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All you need is love

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We forget perhaps that we only use the phrase ‘all you need is love’ because John Lennon did. The song with this straightforward title was written for the Beatles by Lennon in 1967, as the ultimate anthem of the Summer of Love. 

It was premiered as part of ‘Our World’, a BBC initiative which took shape that year as the first live global television broadcast – two decades before Live Aid. When the Beatles were asked by the BBC to come up with a song for this extravaganza, both Paul McCartney and Lennon worked on material. The band chose Lennon’s song, which was duly tailored for the occasion.

‘Our World’ was broadcast via satellite on 25 June 1967, less than a month after the release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles’ landmark album that had redefined recorded sound. The two-hour programme was watched by over 400 million viewers in 25 countries. As expected at the time, the Soviet bloc countries pulled out only days before transmission, denying a possible further 150 million viewers. A technical achievement at the time, these days ‘Our World’ is remembered chiefly for the Beatles’ performance.

In the afternoon of 25 June, the Beatles began rehearsing and perfecting a backing track at EMI’s Abbey Road studio. After dozens of takes, by the evening they were ready. A small orchestra was booked and a specially invited gang of beautiful people rolled up to help out on the live broadcast, including Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Keith Moon and Eric Clapton. At just after 9.30pm local time, BBC viewers tuned in their television sets, which sadly rendered the colourful garlands, balloons, streamers and placards surrounding the band and their entourage in humdrum black and white. Nevertheless, it was a triumph.

Lennon was reputedly nervous about the broadcast and, dissatisfied with his contribution on the night, he subsequently rerecorded the solo verses for the version released on vinyl the following month. The single winged its way into the shops on the tenth anniversary of Lennon’s first meeting with the teenage McCartney at Liverpool’s Woolton Fete in July 1957. This coincidence wasn’t mentioned at the time, however. The Beatles, like the nation as a whole, were in no mood for looking back.

Dismissed by a few as platitudinous – although to be fair the BBC’s brief was to keep it simple – ‘All You Need is Love’ was embraced not just by the hippie counterculture, already nudging itself into the mainstream by June 1967. The Times’ music critic, more used to commenting on Bach and Mozart, found it ‘captivating’. Boosted by the TV exposure, record buyers inevitably made ‘All You Need is Love’ the No.1 hit of that candy-coloured summer.

 By Robert Webb

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