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50 Years of “All You Need is Love”. And what have we done about it eh?

June 25, 2017

all you need is love.

Yes, it’s now 50 years exactly, since “All You Need is Love” was first broadcast as the culmination of the the “Our World” experimental global television broadcast.

Courage was involved.  A band that hadn’t performed live for nearly a year was to premiere an entirely new song for 400 million people – more people in more places than had ever watched television together before.  For them to play properly and still look like they were having fun was a feat of heroic proportions.

As a song, “All You Need is Love” has its detractors.  Ian Macdonald goes full grumpy Adorno on it, regarding it as poorly conceived and simplistic.  He’s also grumpy about “Let it Be” and “Across the Universe”, incidentally.  I love all three – but what do I know?

In fact I’ve always loved this song.  I can’t remember ever not knowing it – can’t remember consciously hearing it for “the first time”.  It’s always been an earworm to me – always been something familiar.    Though a very John song, like many very John songs, the performance and recording  benefits immeasurably from exquisite bass playing from Paul.  Watching the broadcast again, I’m struck as well by the love between John and Paul on show.  Paul is smiling throughout, and throwing in “all together now” and “everybody” in a spirit of comradely fellow feeling.  The love between these two men feels very infectious.  The Beatles all believed in this song and in 1967, a new world order which privileged “love” as the chief desideratum of all human political and economic decision making seemed possible. .

As for John’s vocals – well they’re completely sincere without being embarrassing.  He’s preaching without being preachy – outrageously ambitious and yet modest and unaffected at one and the same time.  Nobody else could have sung these words as he did.

I love the classical arrangement behind the song.  I like the slightly stumbling feel of the verses and the defiant monotone of the chorus.  It stirs me – in a way that’s offensive probably to many a highly trained musicologist.

As I child, I thought of this song most often as the culmination to Yellow Submarine – the anthem most responsible for the liberation of Pepperland.

And is “love” all you need?  Well, there’s not a lot it can’t do, and it can express itself in many ways – from sweaty interpersonal intimacies to humane welfare funding mechanisms – from picking up dropped shopping to elaborate international treaty negotiations.  Why not call all of this complicated malarkey  of concern “love” and keep it simple?

It is (or it should be) shaming to think that we’ve shared a planet with this song for fifty years and failed to act upon it.  It is both tragic and farcical to consider how much recent politics has invested in hatred and fear…  how lucrative the politics of petty tribalism has been of late and just how well funded and well organised the directed efforts to reduce the amount of empathy in the world have been.

Surely after listening to this song for a few dozen times today, we need to slap ourselves into a state of sanity and benevolence and get weepy happy with John and Paul and George and Ringo as we try to excavate the allyouneedyness of love itself.

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