'All You Need Is Love' by The Beatles: The making of the era-defining Summer of Love anthem

1 February 2023, 10:32 | Updated: 15 January 2024, 11:58

Good Ol’ Freda trailer – the Beatles secretary Freda Kelly

By Mayer Nissim

Watched by over 400 million people in 25 countries, 'All You Need Is Love' was The Beatles' gift to Our World.

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As well as their run of peerless albums, The Beatles dominated the 1960s with a string of non-LP singles.

'She Loves You', 'I Want To Hold Your Hand', 'We Can Work It Out', 'Strawberry Fields Forever', 'Penny Lane', 'Hey Jude' and many more were massive hits for The Beatles, as was the classic 'All You Need Is Love'.

'All You Need Is Love' was a Beatles single like no other.

A Flower Power anthem beamed to the world which was maybe the crowning moment of what was later known as Summer of Love.

Do you know who wrote the song, which famous faces lent their voices to the recording and what snippets of other music appear in the track? Read on for everything you ever wanted to know about 'All You Need is Love'

Who wrote 'All You Need Is Love'?

Paul, John and Ringo tease 'All You Need Is Love'
Paul, John and Ringo tease 'All You Need Is Love'. Picture: Getty Image

'All You Need Is Love' is (i) a song by The Beatles (ii) not by George Harrison (iii) not Ringo's 'Don't Pass Me By' or 'Octopus's Garden (iv) not one of the couple of handful of songs credited to the whole band and (v) not a cover.

That means, of course, that it's a Lennon-McCartney number.

More specifically, 'All You Need Is Love' was written by John Lennon, who perhaps more than the rest of his bandmates had fully absorbed the spirit and peace and love by this point.

All You Need Is Love - 1s Preview

The Beatles – then working on the songs for Yellow Submarine and batting ideas for the Magical Mystery Tour TV special – were asked by the BBC to contribute to a show called Our World.

Coordinated by Eurovision's European Broadcasting Union the idea was incredibly ambitious, especially for the time: a programme broadcast via satellite to 25 countries around the world, all at once.

Brian Epstein was keen. So as John, and it was his idea that pipped anything Paul McCartney was coming up with for the song (apparently 'Your Mother Should Know'), which had the brief of being in "basic English" for its global audience.

The Beatles with their 'All You Need Is Love' placards
The Beatles with their 'All You Need Is Love' placards. Picture: Getty Images

It's worth mentioning that while that's how Ringo and George Martin remember it, not everyone tells the story exactly like that.

"It was John's song, mainly, one of those we had around at the time," said Paul in Anthology.

"It fits very well, so it might have been written especially for the show (and once we had it, it was definitely tailored to suit the programme.

"But I've got a feeling it was just one of John's songs that was coming anyway. We went down to Olympic Studios in Barnes and recorded it, and everyone said, 'Ah, this is the one we should use for the show'."

All You Need Is Love (Remastered 2015)

Similarly, George said: "I don't know if the song was written before that, because there were lots of songs in circulation at the time."

Lennon came up with the words and main bit of music of 'All You Need Is Love', while it was producer George Martin who grafted on all those witty interpolations from other songs.

The song starts with 'La Marseillaise', which elegantly segues into the opening chorus. Paul suggested years later that the idea for that came from a "crazy jazz sax player, who sounded out of tune" playing the French national anthem in one of his homemade short films from The Beatles' early years.

The end features bits of traditional English folk song 'Greensleeves', 'Invention No. 8 in F major (BWV 779)' by JS Bach, and Glenn Miller's 'In The Mood'.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra -- (1941) In the Mood [High Quality Enhanced Sound]

"I fell into deep water over that," said Martin of his pioneering bit of what was not yet called sampling.

"Everyone thought 'In The Mood' was in the public domain, and it is – but the introduction isn't. The introduction is an arrangement and it was the introduction I took. That was a public work."

A fee was paid to the publisher though, and all was well.

Also smooshed into that coda were The Beatles own 'She Loves You' and 'Yesterday', with their inclusion growing out of Lennon's jamming during rehearsals.

What is 'All You Need Is Love' actually about?

John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for The Beatles' 'All You Need Is Love'
John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for The Beatles' 'All You Need Is Love'. Picture: Getty Images

On the face of it, 'All You Need Is Love' is a childlike song about well... Love being all that you need.

"This is an inspired song, because they wrote it for a worldwide programme and they really wanted to give the world a message" said Brian Epstein.

"It could hardly have been a better message. It is a wonderful, beautiful, spine-chilling record."

He added: "The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything."

As such its attracted praise for its ideological purity that distilled the Flower Power ethos into four minutes of simple pop perfection, as well as criticism for being utterly naive to the real effort and struggle needed for true political, social and cultural revolution.

The Beatles - All You Need Is Love (Official Music Video)

While Lennon was very much in the Summer of Love mindset at the time with the more ambiguous 'Revolution 1' a year off ("If you talk about destruction / Don't you know that you can count me Out –  In"), it would be wrong to dismiss the deeper message of 'All You Need Is Love'.

The Beatles' deep dive into spiritualism the following year is anticipated with lines like "nothing you can know that isn't known", "nothing you can make that can't be made" and "you can learn how to be you in time".

Meanwhile, "Nothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game" has echoes of the more lysergic 'Tomorrow Never Knows' ("All play the game / Existence to the end"), while foreshadowing the use of working class wit as a shield or sword in the battle with authority in 'I Am The Walrus'.

Even the title is a little deeper than it first seems.

The Beatles - Tomorrow Never Knows

"I once asked John about the title 'All You Need Is Love' said official Beatles biographer Hunter Davies. "He pointed out a detail I had over looked: It can be taken in two ways.

"At one level it means that love is the most important thing in the world, but it can also mean that love is the one thing you are lacking, the thing you haven't got."

George Harrison put things more simply: "Because of the mood of the time, it seemed to be a great idea to perform that song while everybody else was showing knitting in Canada or Irish clog dances in Venezuela.

"We thought, 'Well, we'll sing 'All You Need Is Love' because it's a subtle bit of PR for God'."

Despite the criticism over the years, especially during the materialistic 1980s, George Harrison stood by the message of John's words.

Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows

"They all said All You Need Is Love but you also need such-and-such else," he told Q magazine.

"But … love is complete knowledge. If we all had total knowledge, then we would have complete love and, on that basis, everything is taken care of. It's a law of nature."

As Geoge sung in his own 'Within You Without You' only months earlier "with our love we can save the world".

Ringo summed it all up, saying of that first performance: "We were big enough to command an audience of that size, and it was for love. It was for love and bloody peace.

"It was a fabulous time. I even get excited now when I realise that's what it was for. Peace and love, people putting flowers in guns."

Was 'All You Need Is Love' actually recorded live on the day?

The Beatles at Abbey Road the day before they premiere 'All You Need Is Love'
The Beatles at Abbey Road the day before they premiere 'All You Need Is Love'. Picture: Getty Images

The way it looks on the broadcast, 'All You Need Is Love' is recorded right there in the TV studio with all those psychedelic special guests in attendance.

"The orchestra was there and it was played live," Harrison said.

"We rehearsed for a while, and then it was: 'You're on at 12 O'Clock lads'. The man upstairs pointed his finger and that was that. We did it – one take."

You can probably guess that it wasn't quite that straightforward.

Some of the backing was recorded in advance: George Martin wasn't going to risk the reputation of his boys with a fully live performance under those circumstances, though he did say "a lot" was done live – especially the singing, orchestra and audience.

Recording began at Olympic Sound Studios in Barnes, south-west London on June 14, 1967, with John playing harpsichord, Paul playing double bass with a bow, and George playing violin – just to mix things up a little.

They put down down 33 takes and eventually choosing take 10 as the best and mixing it down on to a single track.

Five days later, they popped into Studio 2 at Abbey Road and recorded overdubs of banjo, guitar, some vocal bits (including the all-important "love love love" refrains), plus some piano from George Martin.

Rehearsals began with an orchestra on June 23, and their part was added to the backing track ahead of the broadcast.

The performance – and final bit of recording and live mixing - took place at Abbey Road on the evening of June 25, with George Martin and Geoff Emerick taking care of the sound.

'All You Need Is Love' in psychedelic black and white
'All You Need Is Love' in psychedelic black and white. Picture: Getty Images

The live bits added to the recording were the lead and backing vocals, Paul's bass, George's guitar solo and Ringo's drums, as well as the contributions from the very special guests in attendance (more on them shortly).

That wasn't the end of it though. Lennon re-recorded his solo verses later that day in the studio, with his vocals being given Automatic Double Tracking treatment the following day, while Ringo replaced a bit of tambourine with some overdubbed drums at the start.

When talking about 'All You Need Is Love' it's worth mentioning that despite the full-on psychedelic visuals and trappings (streamers! balloons! hand-painted guitars and shirts!), the BBC broadcast the show in boring old black and white.

"I remember camera crews and a lot of colourful people," said The Beatles' right-hand man Neil Aspinall.

"It was psychedelic and all the rest of it, but the BBC filmed it and black and white! If we'd have known that, we'd have filmed it ourselves."

Using colour photographs from the time as a reference, the film was later colourised for inclusion in 1995's Anthology TV series.

What famous special guests appear on 'All You Need Is Love'?

The Beatles rehearse 'All You Need Is Love' before their friends arrive
The Beatles rehearse 'All You Need Is Love' before their friends arrive. Picture: Getty Images

As well as the four Beatles themselves and George Martin on piano, 'All You Need Is Love' featured a 13-piece orchestra of Sidney Sax, Patrick Halling, Eric Bowie and Jack Holmes (violins), Rex Morris and Don Honeywell (tenor saxes), Stanley Woods and David Mason (trumpets), Evan Watkins and Harry Spain (trombones), and Jack Emblow (accordion), conducted by Mike Vickers.

But it was the chorus of the great and good who really made the recording something special.

"We decided to get some people in who looked like the 'love generation', George said.

"I know that Mick Jagger is there. But there's also an Eric Clapton, I believe in full psychedelic regalia and permed hair, sitting right there."

Paul added: "The band was asked to invite people, so we had people like Mick and Eric, and all our friends and wifelets."

So in attendance was an all-star cast of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Marianne Faithful, Jane Asher, Mike McCartney, Patti Harrison, Eric Clapton, Graham Nash, Keith Moon, Gary Leeds (aka Gary Walker and others.

Hunter Davies was apparently there singing along too, though his diary is mysteriously blank for the day.

"The awful thing is, I can't really remember," he admitted – not recalling if he was actually in the main studio or just around for the rehearsals.

"I have looked for myself on the video, but quite a lot of people at the time looked like me."

Well as they say, if you can remember the '60s, you weren't really there.

When was 'All You Need Is Love' released, and where did it get in the charts?

The Beatles - All You Need Is Love single sleeve
The Beatles - All You Need Is Love single sleeve. Picture: Alamy

'All You Need Is Love' was heard – albeit in its part-live, "unfinished" form for the first time during the Our World broadcast.

During rehearsals it was decided that the song would be a single, and it was released on July 7l, 1967, with 'Baby You're a Rich Man' on the B-side.

The song went straight to number one in the UK, the US and plenty of other countries around the world.

All You Need Is Love

While 'All You Need Is Love' didn't feature on a "proper" Beatles album it closed the American LP version of Magical Mystery Tour in December 1967, and later rounded off the first side of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack in January 1969.

It was included on 1973's 1967–1970 compilation ("the Blue Album") as well as 1999's Yellow Submarine Songtrack and the following year's 1s compilation.

The remixed version that closed 2006's mash-up album Love included elements from its original B-side 'Baby You're a Rich Man', as well as 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', before ending with orchestration from 'Good Night' and the sign-off from The Beatles Third Christmas Record.

How did 'All You Need Is Love' inspire The Rolling Stones?

The Rolling Stones - We Love You (Official Video)

With Mick and Keith in attendance lending their voices – and their not so secret habit of nabbing from the Fab Four – it was inevitable that The Rolling Stones would soon be inspired to riff on 'All You Need Is Love'.

Their 1967 single 'We Love You' was directly inspired by The Beatles song, and to return the favour, both John and Paul recorded backing vocals for the track.

Maybe John forgot that he actually lent his voice to the song when he was giving his famously cantankerous interview to Rolling Stone magazine in 1971.

"I would like to just list what we did and what the Stones did two months after on every f**kin' album," Lennon said.

"Every f**kin’ thing we did, Mick does exactly the same – he imitates us.

"And I would like one of you f**kin' underground people to point it out, you know Satanic Majesties is Pepper, \We Love You', it’s the most f**kin' bulls**t, that’s 'All You Need Is Love'."

Who has covered 'All You Need Is Love'?

All You Need Is Love (Life at Brian's)

'All You Need Is Love' was a massive hit, and while many artists have given it a go, there's not been as many high-profile covers as you might think.

Perhaps its a song just too bound into the era to really work out of time.

Nevertheless, there have been a few significant covers over the years.

Katy Perry - All You Need Is Love (Visualizer)

Pinky and Perky were one of the first, getting their version out before the end of 1967, while The 5th Dimension incorporated it into their Love Medley in October 1971, sandwiched between 'What the World Needs Now Is Love' and 'Have You Tried Love'.

Since then, we've had artists as diverse as Echo and the Bunnymen, Elvis Costello, Noel Gallagher, Brandi Carlile, The Flaming Lips and Katy Perry all put their own spin on the Summer of Love classic.

Paul McCartney, Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton & Rod Stewart - All You Need Is Love (LIVE) HD

One important cover, of sorts, came on June 3, 2002, during Paul McCartney's headline set at Buckingham Palace for the Party at the Palace show to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee.

Joining Paul for this special version were Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Brian Wilson, Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor, Eric Clapton, Cliff Richard, Ozzy Osbourne and Ladysmith Black Mambazo