Friday, July 31, 2009

All You Need Is Love

Well, I've been looking at that lovingly battered Odeon single cover on the blog all month now, so let's close out July with some "All You Need Is Love." Who doesn't love a good hippie anthem? Only straights and squares, that's who. And even if you are a straight or a square, you have to admit that "All You Need Is Love" is kind of the perfect song to feature on Our World, the world's first live satellite TV production, broadcast to most of the world on June 25, 1967 and attracting something like hundreds of millions of international viewers. It's very, you know, world peace-ish. It's lovely.

This broadcast was the first time the world heard "All You Need Is Love," which had been written only shortly before, and the recording of the broadcast went more or less directly out into the world as a single about a week later. ("More or less" because the ever-picky John insisted on redubbing his vocal before release. I'm not sure if the video above has audio from the original broadcast, or if they've overdubbed the single, with John's altered vocal, over the video portion. John, for the record, was by his own admission very very nervous about this performance. Note how he's chewing gum to try to affect indifference.)

Our World was to feature representative acts from various countries of the world, and of course it made sense for the Beatles to represent Britain, so they were asked to provide a new song that would be easily understood by non-native English speakers. "All You Need Is Love" seems to have been one that John had on the backburner anyway, so out it came. (Paul's suggestion was "Your Mother Should Know," but of course "All You Need Is Love" is much more suitable for this kind of thing, and also a better song, in my opinion.) While the refrain is indeed fairly easy to understand, the verses get a little more complex, loaded as they are with the kind of wordplay that John, native English speaker as he is, delights in-- though unlike, say, his books of poetry, it's fairly easy to understand, possibly because it's a little meaningless and relentlessly positive.

And like the words, the music is more complicated than it might appear on first blush as well. John, who as we know likes to follow the natural rhythms of speech in his songwriting, has done so again here, giving the verses in particular a choppy, talky rhythm. The verses are also metrically odd for a pop song, especially a pop anthem like this. Depending on how you hear it, the verses are either in alternating measures of 4/4 and 3/4 (with an extra 4/4 bar where you would least expect it), or in double-wide measures of 7/4 (with a measure of 8/4 thrown in to mix it up). I don't think I even noticed this until I'd been listening for at least a few years, which is kind of neat, isn't it? John just makes this feel so natural. Sometimes when John messes around with multiple meters, you can instantly hear how awesome and jarring it is, like in "Good Morning Good Morning." But in "All You Need Is Love," the effect is pretty smooth-- pretty expertly handled, in fact.

These verses lead us into a metrically simpler chorus (pretty much straight-up 4/4). In fact, the chorus is melodically one of the simplest bits in the Beatles catalog. The chorus stays on just one note for two repeats, which makes the small slide upward on the third "all you need is LOVE" almost unbearably sweet. The "love is all you need" line feels like a little sigh of relief after all that. But I have to say-- as anyone has to say if they've ever sung this song a capella around a campfire with their Girl Scout troop, as I have-- that the melody is actually kinda thin, and that much of what's making this thing at all exciting is the arrangement. George Martin orchestrated particularly effective stuff here. The way the oscillating strings come in after George's languid guitar solo and sweep us back into the chorus, the little shimmy in the horns in response to each "all you need is love" line, and one of my favorite bits-- the triplets in the strings as they climb up to that very high pitch on the last refrain, going into the coda. And then, of course, there's the coda, a pastiche of musical quotations from sources as diverse as a Bach two-part invention to a Glenn Miller number to an early Beatles song. (In the video above, the coda is sadly cut off a little bit; it also cuts off the opening bars of the Marseillaise, which is a shame.)

You know, I would never have called "All You Need Is Love" a favorite of mine per se, though I like it enough-- but listening to it over and over again today, I find I like it much more. Never mind all the dated flower-wreathed hippie weirdness of the video above, and never mind the song's treatment in the psychedelic dreamscape of Yellow Submarine...

No, it's really pretty good, I think. Don't let the datedness get to you, is my point. Love might not be all you need, but it's nice, isn't it? And it's a nice little singalong. Enjoy.

"All You Need Is Love," released in the U.K. as a single b/w "Baby You're a Rich Man," July 7, 1967; in the U.S. July 17, 1967.


  1. From what I've read, Paul proposed "Hello Goodbye," because of its simple lyrics (easy for nonEnglish speakers to understand). I've never heard that he proposed "Your Mother Should Know."

  2. Hmm, that DOES make sense, though I've never heard that. And I think I was under the impression that "Hello Goodbye" was written during or after the Magical Mystery tour filming. (Because if it was written prior, I'd be surprised that it didn't make it into the film.)

    Can't remember where I read the "Your Mother Should Know" bit, though now I'll have to look for it again...

  3. Oh, it's a favorite alright.

  4. Me again (you know me, right?) Anyway, my source is Bob Spitz' book "The Beatles." On Page 700, in a section about the "Our World" broadcast, he writes, "Paul had been working on a song anyway -- "Hello Goodbye" -- that he put up for consideration." Of course, Spitz could be wrong. But I like his book a lot better than "Shout," which is marred by Philip Norman's hostility to Paul (Norman also says terrible things about George being mediocre in the updated edition.) Norman is an ass.

    Anyway, I happened on to your blog and have enjoyed in immensely. You seem to be a John fan but it's nice to see a John fan who also seems to respect Paul. There's so much Paul hatred on the Web, it's sad. Anyway, thanks for a wonderfully written and informative read.

  5. P.S. The footnote in Spitz' book attributes the information about Paul offering up "Hello Goodbye" for the "Our World" broadcast to George Martin's book.

  6. Thanks for the correction! George Martin tends to be a good source for this stuff, so now I'm thinking you're right. (Though Spitz's book is apparently full of other errors-- there are whole threads on some Beatles forums dedicated to denigrating that guy.) Norman is kind of an ass, but Shout is so readable that I end up going back to that one. If you ever need to cleanse your palate of the Paul-hate, there's always Barry Miles' Many Years from Now, which is about as fawning as can be.

    But yeah-- at any moment, 8 of my top 10 favorite songs are probably John's, and my least favorites are generally Paul's, so if I have a camp it's John's. But I hate even thinking about it in terms of camps, and I have deep love for Paul. The people who express hatred haven't heard what he can do-- I like to recommend that '80s Russian fan club disc with the rock covers, or the Fireman.

    Thanks for reading, for the kudos, and for correcting me! :) I never bother to double-check stuff I put up here-- I'm just relying on my memory-- so I really do appreciate being kept in check.

  7. Here I am coming a day late to this one, Meg, so i don't know if you'll even read my comment. I've always liked this song better than i probably should. I mean, it has elements that i generally don't like, which is lots of strings, but what the strings play here is really cool. And I like that the lyrics are simple, yet interesting.

    Isn't it fascinating the number of really good songs John wrote "to order?"

    Meg, is there story on how the coda came to be? Was it the result of just messing around during recording session or what? Harkening back to She Loves You Yea Yea Yea, is great. To me, it puts a smile on the song at the end.

    BTW, did you notice the shot of Mick Jagger in the video clip? His presence seems really odd for this type song, ya know?

  8. I remember seeing this on television as a boy, I think I was 7 or 8 years old. My dad was stomping around yelling and cursing "those damn hippies!",,he hated The Beatles. It was in black and white in our house, but I remember thinking how different they looked than all of the prior tv images we saw during the tours. We didn't have computers back then so the only images of them that you saw was from tv and newspapers, and magazines of course. I remember reading an interview somewhere with Geoff Emerick(sp), he said that what we see today is a dubbed version over the film, that they did not record the original broadcast audio, in fact he said, George Martin had pre-recorded audio to kick in just in case the broadcast went bad, which almost happened because there was a glitch right at the start regarding the engineering. But it came off well. Bill