Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's Only Love

Now, here's a case study in the untrustworthiness of John, right here. Or perhaps it's just an example of John's self-consciousness. "It's Only Love" is a song John very strongly and very famously wrote off as crap. But is it? I say that "slight," or, if you prefer, "minor," is not the same thing as "crap." But hey, that's me. And I just like to sing along.

So this one was mostly written by John, with perhaps a bit of Paul thrown in. No doubt it was a bit of a work song-- Ian MacDonald has even speculated that it might have been written with another group in mind, though I'm not sure there's anything to support this except MacDonald's own dislike for the song. John took all the blame for composing the thing, though, when he dismissed it as godawful in later interviews. "It's Only Love" is hardly the only song to fall victim to John's later aspersions, but I believe he referred to it several specific times, which is why I think it (along with maybe "Run for Your Life") is remembered mainly as a song John thought sucked. But if my memory serves, John almost always singles out the lyric as particularly bad without getting into the rest of it. You know what? The lyric is kind of bad. It is most certainly not good, at any rate. But there is more to this song than some crappy words.

For instance, there is the melody itself. I'm not saying it's a masterpiece. But I am saying that the rise of the chorus, which features John's vocal in a rich and strangely echo-ish double-tracking, is a natural sing-along line. The double-tracking, which I tend to swoon about when it's applied to John's voice anyway, is significant here because in production each vocal line was processed differently. I'm not enough of an audio geek to know anything more about that, but can you hear that there's a different timbre to each of John's double-tracked lines, which are in the chorus? I think you can. The melody itself, though, is a good one. I can imagine the chorus being the reason why they kept the song on the album, despite the song's slightness, just because it's really well written.

Otherwise, it's pleasant guitar from George, especially in the intro and at the coda, where the descending line is sort of folksy and sweet. If it wasn't for that nice mid-'60s Beatley guitar sound, this song would be far more slight, as the rest of it is handled in a straightforward mid-tempo slow-dance kind of way. Even Ringo sounds a little bit bored on the drums. The folksy-esque feel of "It's Only Love" convinced the people over at Capitol, EMI's American division, to throw this on onto their version of Rubber Soul, which they were trying to fashion into the Beatles' folk rock album in order to stay on trend, which meant out with "Drive My Car" and "Nowhere Man" and in with "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love"-- one of the most egregious injuries to the Beatles' vision of an album that Capitol ever perpetrated.

So I don't have much more on this, because it is so slight. But I think John was a little unfair to it, is all. There's nothing here to be actively ashamed of. If you had to bash out some work songs because you were the freaking Beatles and were recording this in between filming Help! and beginning a new tour and God knows what else, I for one am not going to hold it against you, John-- and I'll still listen to "It's Only Love" over the actively odious Beatles songs any day.

"It's Only Love," released in the U.K. side B track 2 of Help!, August 6, 1965; in the U.S. side B track 1 of Rubber Soul, December 6, 1965.


  1. Meg and troy, together again! I'm 100 percent with you. I respect John's right to his opinion, but it's one thing to say a song isn't great and another to say it sucks. He lost me when he said And Your Bird Can Sing was "another of my throwaways ... fancy paper around an empty box," according to the wikipedia page for the song. Is And Your Bird Can Sing more notable for the playing and production than for the lyrics? Were there more innovative progressions? Probably. That doesn't mean the song is trash, you dink. Um, Mr. Lennon Sir.

  2. I like the double guitar opening, in fact the guitar playing all the way thru. Lyric wise, i agree that they are weak. Some of the rhyming words/thoughts are a bit cliched and obvious. Light weight compared to what he was capable of writing. Little bit like roses are red violets are blue, kinda thing. But, I don't punch the "next song" button when it comes on. I guess the music and the singing make up for the weak lyrics.

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