Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Beatles 'All You Need Is Love' (from the film Yellow Submarine)

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Their 12th No. 1 single, 'All You Need Is Love' topped the chart for 3 weeks in July/August 1967 as the follow-up to 'Penny Lane'/'Strawberry Fields Forever'. It was also No.1 in America.
Yes, you have read that correctly, it really is the Beatles. Famously, you don't often get Beatles tracks on compilation albums; even at this point, when EMI still claimed complete ownership of the recordings and were happily chopping them up and putting them together on all sorts of compilations, they were presumably asking a pretty high price. It was the year after this that saw the final straw as EMI licensed 'Revolution' to a TV commercial and the three surviving Beatles sued. Since then, Apple Records have kept a much tighter rein on these things, making exceptions only for such things as a George Martin retrospective (though of course anything released before 1963 is now out of copyright and out of their control). Although the Beatles had three Top 10 hits in 1995-6, those were all kept exclusive so this is the only Now-branded album ever to include the Beatles collectively.

You have to be impressed that the Beatles had scored as many as 12 chart-toppers in less than five years (and that total doesn't include 'Please Please Me'), as you have to be impressed that they were able to turn out a non-album single within a month of the Sgt. Pepper album, one of the most elaborate recording projects to date. It's a pity the single itself wasn't better, though. Recorded for a pioneering international telecast - they played over a partly-recorded backing track on the night, and further overdubbing was done for commercial release - it has rather sloppy quality about it, and possibly due to the number of musicians involved and a lack of rehearsal time, it's quite a slack performance, with the tempo feeling quite sluggish in places. It sounds even worse in this stereo mix, with that annoying moment after the 'La Marsaillaise' intro where everything is in the left channel for a few seconds. John Lennon claimed in retrospect that the lyric was actually an ironic parody of the sentiments of the time, and this is plausible but there were certainly people who took it seriously, if not literally, at the time. It feels almost of a piece with the Scott McKenzie track (which is actually a bit better produced, though a far weaker song) as a piece of instant nostalgia. Everything on Side 2 of this album has been from the Sixties (except 'Summertime Blues', and even that recharted in 1968) and there's a sense that it's the idea of that decade that's being celebrated here, because it was now long enough ago to be cool. And to be sure, there was an upbeat mood abroad in those days according to people who were around then, it's just harder to recognise now.

It's a pity that the greatest pop group ever are represented on this blog by such a substandard song, but then that's been part of the joy all along. Incidentally, it's stretching a point slightly to say this song is from the Yellow Submarine film, as it's significantly older. I wonder if the film had been on TV in 1986 or something?

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