Let's Work Together

Album: Let's Work Together (1969)
Charted: 32

Songfacts®:

  • Wilbert Harrison originally wrote and recorded this blues-style R&B number as "Let's Stick Together," a plea for fidelity in a fractured marriage. That version, released in 1962, didn't make the charts (until Bryan Ferry covered it in 1976) but never left Harrison's mind. Seven years later, he resurrected the song, keeping the melody but changing the lyrics. "I thought I'd put some words to it that meant a bit more," he told Beat Instrumental in 1970.

    Changing the title to "Let's Work Together," Harrison's new message of unity was aimed at a nation rife with conflict over the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.
  • Harrison acted as a one-man-band on this, playing harmonica, guitar, and percussion in addition to singing.
  • Sue Records, a small New York label, released this as a two-part single in 1969 but it took around nine months reach the charts. It peaked at #32 in February 1970. In November, a cover by the blues-rock band Canned Heat landed at #26 (#2 UK). It was Harrison's second and last Top 40 hit. His first was a decade earlier when his cover of the Leiber and Stoller tune "Kansas City" hit #1.
  • Canned Heat didn't mean to overshadow Harrison with their version. In fact, if they'd known the singer was going to have success with it, they never would have recorded it in the first place. They first heard the tune when it was still making the rounds at underground radio stations. Their new guitarist Harvey Mandel played it for the rest of the guys and suggested they cover it, but their co-vocalist, Bob "The Bear" Hite, wanted to wait a few months to see if Harrison would chart first. According to drummer Adolfo de la Parra, Hite didn't like taking songs away from living black musicians unless they weren't hits.

    "If the song languished among blues collectors, then he thought we could carry it to a bigger audience and at least get the composer writer's royalties," de la Parra wrote in his book, Living The Blues. They recorded the tune in December 1969 without knowing Harrison would get a chart entry just a couple months later.
  • With Hite on lead vocal, the Canned Heat version came together easily in just one or two takes. "That was it," de la Parra explained. "There was nothing else to do with it. It was one of the greatest songs we recorded. Listening to 'Let's Work Together,' you appreciate the guitars, the sound of the drums, the sound of the drive, the cymbals, the bass. Everything came together perfectly. If we'd stayed there 12 hours working on it, it wouldn't have been as good. The magic was the fact that we just laid it down and didn't mess with it."

    He added: "It was the perfect vehicle for Bob, summoning the world to get together and make someone happy. It was his greatest performance and only hit. The song also enhanced Canned Heat's dual character, a band with two lead singers with very different styles and voices."
  • In 2020, Canned Heat collaborated with William Shatner on a new version for Shatner's album The Blues. Backed by the current lineup of the band, including Adolfo de la Parra on drums and Harvey Mandel on guitar, Shatner delivered an exaggerated performance that fit in with his other dramatic renderings of popular tunes, like his spoken-word interpretations of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" from his 1968 album, The Transformed Man.

    "Let's Work Together" was an appropriate choice for 2020 while racial tensions and political conflict continued to rage in the US. "This is a terrific song for this moment in time!" the 89-year-old actor proclaimed ahead of the release.
  • Country singer Dwight Yoakam recorded this for his 1990 album, If There Was A Way. It wasn't released as a single, but it showed up in the movie D2: The Mighty Ducks a few years later.
  • Canned Heat's version was used in the movies Forrest Gump (1994), Big Fish (2003), and Invincible (2006).

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