Monday, July 17, 2017

"All You Need Is Love" - Fifty Years

Fifty years ago today the Beatles released in the United States their single "All You Need Is Love," which perfectly captured the optimistic mood of the summer of 1967 - the Summer of Love.  For those who missed it when I posted the promotional clip for the song as my Music Video Of the Week, here are my comments from that post, slightly reworded here.
"All You Need Is Love" had already been issued in Britain on July 7, 1967, and of course it had been premiered globally the month before on international television, on June 25, 1967, for the satellite TV special "Our World," shown on the BBC in Great Britain and on National Educational Television (a forerunner of the Public Broadcasting Service) in the United States.  The Beatles officially represented Britain for the broadcast.  (The United States aired a story about the U.S.-Soviet summit between President Johnson and Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin in Glassboro, New Jersey that had been held over the previous couple of days, once again demonstrating American cluelessness brought on by Cold War psychosis.)
The Beatles had been asked to present a song that would have a simple, direct message that people everywhere could understand.  They waited until about ten days before the international broadcast before even writing "All You Need Is Love," which was mostly written by John Lennon, and they spent the intervening time recording a basic rhythm track for the song.  It would be performed partially live, with backing tapes, and the result - take 58 - became the master for the single.  (The live elements would be the Paul McCartney's bass, George Harrison's middle-eight lead guitar solo, John's lead vocals, Ringo Starr's drums, and an orchestral backup.)
On the big night, the Beatles performed "All You Need Is Love" for four hundred million viewers around the world.  The group worked in a sample of the French national anthem at the beginning and producer George Martin added in samples of "Greensleeves" and Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" at the end, along with an impromptu chorus of the Beatles' own "She Loves You." from 1963.  That was a joke - the Beatles were a very different group in 1967 from the group they had been a mere four years earlier.  The performance from EMI Studios at Abbey Road took on a party atmosphere, reviving the idea of a celebration from the February 10, 1967 orchestral overdub session for "A Day In the Life" (filmed for a documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that was never completed because the BBC banned the song "A Day In the Life"for an assumed drug reference, which you already know about).  And so Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones were invited, as were Eric Clapton, the Who's Keith Moon, Graham Nash and his then-wife Rose, George's then-wife Pattie, Paul's then-girlfriend Jane Asher and his brother Mike, among others.  Also, some of the guests wearing sandwich signs with the song's title in four languages paraded throughout the room.  It was that sort of broadcast.

The Beatles and their guests wore the colorful clothes of the psychedelic age and decorated the room with all sorts of colorful objects;  balloons, flowers, and the like.  Too bad the BBC transmitted the performance in black and white.  Decades later, Apple Corps would colorize (or "colourise," as the Brits would say) the clip of the performance based on color photos of the event; it was perhaps the only time colorization, originally used in the eighties on classic black and white movies, was used for a good purpose.
"All You Need Is Love" was the high-water mark of the Beatles' career; having just released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, they were on top of the world, and now they had a new single that expressed the hopes and desires of the planet.  Of course it was a number-one single all over the world, coming out on July 7, 1967 in Britain and being released ten days later, July 17, in the U.S.  "With the Our World promotion," Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn wrote in 1988, "it could hardly have failed."
It wouldn't take long, though, for the hope that love would be all we needed to turn out to be more wishful thinking than reality.  With U.S. troop levels still rising in Vietnam, the promise of peace and love seemed distant.  Then, violence and hatred hit home in America; five days after "All You Need Is Love" was released in Britain, a race riot erupted in Newark, New Jersey, as noted earlier on this blog; a week after the song was released in America, Detroit experienced a race riot that surpassed the Newark riot in its viciousness.  (More about that later.)  The reverberations of such rage over injustice would be felt all over the world the following year - in Prague, in Paris and Chicago.  John Lennon would later say, "I really thought that love would save us all."
It's still a great song.  As Ringo Starr would later say, the answer was love.  That's what the Beatles were all about.     

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