235. ‘All You Need Is Love’, by The Beatles

The top of the British Singles Chart has just endured its longest Beatles-less spell (at least, you know, until they split up and stop making music) but they are back! Though you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a completely different band.

The Fab Four were killed off a year or so ago. Since then they’ve hit #1 with the string drenched ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and the kids’ singalong ‘Yellow Submarine’. Before that came the bass-heavy garage of ‘Paperback Writer’. Both big steps away from the Beat sound that had made them huge. This single is another massive leap away, even compared to their innovation of ’66. This single opens with the French national anthem…

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All You Need Is Love, by The Beatles (their 12th of seventeen #1s)

3 weeks, from 19th July – 9th August 1967

Because, why not? They’re The Beatles and they can do whatever the hell they want. ‘La Marseillaise’ doesn’t last for long, and soon we swing into a simple ditty. Love, love, love… and a mantra. Nothing you can do that can’t be done, Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung… On first listen it sounds like a hippy-dippy, peace (man!) anthem for the Summer of Love. But, actually… Nothing you can know that isn’t known, Nothing you can see that isn’t shown… It’s kind of negative. ‘Why bother?’ seems to be the message…

John Lennon allegedly kept the lyrics simple, as the song was to be debuted on TV screens around the globe for ‘Our World’, the first ever global tele-link. But, Lennon being Lennon, I sense a bit of needle in there. A bit of sarcasm, maybe? It’s definitely not as straightforward as it sounds. He later described the lyrics as ‘revolutionary propaganda.’ The chorus, though, is simplicity in action: All you need is love… Love is all you need.

Like ‘Good Vibrations’ – a record that spurred The Beatles on to greater experimentation – ‘All You Need Is Love’ jumps around all over the place, from national anthems, to drunken jazz in the chorus, to an electric guitar solo, to stabbing strings, with some music-hall ‘All together nows’ for good measure.

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And then there’s the finale. Where it all just goes a little bit mental. We get horns from Bach (meaning the 18th Century composer has influenced two #1s in a row!), a snippet of Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood’ and, naturally, ‘Greensleeves’. From revolutionary France, to WWII mess-halls, to Tudor England in one four minute pop song… And there are snatches of two other Beatles’ classics as well: ‘Yesterday’ and ‘She Loves You’. (Opening up an interesting sub-category: #1 singles that feature in other #1 singles…) All the while the band and guests whoop and holler until the whole messy shebang fades from sight. It sounds like the best party you’ve never been to.

Where to start analysing this? Why even bother? I certainly don’t feel qualified to go into any more detail. With other bands, and other singles, you can see where they were coming from, what they were trying to do, even how you might have done it better. Not with this song, not with The Beatles. It’s unthinkable, really. Throwing out singles that most bands would have built whole careers around, willy-nilly. Here’s ‘She Loves You’, there’s ‘Help!’, watch you don’t trip over ‘Eleanor Rigby’, or ‘Ticket to Ride’ over there in the corner… You’d like a song for a lame TV show? Here’s ‘All You Need Is Love’. And ‘Yesterday’, the song that they reference here – the song that has been covered over 2000 times, the song that has been voted ‘Best Song Ever’ on several occasions? They stuck that away on Side 2 of an album. Oh, The Beatles… Beatles, Beatles, Beatles…

But, just so that they don’t go getting too big-headed, too full of themselves – Paul and Ringo definitely read this blog, right? – I feel compelled to add that when they next appear in this countdown, it’ll be with what I personally think is the worst of their seventeen chart-toppers…