Friday, May 12, 2017

Our World - All You Need is Love

1967 was the era of the Love-in and the Summer of Love. The hit singles of the era vouch for this. More than any other year, Cupid had set his sights on radio. Just a sampling: "Never My Love" by The Association, "Love Me Two Times" by The Doors, The Mamas and the Papas "This is Dedicated to the One I Love," Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love," and The Cowsills' "The Rain, the Park and Other Things."

One of the most enduring, and among the most famous of Beatles' tunes is "All You Need is Love," which John set to paper beginning early in 1967.  Famous in its own right for its fanciful production that included snippets of "Le Marseillaise," the French National Anthem, McCartney's spontaneous vocalization "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah," "Greensleeves" and an odd 1958 U.K. hit called "Chanson D'Amour," the song was also a milestone in worldwide communication.

As we speak, my wife is at work. My eldest daughter is away at college. My other two children are at school. I know this because we share an app called Find Friends. Through smart phones and GPS I can, with relative accuracy, pinpoint where my family is at any given moment (at least I know where there phones are). And it all goes back to a very specific date in 1967 when "All You Need Is Love" was first performed by The Beatles to an estimated audience of a half-billion people (June 25, 1967). Our World, presented itself as heralding the Utopian promise of the "global village," one that renders "our world" one world. The goal, of course, was to show that technology could be used for the brotherhood of man. The song most certainly succeeded in its globalism, but does it truly make any affirmation of love?  Despite its obvious title, "All You Need is Love" may not fit into the list above.  

Let's begin with the verbal ambiguity of the song's title and refrain. Does it assert, as is commonly assumed, that love is the only thing ever needed, or that love is the one thing still needed?  The refrain's inversion in the song's coda, "Love is all you need," puts the emphasis not on love but its need. Perhaps then, love is the one thing still needed because it is a need that can never be met. The three verses proceed through a series of the word "nothing" seven times; the first verse beginning "There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,/ Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung." The lyrics in fact lament the loss of any new possible makings. The musicologist Wilfred Mellers contends that the song is not celebratory but instead, "infinitely sad;" that love is a need that can never be met, and that songs about it underscore love's seeming in-attainability. Even the song’s 7/4 time signature chorus mimics love's problematics.

The song is most ambitious in its coda, comprising a string of musical amalgams that includes a two-part invention by J.S. Bach, the opening riff of Glenn Miller's "In the Mood," and the songs previously listed. The song was included in the Beatles' film Yellow Submarine and during the "All You Need is Love segment," George Harrison's cartoon avatar falls through the ether to proclaim, "It’s all in the mind, you know?" In the psychedelic 60s we were hoping to create a global village through technology, yet are we any farther along today or closer to what we need? I'm not sure, and often I don't think so, but I do know this: my kids are at school, my wife is at work, my eldest daughter is taking a nap. They are all safe and sound in the global village. 

George Martin
The song was broadcast live with a backing track created in the studio under George Martin. As Abbey Road was unavailable, the Beatles and Martin prevailed up Olympic Studios on June 14, 1967, a studio with which they had some familiarity after recording the backing sessions for "Baby You're a Rich Man." Olympic was also the favorite recording venue for The Rolling Stones. The session included McCartney on double-bass, John on harpsichord and George on violin. Ringo utilized his standard drum kit. Thirty-three takes were attempted with ten utilized for the final mix. Due to the antiquated equipment at Olympic (in comparison to EMI), the final takes were mixed down to mono. On June 19, back at Abbey Road, several overdubs were added: George Martin on piano, John on banjo, with additional percussion added by Ringo. These overdubs became track two (the mono mix from Olympic served as track one). Track three was Lennon's backing vocals, over which Martin would dub all of the orchestral oddities, such as Greensleeves; and track four was both McCartney and Harrison.

The backing track with the live addition of a hand selected orchestra, featured the Beatles and a number of guests, among them Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithfull, Jane Asher,  Eric Clapton, Graham Nash and Keith Moon. Coming just two weeks after the release of Sgt Pepper, The Beatles were clearly full of confidence, and took a the prospect of a potential audience of 400 million in stride. Paul would later comment, "'All You Need Is Love' was John's song. I threw in a few ideas, as did the other members of the group, but it was largely ad libs like singing 'She Loves You' or 'Greensleeves' or silly things at the end and we made those up on the spot. The chorus, 'All you need is love', is simple, but the verse is quite complex; in fact I never really understood it, the message is rather complex. It was a good song that we had handy that had an anthemic chorus." But Ringo summed up the ideology best: "We were big enough to command an audience of that size, and it was for love. It was for love and bloody peace. It was a fabulous time. I even get excited now when I realize that's what it was for: peace and love, people putting flowers in guns."