Tuesday, August 25, 2009

All I've Got to Do

I have a thesis about "All I've Got to Do," which is that "All I've Got to Do" is one of the most secretly sexy, badass Beatles songs ever. I think all you've got to do is listen to hear what I mean.

Oh, Lord, kids. For a pubescent girl developing a decided preference for John, "All I've Got to Do" was one of the best With the Beatles tracks bar none. Even now, as a cynical adult fan, it can make me melt a little. The song is a masterpiece of mood, with its edgy beat, its prominent bass line, and a drum part that freaking sizzles. (Ringo, you rule.) It all coalesces into this beautiful little shimmy of a song that makes John and all the Beatles sound like they'd like to hop into bed with you stat.

This is another one of those songs in which John said he was trying to write a Smokey Robinson song, and there are some similarities, sure, especially in the vocal stylings. Whenever John tries to write a Smokey Robinson song, though (as he did elsewhere in "Yes It Is," "This Boy," and others), he doesn't imitate Smokey so much as he taps into some weird dark place inside himself-- perhaps some inner Smokey-ness. Do you know what I mean? Sure, "All I've Got to Do" bears the Smokey stamp (arguably the Arthur Alexander stamp, too, which we may as well pause to note), but it also sounds like John's working out some interesting musical stuff that's uniquely his. He does some things here that he frequently likes to do, such as dapple some minor color in a song that's sort of nebulously in a major key (E major, here), and play around with different textures-- such that the verses are lean and bass-driven, while the bridges become thick with drumming and with sustained backup vocals. It's not like I'm some kind of Smokey Robinson expert, but I feel like John really makes this sound his own here in a way that maybe, by 1963, he hadn't done yet before. In fact, the song is really quite sophisticated for the second track on the band's second album, isn't it?

It all starts with that little guitar flourish that feels, if you know what's coming, like a finger running tantalizingly up your back, before John's unaccompanied (and heavily echoed, which is fine with me in this song) voice, entering on "whenever" before the instruments enter along with him on "I". Those unaccompanied moments remain some of the best vocal parts in a song that's freaking loaded with beautiful singing. He achieves this almost superhuman tenderness whenever he's singing those unaccompanied parts-- it might even be that he's insecure in our affections (silly John), but I also hear a small grin that suggests he might just be teasing us a bit. The bass line is wicked simple but resonant, and the drums provide some jagged punctuation, and it's all a bit spooky in this really pleasant, intimate way. Then John noticeably gets more secure as he gets further into the verse at "call you on the phone" and so on. The guitars and drums pick up the change in mood and fill out the sound.

It's at the bridges when John's feeling the most secure in our affections-- the vocal becomes more determined and even smiles more (it's partly the melody doing that, and partly the fact that we're firmly in major here), and he's got Paul and George backing him up on block chords. It all climaxes with Paul and George joining John on a loud "you've just gotta call on me," which is crucial enough to bear repeating, before we go back to the hushed thin sound we started out with and the tease begins all over again. The last time this happens, John dispenses with lyrics and just hums the verse one last time, and there's something about this that's so sweet that it's as if he's humming in your ear.


Seriously, am I overthinking this? Do you guys love "All I've Got to Do" as much as I do? I don't know if I've ever seen it given all the props it deserves. I just hear a song that's not only masterful, but also just drenched in sex, and not drenched in sex the way "Please Please Me" is. It's more like John is trying to seduce me. And it's working.

"All I've Got to Do," released in the U.K. side A track 2 of With the Beatles, November 22, 1963; in the U.S. side A track 5 of Meet the Beatles!, January 20, 1964.


  1. Yes. Yes I do. And as with all such songs, you've done this one total justice.

  2. I've just listened to the song three times, and it is so nuanced that I am struck by a different aspect of the song with each listen. Well written, post, Meg.

    There is a difference, though, between being a gal listening to this song, and a guy. Still, it is one heck of a vocal track. It's a song i could put on a loop and hit play and let it run.

  3. Well, that IS a fair point, Frank. Sometimes I get a little unrestrained in my fangirlishness.

    I'm one of those girls around whom no Beatle would have been safe, back in 1964 or whenever.