he made in one of the main rhythm hooks of the song – the ‘We Can Work It Out’ part. I sensed that Stevie had made some kind of change but I didn’t know what.
Listen closely. In Stevie’s version (or rather, in my interpretation of Stevie’s), those five syllables are of equal length and start a half a beat earlier. In the well-known Beatles version (which Beatles fans have somewhere in our memories) the first two notes are very quick and start right on the first beat of the measure.
Since our brains are ‘predictive engines’ we expect to hear the Beatles rhythm but when melody comes in a little earlier and with a different beat, our brain hears that something different has occurred (more often sub-consciously) but then quickly notices that the lyrics and the melody are the same. The overall effect is one of familiarity while also noticing that something is slightly different. Equalizing the note durations and starting the beginning of the phrase a half a beat earlier gives it a subtle but unique syncopated or ‘off-kilter’ feel.
Stevie’s genius – to make one of the world’s most recognizable songs just slightly different but close enough so that we almost don’t even consciously notice the difference!
This performance dedicated to patients Tom M and Richard B