"All You Need Is Love" is a song by the Beatles that was released as a non-album single in July 1967. It was written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. The Beatles performed the song as Britain's contribution to Our World, the first live global television link. Watched by over 400 million in 25 countries, the programme was broadcast via satellite on 25 June 1967.
The Beatles were asked to come up with a song with a message understood by everyone. "It was an inspired song and they really wanted to give the world a message", said Brian Epstein. "The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything." According to journalist Jade Wright, "Lennon was fascinated by the power of slogans to unite people and never afraid to create art out of propaganda. When asked in 1971 whether songs like "Give Peace a Chance" and "Power to the People" were propaganda songs, he answered: 'Sure. So was All You Need Is Love. I'm a revolutionary artist. My art is dedicated to change.'"
The band started work on recording the song on 14 June 1967, with Lennon playing harpsichord, Paul McCartney on double bass, George Harrison on violin (an instrument he had never previously played), and Ringo Starr on drums. They recorded 33 takes, choosing the tenth take as the best. Over the following days they recorded overdubs including vocals, piano (played by their producer, George Martin), banjo (by Lennon), guitar and orchestral parts.
The interviews on The Beatles Anthology documentary series reveal that McCartney and Harrison were unsure whether "All You Need Is Love" was written for Our World, while Starr and Martin assert that it was. When asked, McCartney replied: "I don't think it was written specially for it. But it was one of the songs we had. ... It was certainly tailored to [the broadcast] once we had it. But I've got a feeling it was just one of John's songs that was coming there."
The song starts with the intro to the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise", and contains elements from Glenn Miller's 1939 hit "In the Mood", as well as elements from Wayne Shanklin's 1958 hit "Chanson D'Amour". The song is notable for its asymmetric time signature and complex changes. The main verse pattern contains a total of 29 beats, split into two 7/4 measures, a single bar of 8/4, followed by a one bar return of 7/4 before repeating the pattern. The chorus, however, maintains a steady 4/4 beat with the exception of the last bar of 6/4 (on the lyric "love is all you need"). The prominent cello line draws attention to this departure from pop-single normality, although it was not the first time that the Beatles had experimented with varied meter within a single song: "We Can Work It Out" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" are other examples. The song is in the key of G and the verse opens (on "There's nothing you can do") with a G chord and D melody note, the chords shifting in a I–V–vi chord progression while the bass simultaneously moves from the tonic (G) note to the root note of the relative minor (Em), via an F♯, supporting a first inversion D chord.
After the verse "learn how to play the game, it's easy", the bass alters the prolonged V (D) chord with F#, E, C and B notes. The song is notable for a dramatic use of a dominant or V chord (here D) on "It's easy." The "Love, love, love" chant involves chords in a I–V7–vi shift (G–D–Em) and simultaneous descending B, A, G notes with the concluding G note corresponding not to the tonic G chord, but acting as the 3rd of the Em chord; this also introducing the E note of the Em chord as a 6th of the tonic G scale. Supporting the same melody note with different and unexpected chords has been termed a characteristic Beatles technique.
George Martin recalled that "the boys ... wanted to freak out at the end, and just go mad". During the long fade-out, elements of various other songs can be heard, including "Greensleeves", Invention No. 8 in F major (BWV 779) by J. S. Bach, "In the Mood", and the Beatles' own 1963 hit "She Loves You". The first of these three pieces had been included in the arrangement by Martin. "She Loves You" was the result of improvisation by Lennon in rehearsals – he had also experimented with interpolating "Yesterday" and "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain" – although it was McCartney who led "She Loves You" on the subsequent studio recording.
The Our World broadcast cut to Abbey Road studios at 8:54 pm London time, about 40 seconds earlier than expected. Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick were drinking scotch whisky to calm their nerves for the task of mixing the audio for a live worldwide broadcast, and had to scramble the bottle and glasses beneath the mixing desk when they were told they were about to go on air.
For the broadcast, the Beatles (except for Starr) were seated on stools, accompanied by a small studio orchestra. They were surrounded by friends and acquaintances seated on the floor, who sang along with the refrain during the fade-out. These guests included Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull, Keith Richards, Keith Moon, Graham Nash, Mike McGear, Patti Boyd and Jane Asher.
The performance was not completely live: the Beatles, the orchestra, and guests were overdubbing onto a pre-recorded rhythm track mainly consisting of piano, harpsichord, drums and backing vocals. The producers of Our World were initially unhappy about the use of backing tracks, but it was insisted upon by Martin, who said that "we can't just go in front of 350 million people without some work". The full Our World segment opens with the band and company listening to the raw backing track, as commentator Steve Race explained the process in voiceover.
The segment initially showed the band simulating a rehearsal or rough take for about a minute, before Martin suggesting that the orchestral musicians should take their places for the recording as the tape was rewound, followed by the band's performance with the orchestral section. Among a number of placards featuring the word "love" translated into a variety of languages, a sign was held up during the clip with the words "Come Back Milly" – a plea to an aunt of McCartney's who was then in Australia visiting her son and grandchildren.
Lennon, affecting indifference, was said to be nervous about the broadcast, given the potential size of the international TV audience. Dissatisfied with his singing, he rerecorded the solo verses for use on the single. Starr also overdubbed drums before the single was released, fixing the aforementioned timing problems and adding the drum roll.
The programme was broadcast in black-and-white (colour television had yet to commence broadcasting in Britain and most of the world). The Beatles' footage was colourised, based on photographs of the event, for the 1995 documentary The Beatles Anthology. The colour version is also included in the Beatles' 2015 video compilation 1.
The day before the Our World broadcast, the Beatles decided that the song should be their next single. Released in the UK on 7 July 1967, it went straight to number one and remained there for three weeks. It was similarly successful in the United States after its release on 17 July, reaching number one for a week.
"All You Need Is Love" was also included on the American LP version of Magical Mystery Tour in November 1967, and on the Yellow Submarine album, film, and "songtrack". This song is also featured in Cirque du Soleil's show Love, based on the songs of the Beatles, and its album.
According to Ian MacDonald:The Beatles
John Lennon – lead and backing vocals, harpsichord, banjo
Paul McCartney – bass, double bass, backing vocals
George Harrison – lead guitar, violin, backing vocals
Ringo Starr – drums
George Martin – piano, orchestration and production
David Mason – piccolo trumpet
Uncredited session musicians (led by Patrick Halling) – string section, brass, woodwind and accordion as conducted by Mike Vickers
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Keith Moon, Graham Nash, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithfull, Mike McGear, Jane Asher, Patti Boyd and others – background vocals, tambourine, handclaps